Oh, this is too amusing for words.
Following, perhaps, on the heels of Mary Frances Berry’s idea that we should just dump the Commission on Civil Rights in favour of a new organisation that will focus first on, yup, you guessed it, GLT (no B, no Q) issues comes this new group that you can find on Facebook.
The recently formed group calls itself the Nation-Wide Campaign to Create a New Secretary of GLBT Affairs. It also has a website, http://www.equalrep.com/ [the website appears to have been taken down]. I was invited, like thousands of others, but ignored it as just another FB rumbling. Afterwards, I was contacted by people who told me that any critique was being quickly taken down, which seems to contradict the idea of a Democratic-politics-with-a-capital-D that the group claims to believe in (since it’s so clearly invested in conventional electoral politics).
So, I posted a note on the group’s wall stating, in essence, that I wasn’t interested in any group that asked me to prioritise one identity over others, and that we needed to pay more attention to pressing issues like economic inequality.
In the spirit of a so-called agenda of “civil rights”, the new mantra of such groups that have come about in recent months following Prop 8, my post was quickly erased. So were all my subsequent posts.
My friend Tim Salemme made an excellent point, among many: “the language they use about gay people as the “only minority group with laws discriminating against them” is incredibly ignorant.” Tim’s post was quickly yanked as well.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about Facebook in particular. This new group demonstrates the pitfalls and limits of assuming that the web is democratic, with or without a capital “D.” You could argue that any group has a right to do what it wants with postings, but then why masquerade as an open forum with a wall? Why not just restrict membership and posts? The group is also asking for donations. Before you click on their links and give your (doubtless limited) money, ask yourself and the group: What does Equalrep.com stand for, and how is this really a politically engaged movement? If even their Facebook page can’t endure critiques, what are the chances that your voice will be heard?
But there are, of course, bigger issues than censorship (although that one’s pretty big). At this point, they appear (appear is the operative word here) to have reversed their policy on erasing posts they don’t like. The bigger issues have to do with Equalrep’s politics. Equal Rep actually believes that LGBTs comprise the only group that suffer from discriminatory laws: “We are the only minority group to have outright discriminatory laws against us.” Not the poor, the incarcerated, the undocumented immigrants. Just our sad selves. They’ve since amended that, and removed the “only” and I’ll take credit for having brought about that change, along with my compadres like Gender Just and Tim Salemme and other posters who raised their voices. But I’m still troubled by the larger politics of a group that thinks it warrants specially appointed officers at a time when millions are suffering from multiply interconnected causes of poverty and oppression.
This isn’t to throw a hissy-fit of FB proportions (if a group falls in Facebook, can you still hear the sound?), but to prompt us to think long and hard about the politics and efficacy of Facebook organising and to wonder about what kinds of political agendas get by without the transparency of face-to-face, real time questioning and discussion.
Furthermore, the group’s politics echo the usual litany of “gay causes” that are in danger of being written in stone as the gay agenda: marriage and DADT. I haven’t found anything on the website that specifically addresses hate crimes legislation, but I have to assume that the group’s founder Paul Sousa is referring to that issue when he writes about being “denied all federal recognition that we even exist just to name a few laws.” If it turns out that Sousa and his compadres are against hate crimes legislation, I’ll applaud them for that, but for now I have to assume, given their mainstream politics, that they are as enthusiastic about the issue as groups like HRC.
None of those issues can be seen in isolation from the social and economic inequality that exists today. Marriage as a goal to guarantee benefits like health care is pretty useless if neither one of you has a job or health care in the first place. Hate crimes legislation that enhances penalties and polices thought? Sure, go ahead. But who do you think is more likely to be dumped in jail for the rest of their lives: the indigent person who might yell out “fag” while beating up someone for $20 or the corporate executive who hates queers and won’t hire anyone who’s visibly LGBT/queer? How do you legislate thought, what counts as “hate” and its consequences, and who gets hauled in for their degree of hate? And why add to the prison industrial complex? As for DADT, I’m not sure how you can be anti-war and anti-Republican war-mongering and also want to wage war.
It’s important to keep the pressure on such entities and question their fealty to what Tim has referred to as an “elitist gay movement.” It’s bad enough that mainstream gay groups have decided that gay marriage is the only cause that matters, regardless of the fact that a lot of us don’t care for that issue. Or that people shouldn’t have to get married for basic benefits like health care. It’s worse when a group like Equalrep.com can just emerge seemingly from nowhere and portray itself as a “grassroots” group. We have to remember that a Facebook group does not automatically equal a grassroots movement.
If this is the new world of Gay Democracy, be scared. Be very, very scared.