Monday, January 30, 2012

Setting Priorities, Creating Change

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I didn’t go to the Creating Change Conference this past weekend, but here’s my twenty-five cents on what I would do if somebody suddenly made me queen of the LGBT community. First off, I’d ignore the “It gets better” project. Getting LGBTQ kids to believe time makes everything better is a big fat disempowering lie. Little bigots have a way of becoming big bigots and turning into our neighbors and bosses, and sometimes representatives in Congress.

Things only get better if we act to make them better, and in the case of queer kids and bullying, we all ought to be doing some ass-kicking now to improve things today. Hell, if I was queen, I’d go so far as to institute a national two year service for young queers helping them to get their riot on. Especially targeting schools.

Let them call us pedophiles if they want, but we’ve got to get more laws passed against bullying, and more importantly, stick around to get them enforced. Even better, we ought to showcase kids that are already empowered and fighting back, make sure these projects get as much publicity as the latest kid suicide.

We should also act for our second most vulnerable group -- our older LGBT people. Maybe later, as we begin to marry off like the mainstream population and spawn our own kids, aging queers won’t be more screwed than anybody else with crappy insurance and mediocre health care. But right now, older and disabled LGBT are often alone in the world, no partner, no heirs. And if we do have relatives, they may either ignore us, or see our disabilities as a chance to lock us away in the nursing home of their choice, far from other degenerates.

If you think being a queer kid sucked, don’t expect a joyous experience in nursing homes. Besides the misery of physical decay, you may face a situation a lot like high school with the popular girls grouped together, and the gender police out in full force. Over Christmas I saw one older woman use her walker to attack this butch, short haired woman. “You’re a man. Get out of here.”

We need queer-friendly nursing homes, and assisted living places, so we don’t end our lives in facilities we don’t choose, with incompatible roommates, and lives governed by nurses and doctors and aides that may be smearing our fingernails with polish, and slapping on lipstick if we don’t want it, and refusing it if we do. And now, we need to find ways to reach out to our elderly already in dire straights.

It’s best to avoid the whole thing as far as possible, by keeping queers in good shape to begin with, getting dykes and transpeople to see doctors regularly, but fags too, with a renewed focus on HIV. It continues to spread even if we only talk about it on World AIDS Day and pretend it’s Africa’s problem now. The truth is queers are still getting infected, especially queers of color, and even the lucky ones with an undetectable viral load aren’t exempt from problems.

HIV+ people have more serious illnesses than the rest of us. They face the diseases of aging earlier, like heart disease and osteoporosis, but also a range of non-AIDS related cancers like Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is tough to treat when you have HIV. As chemo’s killing off the cancer, it’s killing off your immune system, too, and opening the door for your HIV to make a comeback. We should be doing a lot more than we are.

We should also be thinking more than we are. As queen, I say that ten or twenty years after queer boot camp and mandatory activism, we should all be inducted into queer think tanks, trying to balance out action with fresh ideas from fresh brains. We especially need to think about how our community fits into our larger societies, and ask if we will be able to protect and consolidate gains as our traditional activist tools like free speech shrink in America.

It worries me a lot that our civil liberties have been eroding continuously in the decade since September 11, 2001, while the power of the executive branch has been growing exponentially. Get declared an enemy, and you can get tossed in jail, no trial, no jury, no recourse. They don’t like what you’re up to, they can now keep you under surveillance without warrants.

While these powers are mostly used in the War on Terror, they could easily be used against any trouble-making activist that happens to offend the governing party. It was only twenty years ago that former candidate for president Pat Robertson used his speech at the Republican National Convention to declare homos public enemy number one in the Culture War for America’s soul. Remember?

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