Monday, March 25, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage Case Is No Roe V. Wade

By Kelly Jean Cogswell, Gay City News

In an op-ed piece masquerading as fact, The New York Times on Sunday declared that the "Shadow of Roe v. Wade Looms Over Ruling on Gay Marriage." According to them, any marriage equality decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court will face the same endless legal slog, misery, and sustained opposition, as the one legalizing abortion.

The primary source for the argument seems to be Michael J. Klarman, Harvard professor and author of "From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage." He wrote, "Intervening at this stage of a social reform movement would be somewhat analogous to Roe v. Wade, where the court essentially took the laws deregulating abortion in four states and turned them into a constitutional command for the other 46."

But with only a modest B.A. in the liberal arts, and no time at all clerking for Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I still have to respond, "Ummm, not really." Not analogous at all, except that most progressive cases face substantial backlash on the way to the Supreme Court. And that Republican wingnuts hate them equally, abortion and gay marriage. But then, they also hate gun control, the Fed, Obama, and a host of other things, and are busy fighting them, too.

While they're especially enraged at this stage of the process, maybe because they're terrified of anything to do with sex, and same-sex marriage smacks of it, just like abortion, it's unlikely that the landmark marriage cases will have the same legal trajectory as abortion. Not just because there are differences of political and social context as the lead Prop 8 lawyer, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., indicated. He told The Times Roe v. Wade had not been "subject to exhaustive public discussion, debate and support, including by the president and other high-ranking government officials from both parties..." Which is true, but kind of irrelevant.

The main reason the comparison doesn't hold is because the two cases are not just apples and oranges, but apples and balls of yarn. Apples and light bulbs. An abortion is a private, single act of limited duration, while getting married launches a whole state of being, a long-term, legal relationship not only between two individuals, but of those two individuals and any offspring, heirs, creditors, etc. with the government on every level. Which is why queer activists on the left, having fought so hard to keep the State out of our affairs, were initially reluctant to embrace the marriage fight, despite its gazillions of financial and legal benefits.

The most obvious parallel is the earlier fight against anti-miscegenation laws that was only won in 1967 with Loving v. Virginia. Sure, "mixed" marriages still inspire disgust among bigots, as I suppose same-sex marriage will continue to do, but there are only occasional instances in which churches or petty bureaucrats try to prevent them. There is certainly no big activist movement. There probably won't be for queers either.

Either now or in the future, once it is ruled on the federal level that same-sex marriage is legal, that right can't be eroded bit by bit as with abortion. Neither can it be restricted except by age as "straight" marriages are. That's what the attempt at civil unions was for. Conceding a few rights to shut up the big-mouthed queers. But once that word marriage is used on the federal level, either you're married or you're not. We have the same rights or we don't, and in that case we keep fighting.

Even if there is some kind of post-decision backlash, I'm pretty confident the scenario will be different. Women that have abortions in their teens and twenties often just want to forget about it, and move on. Queers won't be able to. Every single one of us who gets hitched, entangled in a marriage of love and bureaucracy, will become a queer activist reservist, always on call. For this issue, anyway. It won't be a matter of convenience, to be grappled with when needed. It will be woven into the fabric of our lives.

Another obvious difference is that the fight for marriage rights is fundamentally conservative compared to that for abortion. And as homophobia is pushed further to the margins of the equation, we've already seen stalwarts of the Religious Right speak in favor of same-sex marriage and its attendant monogamy and social stability. I don't remember seeing similar conversions to pro-choice positions.

Abortion rights are a harder sale. Partly because "pro-life" people call abortion murder. And some actually believe it. But also because misogyny has such horribly deep roots. We should remember that the LGBT movement will always be half-comprised of males, with white men at the forefront as long as our community is prey to the same sexism and racism as the outside world. And with a white, well-groomed male face on an issue like same-sex marriage, it'll get accepted sooner or later.

Follow me on Twitter @kellyatlarge .

Queer Citizens in Cuba's Shadow

By Kelly Cogswell, HuffPost

Last week I drug myself to an LGBT forum for New York's democratic mayoral hopefuls. The 626 seats of Baruch's Mason Hall auditorium were packed with politically engaged queers. Nobody compelled to come. Nobody banned. And everything observed by the gaggle of press bearing witness with images and tweets offered almost instantaneously.

Paul Schindler, my Gay City News editor, had the job of drilling the candidates on LGBT issues like the cops' disgusting Stop and Frisk policies that in our community especially affect young queers of color and the transgender. He also asked about the growing number of HIV infections, homeless youth that are 40 percent queer. Each contender did their best to answer, sniping whenever they could at Christine Quinn the front-runner, and only woman and LGBT candidate. And she in return, had to keep her cool and sensibly explain, for example, why as city council speaker she's sitting on a bill about paid sick leave for workers in small businesses.

And I thought this is the way it's supposed to be. Candidates being held to account, exchanging views, fibbing probably, as politicians do, but not controlling the process. All of the candidates were subjected to embarrassing moments, tough follow-up questions, and a crowd cheering or booing, but stopping after a moment to let things go on. And everything, as I said, happening in front of the big eyes and big mouths of the press.

If I sound all corny about it, it's because a couple days before I'd been to an event at NYU featuring Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez who was finally allowed to leave the country after ten years of requests. She's continually defamed by the Cuban government, physically harassed, spied on in her home, even tossed in jail occasionally. But she counts herself lucky because other journalists are locked up for good, or have convenient car accidents merely for wishing to speak, to participate in the life of their country. And for thinking everyone else should have the chance, too.

In that island of silence and the meaningful ellipse, blogging is not an innocuous pastime. The government has done its best to restrict internet access, and even skew Google search results abroad by bombarding the web with their own propaganda, fake sites, fake links and likes, their own fake bloggers to create a screen of white noise. But they're doomed and they know it, like a glass any soprano can shatter.

Just look at how loudmouthed queers changed the U.S. from a place where we were pariahs regularly rousted and arrested, into this amazing political force. Gradually, we won the tools of democracy -- the rights to speak, to assemble, demonstrate, write, think, create, agitate, organize. Now we participate as equals (nearly). We sit in Mason Hall and hold the candidates to account. All of them wanting our votes, our support. Our money.

I hear some of you sneering that the system's not perfect, pointing out its failures. But so what? It's a fucking miracle it works at all, considering how humans are, either apathetic or with an overwhelming impulse to power. Cops everywhere get away with whatever they can. Politicians, even the best, believe the rules don't quite apply to them. Ordinary people abdicate their citizenship, often sit there like frogs in the pot as water gradually heats up.

In the U.S., where we have almost an unlimited latitude to protest, most of us kept mum as our civil liberties were eroded under Bush with his policies on detention, and domestic spying, and still don't speak up as Obama continues with more of the same.

It's an interesting mix of apathy, and ignorance. Few Americans understand or care how democracy works, and don't recognize the centrality of things like free speech and assembly or the role of the press. When I tried to get into a recent event at CUNY, "The Blogosphere and Civil Society in Cuba" the two smiling Cuban American students organizing the thing took an unhealthy pleasure in informing me the event was full, and in any case, it was more important for Cubans to have access to Yoani than Anglo reporters. And while I understood their pride in having a Cuban hero, it made me wonder if they understood why she was so important. Or how the press works, each journalist representing hundreds, or thousands of others who don't have a chance to see. Or a way to speak.

Worse, at that LGBT forum for mayoral candidates, I actually heard a woman announce that democracy sucked, even as she dripped with its privileges, complaining about the mediocre politicians and annoying crowd, flapping her gums.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Secret of Power

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn finally tossed her hat in the ring, and came out as a candidate for New York's top job. It's a big deal. She'd be the first female mayor, not to mention the first dyke, in Gracie Mansion.

It's astounding that she's gotten this far. Being the first of anything requires a heck of a lot of raw talent, good timing, and of course plenty of people ahead of you breaking ground, like Tom Duane and Margarita Lopez who were among the first out queers in New York's City Council.

Beyond that, you have to have a certain mindset, a sense of privilege that refuses to concede, despite overwhelming evidence, that the face of power should be male, above all, and white, and straight. I'd like to think you can acquire that entitlement, like a basic proficiency in Math, if you just practice enough, but I'm not so sure.

Some people seem to know from the beginning that they are meant for great things. Probably when Quinn was a kid she arranged her blocks in the shape of City Hall, gave press conferences to her stuffed animals. "And when I'm mayor..." Or maybe it dawned on her slowly. She met a few politicians as she headed up the Anti-Violence Project, and thought, "I can do that." Then when she was elected to city council, she saw the inner workings of power and felt she measured up.

By any road, she arrived at the emotional place where she could stand in front of a bunch of journalists and declare her intention to govern one of the biggest cities of the world.

The rest of us need help even to inhabit our own lives. Just a couple of weeks ago, I showed a documentary about the Lesbian Avengers to a group of college students. And afterwards one still asked, "A lot of us feel like we don't have a voice. What should we do?" Even though I'd been talking already for half an hour about activism and big-mouthed dykes, she apparently didn't see the Avengers as role models, enabling her to make the leap, and declare, "How about we start an activist group?"

We'd also discussed social media and the Arab Spring. Maybe I should have asked them if they'd at least considered a blog, if they didn't want to take to New Jersey's mean streets. But it seemed too obvious to say. I mean, isn't their whole Twitter generation marked by a multiplicity of voices? A real cacophony?

I figured out too late the word "voice" was a misdirection. Probably their real question was: How do you get heard in the midst of all that noise? How do you gain power, or at least feel empowered? I wouldn't have known how to answer that either.

I realized then that it's not enough to talk about role models and opening doors. Sometimes they just lead to a broom closet, a small confined space, a cell. Our current means of communication don't take you very far when their conventions demand you restrict your announcements to the latest ap you downloaded, the game you played. Despite a few radical users, Twitter is mostly small talk on a grand scale.

Even if the door leads to the world outside, very few of us are Chris Quinns or Obamas. We're taught to stay behind the white line and we do. We're like dogs with those electronic collars that give them a shock when they go too far. Our internalized misogyny and homophobia and racism keep us on the leash. We are agoraphobic. Beyond this point lies pain and suffering, and a terrifying wilderness.

In fact, the only secret to having a voice is to speak. Or to act. Repeatedly. And hope for the best. When ordinary people first open their mouths, they don't know if somebody's going to listen. The Lesbian Avengers were begun by six dykes that decided they would put out a call to action, but if nobody else joined them, they would do it alone.

They were lucky that people responded. And they went from a handful of dykes to a roomful, then a worldwide movement. But nine times out of ten you're answered with silence. The timing is wrong. Or your message doesn't get across. And when that happens, you try again imagining that even if the world is not transformed, maybe you will be. Like a singer, your voice will get stronger. You'll hit the notes the first try. You'll please yourself, anyway. Annoy the neighbors.

You have to make it a habit. Sometimes if I have to, I talk to myself. In particularly bad patches, I've scribbled messages on stickers, left them on lampposts. In the subways. Like a trail of breadcrumbs for hungry birds.