Friday, April 18, 2014

Richard Kim: Andrew Sullivan vs. Tony Kushner on Gay Rights — "Our Suffering Teaches Us Solidarity; or It Should"

Richard Kim writes in The Nation about the fundamental divergence between Andrew Sullivan's libertarian vision of what the movement for gay rights should be all about, and Tony Kushner's socialist vision: as he notes in his conclusion, if the movement for gay rights is all about rights for us and not for them, who needs it? If our suffering has been only about our suffering, what's it good for, in the last analysis?:

The live question now is to what ends: Will the gay movement spend its last days running a series of pop-up outrage campaigns whose relation to any improvement in gay people’s actual lives becomes increasingly notional? Or will it find, deep in the recesses of its political memory, some way to talk about inequality, commodification, police surveillance, gender, sex, health, love and desire writ large? "Gay rights may be obtainable," Kushner wrote a political age ago, "but liberation depends on a politics that goes beyond, not an antipolitics…. Our suffering teaches us solidarity; or it should."

The libertarian understanding of gay liberation privileges what's already in place, what's here and now, what's established, what constitutes the status quo. When it speaks of liberty, it speaks of liberty for those who already own liberty — and all the things that permit them to stand on their exclusivist claim to liberty and to trumpet it against all comers, particularly against those who own nothing.

The libertarian approach to gay liberation refuses to raise searching questions about whether the status quo is inherently wrong, about whether it allocates power and resources in radically unjust ways. This approach deliberately combats those who ask such questions, and seeks to relegate them to the margins of the conversation about gay rights. In marginalizing those asking such critical questions, it does the dirty work of those at the top of society who have disproportionate — overweening, in fact — influence on the media, the political sphere, corporate life, religious institutions, the educational enterprise, you name it.

It beats down those who want to find points of contact between movements for women's liberation, for the liberation of people of color, and for the liberation of the poor. In fact, it implicitly blames gay folks hapless enough not to have abundant resources — many of them gay women and gay people of color and the many gay people who live outside the narrow corridors of power and privilege in the developed sectors of the world.

And so I think Kim is absolutely right to ask to what ends we have been fighting for the liberation of those who are gay, if it's only about us — which is to say, if it's only about already privileged white gay men. Three quotes from political commentary I've read just this morning to spice this conversation:

Political money and hence influence at the top levels is disproportionately white, male, and with almost no social context that includes significant numbers of African Americans and other people of color. 
This is why money isn't speech. Freedom of speech as a functional element in democratic life assumes that such freedom can be meaningfully deployed. But the unleashing of yet more money into politics allows a very limited class of people to drown out the money "speech" of everyone else—but especially those with a deep, overwhelmingly well documented history of being denied voice and presence in American political life.

The fall electorate is expected to be older, whiter, more male, more married and more affluent than in presidential elections — all to Republicans' advantage.

Where are the voices on television news and commentary that represent progressive people of color? Our media landscape, tailored to the conservative rich white male view, will make some room for progressive whites, as evidenced by Colbert, his Comedy Central colleague Jon Stewart and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow. It will even make room for people of color—as long as they are conservative or apolitical. With the exception of a tiny handful of hosts such as MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, the presenters of our news are utterly unrepresentative of this nation’s changing demographics and the general political perspectives of people of color.

Who controls the United States? White men who own things. Who intends to keep controlling it? White men who own things.

For gay folks seeking freedom from oppression and the extension of human rights to ourselves, white men who own things have long been, far and away more than any other group, the gatekeepers standing in the way of our liberation. They remain the gatekeepers.

It may be tactically or strategically correct to try to strike bargains with the most powerful group in society, in order to obtain more power and privilege for ourselves. But when those bargains refuse to ask significant, probing questions about precisely why white men who own things should run things for all the rest of us, and about why people of color, women, and poor people have long been excluded from discussions about how things ought to be set up and from the benefits of a more equitable distribution of the goods of the world, we've paid an exceptionally high price for our liberty.

A price that puts me in mind of devils and deals, to be frank.

The photo is a detail from Timothy Schmalz's "Homeless Jesus" statue, at Diane Lindstrom's Overflow blog site.

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