#MoreThanMarriage - Why Same-Sex Marriage Legalization Represents Privilege
June 28, 2015
Fact #1: The supreme court ruled same-sex marriage legal in all 50 U.S. states.
Fact #2: Less than 50% of our 50 states have employer non-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Fact #3: At least 80% of Black gay men have experiences with racism in the gay community.
The Human Rights Campaign and other advocates fighting for marriage equality needs to realize that “equal rights” are about #MoreThanMarriage. We should celebrate the wins when and where we can, but, as a 25-year-old cisgender Black gay man living in the Bay Area, marriage “equality” is not my top priority. My queerness comes second in both my eyes and the eyes of society. Sure, who I sleep with can get me into trouble, but this beautiful, Black skin of mine presents a higher and more visible risk, and therefore a higher priority.
Marriage benefits include as tax breaks, hospital visitation, and child custody laws, but let’s not forget that people can still be fired for their non-hetero sexuality(ies). There are currently 28 states without laws to protect LGBT folks from employment discrimination based on their gender and/or sexual identity. These states give employers the authority to legally fire a person on the basis of their sexual orientation alone. This does not automatically affect some men because we have the privilege of “passing.” We can pass as heterosexual because we present in traditionally “masculine” ways through our speech patterns, mannerisms, and overall appearance. This a privilege that many--like men with “effeminate” traits--do not have. Passing is also a choice, the alternative is to disclose their sexual orientation despite the fact that it is nobody’s business.
The conversation shifts when the circle of human concern is expanded to consider the lived experiences of trans folks. More so than discrimination on sexual orientation, trans folks are even more heavily discriminated against at work, home, and even within the supposedly inclusive gay community. Keep in mind that a person can be both trans and non-heterosexual, and therefore the marginalization intersects and the risk multiplies.
Take, for example, the recent “White House heckler” whose comments didn’t make it to many mainstream media narratives. This transgender activist, Jennicet Gutiérrez, spoke up at an LGBTQ event at the White House and received criticism about her methods. Her message was obscured, but let’s be clear: immigrants who identify as trans are misgendered in detention centers and face physical and sexual abuse as a result. As a man marginalized for my Blackness and my queerness, I personally stand with Jennicet in saying #Not1More.
The case of trans detainees highlight the fact that same-sex marriage does not destroy homophobia, transphobia, racism, or racism within the gay community. The notion of marriage itself resides in a very privileged space. While there are many queer people of color who are patiently waiting to marry, this Supreme Court ruling benefits middle-class white gay men in ways that it may never benefit someone like me. I dislike comparing struggles, but I have never heard of anyone dying from not having the right to marry who they wish.
On the other hand we, as Black people, are being systematically targeted and killed daily for merely being Black. This racial targeting is nothing new, because Black people have never been seen as human to the institution of whiteness (read: by many / most white people). But since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, mobilization took a new form through the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The movement--started by three womxn, two of them queer--is maintained by those same womxn and a Black queer man.
Don’t let silence hide the queer people who led movements for Black freedom. Don’t forget that the fight is not about Black liberation before LGBTQ liberation, but instead liberation for all people of African descent, including those who do not identify in the same ways as ourselves. Think about much further would we be in these intersectional struggles if we abandoned our collective tunnel vision earlier in the battle for liberation?
When the police are killing more of us--primarily Black folks--in a few days than other countries kill in an entire year, it is hard for me to focus on the potential bragging rights of marriage. In fact, this wave of state-sanctioned police brutality keeps me up at night and has many Black people too angry, scared and questioning to even consider marriage. So while I am happy to see colorful Facebook flags, my most pressing question boils down to:
What are you doing to get them to stop fucking killing us?
*meaning that my gender identity matches my biological sex and the gender I was assigned at birth. In practice this means I was assigned male based on my male genitalia and I identify as a man.
Anthony is a member of Cal BSU. He also is a Mellon Mays fellow.