Thursday, 28 March 2013

Achieving Equality: Difficult but Simple Victories and Long, Complex Wars

There are increasing movements forwards with legislative battles with our rights – a new trans bill in Canada, marriage equality in Britain, France and various parts of the US, municipal anti-discrimination laws in various cities and even a battle in the Ukraine which was rather surprising. Of course, it’s not all going forwards everywhere, far from it, but there’s a lot of excitement.

There’s also a sense that “zomg we’ve nearly won” primarily from straight allies, coupled with a sense of “the GBLT rights movement has moved so quickly!”

I have to burst the bubble on both. Starting, perversely with the second one.

The whole idea of “the GBLT rights movement has moved so quickly” is based on that pervasive myth that we only appeared in 1960 and that the first piece of GBLT activism was Stonewall. Both of which are wrong. GBLT people have existed as long as people have existed – and we have been fighting for centuries. The first attempted same-sex marriage in the UK happened in 1680 and Molly houses were a fixture of the 19th century. France decriminalised “sodomy” after the revolution, Germany had, in the 1920s a vast amount of pro-GBLT activism

And this is from a frankly extremely amateur view of history since I make no claims of being a historian. But even the most cursory search finds not only our existence the earliest times but a centuries old battle against persecution. To call the GBLT rights movement a young or a new movement is to spit in the face of these people who fought – and who died – and who straight history has long forgotten. We have not moved quickly, it has been a long slow fight that has been denied so long that it’s only recent victories for basic LEGAL PROTECTIONS that have finally accelerated.

Now addressing the first point. Winning these battles means we win the SIMPLE part – and not close to being done. The COMPLICATED is, in many ways, only just beginning.

Firstly, let’s be clear that SIMPLE doesn’t mean EASY, nor does it mean UNIMPORTANT. It means we know pretty much exactly what to do and, in many ways, how. I know how to walk to London. One foot in front of the other isn’t complex. Walking that distance in this weather would be arduous, painful and an incredible feat – Simple but difficult.

And achieving equality under law: Hate crimes protection, anti-discrimination protection, marriage equality – are extremely difficult, powerful achievements – and they’re simple. Simple because we know exactly what has to be done – the law has to change and we know how that is done. Difficult to do, but simple in terms of process

And important because these form not only essential tools, but also a foundation. It’s an impossibly powerful message of inequality when the laws treat us as lesser citizens; it’s a loud message. It’s hard to get people to listen to you demanding acceptance, respect and challenging hate when the law of the land is roaring “ACTUALLY! HATE THESE FOLKS! HATRED IS FINE! TOTALLY LESS THAN YOU! LESSER CITIZENS! ACCEPTABLE TARGETS, GET THEM HERE!” It’s a foundation and without it, building anything is going to be shaky

But a house isn’t finished when a foundation is built and nor will our battle for equality be finished because we have full equality in law. Law and practice, society and culture are often very separate. If you need any greater proof just consider the fact that these legal rights we’re fighting for? Other marginalised groups already have them – and they’re still marginalised.

On this foundation we need to fight institutional oppression. We need to change professions that are deemed to homophobic to tolerate us (or more than a few token members). We need to tackle bullying – adult as well as child. We need to tackle family acceptance and positive messages so more kids aren’t raised in self hate and familial rejection. We need to remove every single temptation to be closeted – not the closet, forcing us all to be Out is never right – but remove the motivation to being closeted in the first place. Conversion therapy needs to be banished into the past, the DESIRE to change needs to be seen as alien and weird. We need to remove the negative connotation, we need to banish slurs from the language, we need to have “gay” stop being a synonym for “bad.” We need inclusive portrayals, not be considered an afterthought or obscene, we need healthcare that acknowledges our needs, we need workplaces that have more than just policies, but co-workers and bosses and customers who won’t try to drive us out. Neighbourhoods that don’t blink to see us among them. We need a world were institutional cissexism and heterosexism doesn’t constantly fence us, drive us out or police us. We need religions that won’t preach homophobia and transphobia as morality. We need a world without hate, without contempt, without derision. We need so much more (this list went on so long I’ve had to delete huge chunks to keep it manageable), things we will not achieve by laws, things we cannot achieve by laws (but policies can certainly make a difference) but things that will rest on a foundation of those laws.

We need a world where we are as loved and respected and accepted and included as straight, cis people. Only then will we have won

And that? That’s going to take lifetime upon lifetime to build.

This isn’t really something even the most optimistic of GBLT people need telling – we live our lives, we know what will and will not change, we know how we’re oppressed, we know how we’re attacked (in fact, straight people telling us what we should and should not be focusing on need to shut up, really, they do). But I’m increasingly getting the feeling that many allies are expecting to down tools and say “yay we won!” and then be really really shocked when we don’t stop fighting.

So let’s celebrate the victories and progress we’ve made and are making – because they’re definitely worth celebrating – and then dive back in the trenches, because we’ve got a long war to right.