Discussion of gay marriage in light of the pending Supreme Court decision has ignited several debates over the merits of seeking marriage equality, possibly at the expense of other LGBT-related issues; it has also highlighted ways in which the LGBT community is divided within its own ranks. Allegations of transphobia within the LGBT community must be addressed for the LGBT community as a whole to achieve progress.
In truth, there are many different aspects of equality that LGBT activists have sought to address, and not everyone agrees as to which issues deserve priority. While gay adoption and gay marriage have received widespread media attention recently, other issues such as sexual consent or domestic violence in the LGBT community have continued to remain out of the mainstream spotlight. Similarly, the LGBT community itself comprises many people with different identities who do not always enjoy the same support and acceptance as other people who fall inside the umbrella category of “lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans*.”
Historically, trans* activists have complained of marginalization and even blatant discrimination within the wider LGBT community. Claims of transphobia are sadly not unfounded; even causes like improvement of workers’ rights for LGBT employees have been colored by the exclusion of trans* community members. Frankly, I would argue that LGBT activities have long relied on support of allies; it’s time for non-trans* community members to stand up as allies of trans* activists.
I am not speaking as a trans* person myself, and I am certainly not claiming to speak for that community. Rather, I am speaking from the perspective of a bisexual activist who has witnessed conflict over LGBT priorities. Different movements often benefit from mutual support and outreach on behalf of each other. In every major advocacy movement in this country, splinter groups have both strengthened and weakened overall agendas; disagreement within activist communities over inclusion of specific advocacy issues has always hindered progress within the movement. When faced with impending measures that restrict or abolish our rights, any disagreements among activists for the cause only strengthen the opposition. In-party disagreement should provide an opportunity for constructive discussion and restructuring of strategy, rather than create a demoralizing factor, an impediment to successful advocacy.
I am not suggesting in any way that marginalized groups should stop raising important issues that they have with the so-called “mainstream” group agenda; on the contrary, I think it is time that LGBT leaders and organizations recognize the merit of fringe points of view within their own groups. It is time for us to be our own best allies and recognize that equality regardless of gender identity or expression, sexuality or lack thereof, is a civil right that deserves advocacy and benefits a community that has been persecuted and oppressed. It is time to pay attention to those “annoying” people who aren’t satisfied with a good-enough solution, who see potential problems with implementation of strategies that fail to take into account their viewpoints. It’s nearly impossible to include every perspective, but that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t try.
Choices about which issues to advance and promote are difficult; LGBT leaders certainly give great thought to priorities. I applaud the progress that has been made, even if causes like gay marriage necessarily invite nuanced perspectives. It’s time to embrace the nuances that make our communities diverse in the first place; it’s also time to try to address allegations of intra-communal prejudice and discrimination, because we cannot hope to succeed if we engage in self-defeat.