HRC: Promoting Equality or Furthering Privilege?

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The Dean Spade article for today touched on issues with organizations supposedly looking to promote human rights and equality. Here's an article that goes more in-depth on the Human Rights Campaign: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derrick-clifton/human-rights-campaign-same-sex-marriage_b_2973131.html

Here's an excerpt that pretty well sums the idea up:

"Not everyone appreciates how the HRC has been lent high legitimacy as the organization representing the entire movement when their actions have consistently proven otherwise. Going further, some people have reservations that a large number of people -- especially economically well-off, able-bodied, gender conforming, non-immigrant and white (read: relatively privileged) gay and lesbian Americans -- will disengage from the many other institutional and social changes necessary for full inclusion of LGBT communities."

Clifton mentions that "For many of these [white gay and lesbian people] and some others, marriage equality is the last major step to becoming "fully privileged" citizens relative to their heterosexual peers." Essentially, the HRC is a highly visible, feel-good, mainstream cause that most social liberals are willing to get behind, and yet it does little to truly fight a system still rampant with violence, discrimination, and inequality that goes far beyond the inability for gay and lesbian people to get married. Another argument tied in with these ideas that I have heard is that the HRC tries to hard to promote the image of gay and lesbian couples being "just like everyone else." They look more to assimilate the gay and lesbian community into existing norms, rather than breaking down existing norms.

Of course, some could argue that their work for marriage equality is at least a first step, but I think it's also extremely important to continue to look critically at these organizations that on the surface seem to be fighting for the right causes...even if it means I'm questioning the laptop sticker that I once slapped on with pride.

2 Comments

You bring up an interesting point on how society looks to assimilate the gay and lesbian community into current norms, versus deconstructing social barriers and focusing on recognition and acceptance.

Certain organizations that promote human rights bring about hesitation in the LGBT community because of people who run them. Generally, these organizations are predominantly of high socio-economic status, white, and normative bodies, like you mentioned. In his article Dean Spade, I think, puts this nicely into perspective by stating:

“The mostly white, educationally privileged paid leaders can imagine themselves fired from a job for being gay or lesbian, harassed on the street, excluded from Boy Scouts, or kept out of the military. They do not imagine themselves as potentially imprisoned, on welfare, homeless, in the juvenile punishment and foster care systems, in danger of deportation, or the target of continuous police harassment” (65-66).

This excerpt just showcases how society as a whole, or more specifically, the people running these organizations may not fully understand the extent of marginalization experienced by the people they are “promoting human rights” for. I also like how you recognize how the HRC is a mainstream cause that has failed to deconstruct the injustice and its effects that accompany this fight for marriage (i.e. violence, discrimination, etc.)

I think overall, organizations fighting for human rights need to put more emphasis deconstructing social barriers and disregard assimilation. Assimilation will only get you so far. With deconstructing social barriers comes acceptance; assimilation will only foster resentment.

Don't lose faith in your sticker just yet - HRC is doing important work.

I for one have been having trouble reading Dean Spade's arguments. Obviously, we should always question/critique these movements and organizations to make sure they're helping the people they're trying to help - but that's about where I stop agreeing with him.

My biggest problem is the "assimilation" aspect. Call me cynical, but I do not believe "allies" are going to help an otherized group (like LGBT people) unless they can relate to them. The biggest ally the LGBT movement can get is the liberal (they have money, political power, sometimes sympathy), and the LGBT movement needs these resources to make a meaningful change in the lives of LGBT people. So yes, the movement will adapt some of its features so that liberals can relate/de-otherize them. It's just one of the unfortunate facts of life that other people, especially people of power, have a limited supply of empathy.

But to say you can't assimilate, that you should only dismantle, is naive. The existing social structure is vastly more powerful than any group (including LGBTs) that would try to oppose it. To focus only on fighting from outside the structure's walls - you're going to get slaughtered (unless you choose violence, which is why so many nations are founded from revolutions, I suppose). However, it is important to do, because people/groups on the inside of the status quo can have their views distorted by assimilation - they need the constant pressure from the people outside. It's much like regular politics, I guess. You need both, and neither should be considered better/worse than the other, because they're both interdependent strategies for change. Dean Spade weakens his argument by suggesting otherwise.

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This page contains a single entry by Jennifer Flynn published on May 6, 2014 8:37 PM.

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