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Friday, June 26, 2009 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: Trans Day of Action: "The Rebellion Is Not...
2009-06-26

A Look at the Gay Rights Movement Beyond Marriage and the Military

Guests

Lisa Duggan, activist, writer and historian. She is a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University. She is the author of several books, including The Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy. Her forthcoming book is called The End of Marriage: The War over the Future of State Sponsored Love.

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Forty years after Stonewall, where is the gay rights movement headed? What does the focus on marriage equality mean for the goals of gay liberation? We speak with activist, writer and historian, Lisa Duggan. "It remains to be seen whether a call for full civil equality can produce mass mobilization, or whether it might soon be reduced to a call for gay marriage only, or worse, to the production of just another commercially sponsored gay parade," Duggan writes. "The devil will be in the details, which will be settled in the weeks to come." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

Forty years after Stonewall, where is the gay rights movement? What does the focus on marriage equality mean for the goals of gay liberation?

These are some of the issues our next guest has written extensively about. Lisa Duggan is an activist, a writer, historian, professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, author of several books, most recently, The Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy. Her forthcoming book is called The End of Marriage: The War over the Future of State Sponsored Love. Her latest article for The Nation magazine hails LGBT organizing in Utah as a model for gay activists around the country. It’s called "What’s Right with Utah." Lisa Duggan joins us here in the firehouse studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

LISA DUGGAN:

I’m glad to be here.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, the major issues that seem to be the focal point of the gay community today politically are marriage and the military.

LISA DUGGAN:

Yes. And, you know, there’s no way not to be in favor of full legal equality, including marriage and the military, in terms of what, you know, the legal structure should be, inclusive of everyone, but it’s really important, especially now that we’re celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Stonewall, to go back and look and remember something about what, you know, gay liberation — how it began, which was in some way to question the structures rather than simply ask for inclusion in the existing structures.

So, if we look back and look more expansively at the kinds of things that we can do as a movement, we could come up with a much broader set of goals. And many grassroots organizations, like the Audre Lorde Project, which was just represented here, have very broad goals and define queer issues as being the issues that affect most of us, rather than the issues that affect only gay people. So, for instance, healthcare and access to healthcare is a big issue for queer people. The access to homeless shelters that are queer-friendly is very important for queer youth. A very large proportion of homeless youth are LGBT.

AMY GOODMAN:

And what makes it queer-friendly?

LISA DUGGAN:

What makes — well, the shelter system in New York City right now is not very queer-friendly.

AMY GOODMAN:

But what make it?

LISA DUGGAN:

Well, there are actually — Queers for Economic Justice and the Audre Lorde Project have been working for a long time in a shelter project to try to create spaces for gender non-conforming people, rather than having a strictly gendered and hostile, often very hostile, environments that interrogate people about their gender, also prevent them from staying with partners who they are not married to. There are many ways in which hostility is expressed in the shelter system. And on the streets, in general.

So, you know, also, in terms of marriage and partnership and household recognition, most of us don’t really live in marital-style households for most of our lives anymore — straight, gay or other. In fact, the Williams Institute, attached to UCLA in California, did a study and showed that most LGBT people in California are not living in coupled relationships. And Amber Hollibaugh, when she was senior strategist of NGLTF, said it looked, from her data, as though most LGBTQ people aged not in couples, so that the emphasis on marriage might perhaps be replaced by looking at recognizing partnership in households in a broader way, having a menu of civil union, domestic partnership, reciprocal beneficiary, that would recognize non-conjugal households and other ways of living rather than all this focus strictly on marriage and on only offering certain benefits to people who are in a romantic relationship, which is what has ended up happening in Utah, which is very interesting. It’s one of those paradoxical things where people who are living under very repressive conditions —- they have a super-DOMA there, which not only forbids marriage but also any marriage-like -—

AMY GOODMAN:

When you say super-DOMA, you mean Defense of Marriage Act.

LISA DUGGAN:

Yes, a super Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids not only marriage between same-sex partners but any marriage-like recognition. So they are really working from a very difficult position with a Republican dominance and the LDS Church. And yet, they’ve worked out some positions that are really in some ways more progressive than the mainstream and the national lesbian and gay movement.

AMY GOODMAN:

What are they?

LISA DUGGAN:

Well, they’re arguing for —- they’re arguing for an adult joint support registry at a statewide level. And that means that if it were your cousin or your best friend or your lover, you can register and have access to medical decision making and inheritance rights and certain basic recognitions that people who are economically interdependent and residentially interdependent need, without having to show what your sexual life is like or asking the state, in some sense, to recognize your romantic or sexual life. Instead, you’re just registering who it is you need these particular set of benefits with. So, that actually offers protections to a broader group of people than lesbian and gay couples than marriage would and also to people who are straight also, who may not want the full marriage rights and obligations and benefits that go along with marriage, to register people, whoever it is that they want to be able to share their responsibilities with. So that turns out offering more to more people.

They also really are emphasizing the fact that there are many things that are needed nationwide that are not offered by marriage, though marriage has become almost a stand-in for full civil equality. So, you know, in many states, people don’t have basic housing protection or basic job -—

AMY GOODMAN:

What does basic housing protection mean?

LISA DUGGAN:

Meaning anti-discrimination laws that prevent you from being thrown out of your housing for your gender identity or your sexual practices.

AMY GOODMAN:

Jobs — Human Rights Campaign just came out with this report, “State of the Workplace.” Thirty states — in thirty states you can be fired for your sexual orientation?

LISA DUGGAN:

Yeah. You know, and there are forty states that have some version of a legislative or constitutional DOMA, meaning marriage is really not on the agenda in those states. And many of those states then need a lot of attention to all the other kinds of requirements, antidiscrimination — the need for antidiscrimination laws, but also the need that really cross movements and constituencies. If you look at what the majority of LBGTQ people need, it’s healthcare, it’s retirement benefits, it’s childcare, it’s the things that cut across constituencies.

And if we could focus on those things that most of us need and have in common with others, we might be able to produce a kind of coalition politics that would be less isolating for the gay movement. And queer issues could be defined expansively and produce alliances with, say, the AARP, who certainly has an interest in getting some recognitions for Golden Girl households, right?

AMY GOODMAN:

What do you mean?

LISA DUGGAN:

In other words, the sort of Golden Girl household to have the right to remain in the house when your friend dies, to have the right to make medical decision making if your friend is in the hospital, when someone really functions as your next of kin. And many elderly households have that kind of structure rather than a marital structure. So there is an interest, an overlapping interest, in asking for a broader, more diverse democratic range of partnership and household recognition forms, rather than focusing so entirely on marriage.

We might even ask separation of church and state to have marriage be a private thing and have civil union, domestic partnership, reciprocal beneficiary available across the board for many kinds of households. That would take the state out of the business of sexual regulation altogether, while still providing us with those lists of benefits that actually the folks in Utah, when their Common Ground Initiative there, they made a list of the rights and benefits that are needed, rather than putting together a kind of symbolic single package, which marriage sort of functions as. And they found that majority polling in the state of Utah, an overwhelmingly Mormon state, they got majority support for the list of those individual benefits and rights. And it allowed them to show that they had in the state a majority who supported the kinds of recognitions and benefits that people want when they ask for marriage, if you took the word “marriage” out of it.

AMY GOODMAN:

Your assessment of President Obama?

LISA DUGGAN:

Oh, what a disappointment. What a disappointment. He came into office really arguing to remove DOMA, to argue that DOMA was unconstitutional, and then the Obama administration filed a brief in support of DOMA that was — really went way beyond simply defending DOMA, which arguably they were required to do. But the language of the brief, they could have worded it in a way that undercut DOMA, rather than really making anti-gay arguments in that brief. And there has been no other action on any kind of LGBTQ issue until right now, there’s starting to be some response now that the LGBT movement is starting to be angry.

AMY GOODMAN:

And your use of the word "queer” —

LISA DUGGAN:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

— the “Q” for “queer.”

LISA DUGGAN:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

We get letters for and against.

LISA DUGGAN:

Yes. Well, I was trying to alternate back and forth between LGBT and Q, because different constituencies have different preferences. And “queer” is a term which really emphasizes dissent against the normal, against normalization and against the normative, whereas lesbian and gay doesn’t necessarily do that. Sometimes it’s enlisted in asking for becoming part of the normal. So there are a range of different positions that are attached to these terms, and people have very different responses to them. So when you read out the entire name of the Audre Lorde Project, you were specifying many of the terms that people like to be referred to with.

AMY GOODMAN:

We will leave it there.

LISA DUGGAN:

OK.

AMY GOODMAN:

But I want to thank you for being with us, Lisa Duggan, activist and writer.

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