Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Rethinking the Mainstream Gay and Lesbian Movement beyond the Classroom: Exclusionary Results from Inclusion-Based Assimilation Politics

Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Rethinking the Mainstream Gay and Lesbian Movement beyond the Classroom: Exclusionary Results from Inclusion-Based Assimilation Politics

Article excerpt

HEADLINE on the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) website reads: "As the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] civil rights organization, HRC envisions an America where LGBT people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community" (HRC, 2011a). The HRC, under the banner of "equal rights," has become one of the largest mainstream organizations to mobilize gay and lesbian individuals across the nation in an effort to obtain what it deems are basic rights and access. However, "equal rights" or "basic rights" can be rather ambiguous concepts: Equal to whom? Basic for whom? Based on an examination of historical outcomes and a survey of the literature, this paper attempts to answer such questions as it dissects the mainstream gay and lesbian movement in and effort to provide an alternative analysis of "equal rights" and social justice movements.

Usually, within U.S. discourse and curriculum, equal rights are taught and communicated as being equivalent with equality in the strongest sense - conflating equal rights with the end of discrimination or injustice for the now politically/legally included group. Hence, critically investigating this mainstream equal rights movement, is to effectively deconstruct "equality" and show that typical discourse or classroom curriculum is often short-sighted, or lacking in its examination of the multidimensionality of equality and equal rights. What is often not discussed is the struggle of such movements, the compromises made, and even the exclusionary tactics used in an effort for full inclusion into dominant culture. The examples provided in this paper can serve as an analytic tool for teachers when constructing curriculum and lessons on equality - from the Civil Rights movement to the mainstream gay and lesbian movement discussed here. In other words, this examination of the current mainstream gay and lesbian movement will hopefully serve as an illustration of an unconventional, critical, and constructive way to view equality, equal rights, and future equality-based movements.

Currently, for mainstream gay and lesbian organizations, in a less convoluted sense, basic, equal rights - the ones that the HRC are referring to, at least - are those shared among larger, normative (read: heterosexual) society. Although on the surface groups such as the HRC and other mainstream organizations seeking these rights appear to be fighting for a "good cause" - equal rights are positioned as the supreme goal of most politics within the U.S. - the mainstream gay and lesbian movement is arguably fighting for equality through assimilationist discourses. Rather than a rejection of heteronormative culture and its "rights" entirely, the existing mission of mainstream gay and lesbian individuals, organizations, and movements today is to propose "we're just like you," in an effort to seek inclusion into dominant, heterosexual culture (see Butler 1990; Duggan, 2003; Seidman, 1993). Consequently, the current direction of the gay and lesbian mainstream movement is one leading toward a repetition of the past, whereby legal or political equality will not inevitably bring heteronormativity or heterosexism to breakdown or diminish in its incidence or prevalence. Instead, such assimilation politics will actually lead to a fragile relationship among the queer community as well as with dominant culture, contribute to the pervasive exclusion of other queer-identified individuals, and allow for further domination by the same kinds of privileged people.

Although the movement's desire for equal rights alone is not necessarily an unworthy cause, what must be considered and included in discussions/curriculum on equal rights is the cost of such an endeavor. At what cost is inclusion into the heterosexually structured world acceptable? Is inclusion worth the cost if other identities are oppressed as a result? Are equal rights enough if the possibility of a social or political transformation rooted in the respect for unique, separate identities is diminished in the process? …

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