Intersectionality and Prop 8

Have I mentioned that I really hate the term “intersectionality”? Because I do. And I try very hard to make sure that it doesn’t appear on this website, because it’s one of those things that strikes me as an obnoxious buzzword. However, this is a case in which the word is really appropriate, because it allows me to say what I want to say without having to go into a bunch of meandering circumlocutions.

Basically, intersectionality is the idea that social and cultural constructions act in multiple ways to contribute to inequality and oppression. Prejudice against people on the basis of gender, race, creed, sexual orientation, or what have you, in other words, does not occur in a vacuum. A black lesbian isn’t separately oppressed as a woman, a black person, and a lesbian, she has a unique experience which combines all of these factors. I think that the basic concept of intersectionality is familiar to most of us, although we might resist using the word because, well, because it sounds like a catchy woo-woo buzzword. And it kinda is, but it is appropriate here, so please forgive me for using it and bear with me.

In the aftermath of the passage of Proposition 8 by a narrow margin in California, I have been reading a lot of commentary. And I mean a lot, coming from a wide variety of perspectives. And I’ve noticed some very interesting use of language going on, and I wanted to address that.

For example, I see people saying things like “fuck Californians,” and “people in California are bigots.” Well, as a Californian, let me tell you that is simply not true. And people who say those kinds of things really ought to know better. Obviously, not all of California is filled with bigoted hate mongers, because almost half of us voted against Proposition 8. Are there bigoted people in California? You betcha, and those people need to be addressed, but I’d rather not be tarred with the same brush simply because I live in the same state that they do. I am ashamed of being a Californian right now because of the example my state just set, but statements like “shame on California” really do not benefit this discussion at all.

I’ve also been hearing a lot of “Mormons are evil people,” and “we should tear down the Mormon church.” Now, the Mormon Church did sink a ton of money into Proposition 8, and I think that we can safely say that they definitely contributed to its passage, and that they may have even been the tipping point. And, yeah, I think that if a church gets involved in political activity, it should be losing its tax-exempt status, and I hope the IRS looks into that. But, you know what, that’s the Church, not individual Mormons. I happen to know many Mormons, all of whom support same sex marriage, and many of whom actively campaigned against Proposition 8 or asked people in their church to refrain from donating to 8 supporters. Please, people, let’s abstract the people and the church. Yes, there are bigoted, hateful Mormons who were indeed celebrating when 8 passed. But there were other Mormons who were not, and I would rather not be seeing blanket attacks on the basis of religion in this discussion. The Mormons have a rough enough time already from people who have a total lack of understanding for their faith. If anything, we should be reaching out to them and finding common ground, not denigrating them and their faith.

I’ve also seen a lot of attacks on the black community, and I don’t think that those attacks are productive. 70% of black folks who came to the polls in California evidently voted for Proposition 8, in a mind-boggling move to take civil rights away from people. Coming from people who have fought long and hard for civil rights*, that’s a bit dismaying. However, again it’s important to recognize that the black community is pretty big, and pretty diverse. One of the people I talked to on election night was a young black queer woman who has fought long and hard against 8, and was in fact working with the No on 8 campaign on election day. So don’t tell me that the black community is bigoted and full of hatred, because that’s not true.

There are obviously a lot of people in the black community who I think haven’t made the connection to gay marriage and civil rights. And that’s really sad, since a lot of gays and lesbians fought side by side with the black community for civil rights, and I think that many of us relied on them for support when we started our own civil rights battle. And yes, blacks do tend to attend church in higher numbers, and that did play a role in their vote. But for us to start calling out the black community as a whole for homophobia? That’s a bad move. We want the black community as our ally, not our enemy. To do that, we need to educate people, not scream at them. Yes, the black vote played a role in what happened with Proposition 8. Yes, that needs to be acknowledged. But, to use the word again, there is a lot of intersectionality in the black community, and our black LGBQT brothers and sisters fought against 8, voted against it, and continue to support us in this battle. Race baiting does not accomplish anything, people.

This is as much a generation gap as an age gap. You know who voted, across the board, for Prop 8? Old people. I don’t see any attacks on old people going on. I don’t see anyone mentioning the fact that young blacks voted consistently against Prop 8, as did young Californians in general. You want to blame anyone for what happened, why not blame old people with antiquated values?

The civil rights movement worked because people worked together. Because the black community mobilized and stood up for itself, and because people supported the black community. The LGBQT civil rights movement, although it has been going on just as long, is still in its infancy, and I’m not quite sure why that is. But we are definitely not going to be accomplishing anything if we bite the hands that feed us. We can’t go this alone. We need to make people understand why LGBQT civil rights are important, and how they can help us achieve them.

We’re already making progress. Proposition 22 passed by a much broader margin in 2000 than Prop 8. Same sex marriage is still legal in several states. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that blacks were treated like they weren’t people. 60 years ago, blacks couldn’t marry whites, and California was the first state to strike down anti-miscegenation laws as unconstitutional. In 2008, we made history again when we struck down gay marriage bans as unconstitutional, and unfortunately the result of that was an attempt to alter the Constitution to make it say what bigots wanted it to say.

In order to win a civil rights victory, we need help from people who have fought and won civil rights battles already. Women got the right to vote after decades of sustained hard work. Blacks made a number of gains in the 1960s and 1970s after the same amount of work. Neither of those groups would have achieved their goals if they had abused their supporters. If you care about civil rights, you don’t treat all members of a particular group the same way, because that’s the behaviour which leads to inequality in the first place. That’s what they do, my friends, and that is what we cannot do.

Go ahead, be angry at the Mormons, blacks, and Californians who voted for Proposition 8. But remember that lots of Mormons, blacks, and Californians also voted against Prop 8. Don’t cheapen what they did by trashing them, not matter how angry you are. And remember something else: some members of the LGBQT community voted for Prop 8, too. So why not just be angry at bigots instead?

We must fight for civil rights, not waste time in spurious attacks against people who could be helping us.

*Edited to add: more on this topic can be found here, including a discussion which refutes some of the simplistic language/logic used here.