In what appears to be a lonely and, at times, dangerous environment for LGBT students throughout the country, our University’s outspoken tolerance is a mark of pride. The verbal and sometimes physically violent homophobia that plagues high schools and colleges is virtually nonexistent here.
Many liberals will call the “gay rights movement” — which is almost always symbolized by the gay marriage debate — this country’s last civil rights movement, a direct outgrowth of the previous century’s feminist and black social movements, which are now also cordoned off to a distant past. Like those other movements that successfully overcame forms of racial or gender oppression, the gay rights movement will soon tackle homophobia and leave it in the past — as we already have, we tell ourselves, in the liberal pockets of New York and San Francisco. With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it would appear that even the most heteronormative institutions are acquiescing to the discourse of “gay rights” and “equality.”
Still, LGBT people and allies see there is much more work to be done.
The ally triangles are just one facet of the way our University — and liberal culture more generally — recognizes sexuality as something uniquely problematic and difficult to address in these times. “Gay marriage” is not only the next civil rights struggle; it is a symbol of a larger cultural battle, and the ultimate mark of social progress.
But if being an “ally” has a broader meaning of standing up against oppression — as I believe most of us would believe it should — then can one limit support to LGBT people? I don’t foresee University departments placing “feminist” stickers in their windows any time soon, but is the pervasive violence against women any less worthy of attention than the violence against gays and lesbians?
Or how about racism, which I think most people are aware hasn’t gone away even in the color-blind Obama age, with the legal struggle for civil rights well over. Trayvon Martin’s killer, for example, seemed far more concerned with the 17-year-old’s race than his sex life. In fact, one could argue it was America’s fear of black hypermasculinity rather than femininity that put Martin at risk. Don’t boys like Martin deserve allies, too?
And then, of course, there’s the West’s newest form of anti-Semitism: the regular surveillance of and violence against Muslims, South Asians and Arabs, who — as Rutgers professor Jasbir Puar and others have pointed out — are often imagined as the homophobic villains themselves, even while enduring various forms of U.S.-sponsored oppression and imperialist violence with the complicity of what Puar calls the “homonationalist” elite.
So yes, effeminate white boys getting bullied need “allies.”
But so do black boys walking down the street. So do women jogging through the park. So do Pakistani and Palestinian children playing outside.
The list is endless.
And if the list is exhausted, we would see that no one is spared. We must refuse the easy divide between homophobes and allies or victims and perpetrators, and acknowledge that the narrow fight against homophobia cannot be separated from any other struggle if we are serious about discovering and destroying our society’s foundations of hate and violence.
Instead, we must think of those pink “ally” triangles that hang outside our doors as mirrors: We are both “victims” and “perpetrators” of the forces that oppress all of us.
There is certainly blame to attribute to individuals for specific actions. But more insidious than those bogeymen — be they bullies or Bain Capital — is the mentality that drives them and controls all of us. It is a mentality so entrenched we cannot see alternatives in even our most passionate moments of political action and social awareness. We desire short-term change within the system without ever questioning what the system is. That’s a naive political exercise, we say, the navel-gazing of our hippie parents. The world is as it is; history has ended, and everyone is just playing catch-up.
Though the chants of “We shall overcome” have dwindled, there is still plenty to overcome. History has not ended — racism didn’t end in 1964, and homophobia will not end when gay legal and political equality is achieved. Equality is not the same as liberation from oppressive thought systems that occasionally manifest themselves as physical, deadly violence.
That liberation will require respect, solidarity and understanding; it will require a change in ideology, one that is willing to imagine a different world and not simply one that is slightly more tolerable. That liberation will require a change in mentality, where struggles are not imagined as short-term problems but systems to overcome. That liberation will require a broader kind of ally.
Brandon Davis is an anthropology major from Westport, Conn. He can be reached at email@example.com.