On the Politics of Loud and Quiet and the LGBTQ Left

“In many parts of society today…there’s a tendency to falsely equate noise with results. Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume.” -Nikki Haley, Republican Governor, South Carolina

“The LGBT civil rights movement has evolved admirably over the past few years to become more inclusive…Unfortunately, some of that progress has empowered the more radical amongst us to act in a brazen, autocratic manner…The Task Force is allowing the loudest voices to quash dissent and inhibit dialogue, the kind of dialogue that is necessary for progress. Placating those radical voices does not benefit the queer people most in need, nor the community as a whole.” -Dana Beyer, Executive Director, Gender Rights Maryland

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We all know our movement is in what is being called ‘the post-marriage moment’. Our movement has used a variety of strategies and tactics to get where it is going, and all our wins are based on that variety. We are also in a moment where the LGBTQ movement is not isolated from what is happening in our entire country. So, when I see such similarities between the two voices quoted above, I feel alarmed. Why?

Well, first of all because Haley’s message is in the air of our country, being replicated, adapted, and mimicked in so many places. I see that as profoundly harmful because it is an attack on not just the tactics of Black Lives Matter and Not1More but on the people in these movements themselves. After all, the message is suggestive of who the leaders are, not only what they are doing.Whether intended or not, similar language coming out of the LGBTQ sector lands as an attack on Black Lives Matter, on Not1More, and on the thousands of LGBTQ people resisting right now who have literally watched their loved ones die while waiting for centrist LGBTQ institutions to ‘get in the fight’ for their Black lives, their trans lives, their lives lived in poverty. Just as badly, it shames our history. We might disagree about how, when and for what direct action/disruption/protest is used in movement building. But none could claim that it has not played an essential role in LGBTQ movement building throughout our history. Our wins have not come from lobbying and advocacy alone. In fact, many of us feel direct action organizing has been the centerpiece of our most effective moments in strategy.

Because I organize based on my understanding of LGBTQ history, because I love our people deeply, it pains me to hear the ‘LGBTQ Left’ being characterized as violent, intolerant, shrieking zealots who are hijacking ‘our movement’. Its not true. It wasn’t true when LGBTQ liberation leaders were accused of this in the 1970’s, 1980’s, or 1990’s because they used direct action.

I have long relationships with a wide variety of leaders in the LGBTQ sector. In those relationships, I have agreed and disagreed, warmly and bitterly over the years. But nonetheless, there is no one in the sector who I feel I cannot look at in the eye. There is a great deal of disagreement about what our movement needs to do next, who needs to do it, and how. The political tensions that came to a head this week are not new. They are inside a context of a movement where leaders and organizations are subject to grave imbalances in access to power, to resources, and to amplification. It is not a neutral playing field: we all know where most of the power has been concentrated, and it is not equally distributed. This is not about individuals: bad leaders, or good leaders. It is about which voices have been suppressed and placated for years, and which have been courted, heard, and heeded. It is about a few of us speaking for all of us too often. So it is alarming to me that when some speak who have not had much voice, their voices are disparaged with such cruelty and vitriol simply because many don’t agree with their approach.

No tactic is perfect, nor lands right all the time. We are all learning. I am not asking you to agree on anyone’s approach. But, if you are white, middle class and can have your marriage now if you want like I can, I would humbly ask that when faced with the loud and powerful challenges of the tactics of this moment you would consider that many are more bone tired of waiting than you could possibly know. I would suggest you consider the harm that you cause if you replicate the language that the right uses about our people. I would even say that if you choose to do so you are part of heightening harm against LGBTQ leaders on the Left, many of whom are Trans and of Color. Disagree with people’s actions if you want, but take a moment to pause and think about how you voice that disagreement.

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