I met last week with fellow activists to discuss queer approaches to immigration reform. Like many, I take the word queer to be an explicitly political term. But what does it mean to take a queer perspective on social justice?

I believe it goes far beyond simply giving gay people the opportunity to participate in a broken heteronormative system. Gay politics in the US advocates for same-sex marriage (first and foremost!), but also hate crimes legislation, the Uniting American Families Act, and repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell[1]. Queer politics – in my humble opinion – should question these tactics, and the structures they uphold. Now, this is where queer politics often gets attacked. You may be thinking that if I disapprove of fighting for marriage laws, or allowing same-sex partner sponsorship, or welcoming gay folks into the military, then I'm not-so-secretly advancing a right-wing agenda. Not so fast! It's not that I don't think folks should be allowed to do these things if they want to. Rather, I believe that none of the proposed reforms address the real problems of an unequal society.

For me, a queer agenda is a radical agenda. I like the word queerbecause it allows for difference. More than that, it is about difference. As an identity, queerness encompasses those who recognize that they lie outside society's norms: butches, femmes, fags, dykes, single folks, asexual folks, folks in several polyamorous relationships, parents, youth, same-gender-loving folks, pansexual folks, cisgender folks, transgender folks, genderqueer and gender-non-conforming folks. As a political agenda, then, it must be inclusive, flexible, sex-positive, and anti-hierarchical.

We know that when there are hierarchies based on merit or disgust, queer folks end up at the bottom. So in the search for a queer politics we cannot continue to reinforce these hierarchies and simply climb up the ladder. This upwardly-mobile vision of politics is why gay champions of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act have been so quick to drop trans folks, why partnered marriage-equality defenders have been so quick to criticize polygamy or promiscuous singlehood, why so many gay activists have emphasized 'family' values at the expense of sex-workers, kinky folks, and other non-conformists. In order to climb up the ladder, you need to shove someone below you.

So what, you ask? Maybe you think there are always winners and losers. Perhaps you're making the argument that winning rights for some of 'us' – the more acceptable ones, of course – is a stepping stone to winning rights for all. I'll give you that. But do you really think that once those picture-perfect suburban lesbian moms have won the right to get married they'll work to secure affordable health care for their polyamorous sister who couldn't share her partners' health insurance even if their low-wage offered any? Or that the gay man who lobbied hard for hate crimes laws that expand the criminal justice system will stand up when that same system abuses the homeless teenager who's gotten into drugs and survival sex work? Maybe I'm just too cynical.

So when I claim queer as a political identity and not just a sexual one, I am adopting a vision of society in which difference does not justify discrimination. To bring it back around to immigration, I believe in an immigration policy that trusts that people who choose to migrate have good reasons for doing so, that does not criminalize them for following either economic necessity or personal desire, and that does not value the lives of married (straight), educated, well-off, and white immigrants over those of poor immigrants, immigrants of color, immigrants who are estranged from their family, or immigrants whose skills are not classed as 'desirable'.

How do we get there? I don't know. But I do think that making the goal explicit is the first step.


[1] Apologies for the heavily US-centric post. It is not meant to be exclusionary, but I can only write what I know. For those of you in other parts of the world, I'd love to hear if your experiences mirror mine, or not. Please share!

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