As my posts address the nuances of building a progressive queer movement out of the many single-identity based movements that exist, it is certainly useful for me to define the way in which I use the word “queer.” I am not using it as a stand-in for LGBT, and I am not using it as an umbrella term. I am distinctly referencing Queer Theory, which "is basically a set of ideas based around the notion that sexual identities need not be fixed - and that gender identities are not necessarily fixed either (and don’t need to be)” (Koonan 3). Thus, when I refer to queer movements, I am referring not to the movements which seek equal marriage rights, but to the movements which question the legitimacy of gender as a tool for social organization." I am a white gay man who would love to see a progressive queer movement that looks a little less white.

I have heard plenty of explanations for the whiteness of the Queer movement, among them that people who struggle economically must spend more time making ends meet, rather than pondering the boundaries of social categories and because people of color are disproportionately poor, logically fewer will enter into Queer movements. From one angle, this explanation looks promising, as it acknowledges a social reality for people of color that dominant groups often try to warp. And it seems logical; if struggling for survival, reading Judith Butler's Gender Trouble would be significantly lower on my list of priorities. Further, because Queer Theory seems so rooted in academia, one might posit that it takes a certain amount of privilege even to be exposed to it (though this is a bit of a shaky position in the age of the internet).

This view pretends that the ideas encompassed in Queer theory can only be discovered or contemplated in spaces of academia, that ideas within Queer theory are not relevant to the lives of the working class, and that intellectual inquiry must take place instead of work and other life experience, rather than in conjunction with it.

To be sure, there are spaces for LGBT people of color, and within Black feminist frameworks lesbians play a prominent role. There are queer activists and theorists of color. But just as Obama becoming president of the United States did not signal the end of racism and racial inequality in the country, the existence of Queer people of color does not signify an arrival of the Queer movement to a healthy level of race-consciousness. There are undeniably some brilliant people of color doing the work to create a progressive, inclusive movement, but it doesn't work so well when those who experience intersecting oppressions embrace all marginalized groups while being overlooked, delegitimized and even shunned in return.

There are prominent folks trying to combat the whiteness of Queerness as well, just look at Judith Butler's rejection of the Berlin Pride award. This isn't enough. White queers need to be better than Democrats, and must do more than just pay lip service to the notion that racism exists within the community. Before a Queer movement can become truly inclusive, racial equality and equity must become core tenets, such that queerness cannot be understood in a supposed racial vacuum. White queers must see how their whiteness and queerness work together, just as Queer people of color see/experience how their identities work together. There is a great article by Diane Finnerty at University of Iowa that walks through common things that white LGBT people do or avoid in order to help the LGBT and Queer movements become less racist spaces.

None of these ideas are new. Despite its post-structuralist, all-encompassing flavor, Queerness has, and continues to fall far short of its potential, and in its brief history has held far too firmly to the dominant forces from which it emerged. In fact it is my belief that in order for a successful wide-scale progressive movement to take hold, Queerness will have to become but one frame in an intellectual pluralism that effectively gives voice to experiences of gender and sexuality in all different realms of life.

Additional Reading:
Coonan, Kris. Queer Theory Demystified

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