During the weekend of March 29th, I, along with ten other Women’s and Gender Studies majors and Feminist Association of Wheaton (FAW) members, attended the 10th annual National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. It was a weekend of critiques, empowerment, and more critiques. As an out lesbian and open member of the queer community, something struck me. The only issue ever spoken about during the conference that faces queers was marriage equality. The idea that equal marriage is our only issue is insulting, especially coming from “progressive” feminists and other like communities.
I am not writing to have you read my many critiques of the conference, but to open your eyes about a broader range of ideas. Equal marriage is a good thing, yes. But it sends the message that in order for queer relationships to be recognized as valid, there must be a life-long legal commitment made. It pushes queer individuals into a box that I personally do not want to be a part of.
Marriage has been the sole method of validation regarding queer relationships and queer people for far too long. As the slam poet Denice Frohman stated, “Why do I have to prove my love is authentic?”
When saying that the only queer issue is marriage equality, it is inherently stating that our love is not authentic until approved by a legal document. I wasn’t aware that heterosexuals had to go through the same process to prove “they really love each other.”
I will repeat that I am aware that this issue is important and I will continue to support the efforts of those fighting, including the multiple celebrities and public figures who have voiced their support. All I desire is the broadening of awareness regarding these multiple issues. Macklemore’s famous statement, “A certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all but it’s a damn good place to start,” is true, but just like heterosexuals and non-queer identifying people, we have more layers and more issues that need addressing.
Workplace discrimination is still a large problem within the U.S.; according to the Center for American Progress, up to 43 percent of gay and transgender workers have experienced some form of discrimination on the job. It could be for something as simple as having a picture of themselves and their partner on their desk. It is still legal in 29 states to fire someone for their sexual orientation and in 34 states for their identification as transgender. Up to 41 percent of gay and transgender workers have reported being verbally and/or physically abused at work.
Hate crimes against the queer community are still rampant and the rates are exponentially increasing. Gay men and lesbians are the third most frequent target for hate filled violence over the past decade. In 2008, Lawrence King, a then 15-year-old boy of Oxnard, CA, was sitting at the computer at his middle school when a fellow student shot him twice in the head as others watched in horror. King was openly gay and was often a target for bullying. This is just one of many cases of tragedy within our national community.
Marriage, in situations like this, is still a privilege. Who can focus on marriage, if your life and livelihood is being threatened repeatedly because of who you love, what you identify yourself as, and who you choose to share your life with?
When we move beyond the concept of queers and equal marriage, we allow for a validation of lives through love, struggles, and human experiences, not a lousy piece of paper.
Next time a petition for equal marriage passes your way, still sign it. It will make an important change. But be aware of the multitude of other issues our community faces (I only skimmed the surface on two) and if you choose, also show your support in those as well. We need all the support we can get; it’s a long road, but I think it’s a worthy one.