Why Politics Is a Lost Cause for the LGBTQ+ Movement
Finding love before the national legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, Craig and Mullins sought matrimony in Massachusetts — where same-sex marriage was legal — a ways away from their home of Colorado. Through a journey that spanned seven states, totaling over 2,200 miles, marriage was possible.
With a firm plan to swerve institutionalized homophobia at home and marry in a state leading the charge on legalizing same-sex marriage, Craig and Mullins wanted a wedding cake. They entered Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado to order a wedding cake that honored their likenesses. However, the baker refused to provide them service on the basis that homosexuality invalidated his religious beliefs.
The divide of the store counter between Craig and Mullins and the Masterpiece Cakeshop baker represented the divide between American values, calling into question the foundations of this nation. Was the gay couple discriminated against on the basis of their sexualities? We say yes. Did the Masterpiece Cakeshop baker have a right to defend his religious beliefs in the face of homosexual sacrilege? This country says yes.
The concerns relate to far more than a cake. This is a clash between LGBTQ+ civil rights/liberties and American religious freedom. For the next few years, the most powerful people in America will have to use the most powerful legal tools at their disposal to resolve the dispute, and in doing so they will set a precedent that would forever set the direction of the LGBTQ+ movement, religious freedom, and the points at which they collide.
For the American people, reforming the law through institutional engagement has been the predominant force driving progressive social change. There are few — if any — mainstream social movements that are not also political in nature. Yet, if we are going to demand freedom for our people, we’re going to have to think bigger.
Is acceptance enough? For some of us, yes, and that’s the problem.
When same-sex marriage was finally legalized nationwide on June 26, 2015, I knew of many LGBTQ+ rights advocates that retired the struggle and were pleased with the decades of progress that have created a “reasonable” set of rights and liberties for our community. Yes, same-sex marriage was an immense win for progressives, but was it satisfactory?
The truth is, we should not be satisfied with what the law can provide for us.
There is so much work that we have to do before we can even fathom freedom, yet it doesn’t seem like the law has any more tricks up its sleeve. LGBTQ+ civil rights advocates have pushed the envelope for decades on what the government can and cannot do for us. Our struggles have crossed the minds of the most powerful people in this country, many of which have used their power to achieve “victory” for us. We have become the subjects of mass media, injecting our names, our causes, and our demands into the minds of every viewer.
Yet, we still see our people facing the worst forms of everyday violence. We are harassed, discriminated against, harmed, and killed for who we are. No matter how many laws we’ve passed since Stonewall, nothing seems to shake up our society’s infatuation with the spilling of our blood. Our people still face the same homophobic and transphobic violence that Marsha P. Johnson fought back against nearly 50 years ago. With an exhausting agenda and an exhausted agent of change, we need to think beyond the law and stop the apathy found beyond the outskirts of institutional reform.
True justice cannot be found between the lines of an amicus curiae brief, executive order, or anti-discrimination bill. If we continue to ask for rights and liberties from a government birthed by a culture of violence, we will never achieve liberation for our people. Our people will continue to die for who they are, and civil rights advocates will be empty-handed in the face of a much larger system of oppression that exists outside of the law. Again, we’re going to have to think bigger.
No matter how many laws we’ve passed since Stonewall, nothing seems to shake up our society’s infatuation with the spilling of our blood.
The problem isn’t legal, it’s cultural.
When the first human beings began to distinguish one another by physical, mental, and emotional characteristics, the groundwork for oppression was laid within these early social relations. However, within the confines of community-based egalitarianism, differences couldn’t be divided nor conquered.
As civilizations evolved — turning hunter-gatherer/egalitarian societies into complex power structures — humans began to sort each other vertically, in the sense that those at the top possessed power and authority over those below. Needing criteria for placement, the differences previously used for identification were now used to sort people.
In European and Western regions with dominant influences of religion, the vilification of gays became a mainstream belief that instantly placed us at the bottom of that vertical power structure. Western societies continued forward in the name of God; with malicious interpretations of Christianity, this meant our persecution and destruction.
Our discrimination is cultural.
When we analyze the Masterpiece Cakeshop case or the murder of Amia Tyrae, the origins trace back to the dominant culture of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, and how a hierarchy of oppression was established in accordance to beliefs about what it meant to be gay. In that establishment, we were locked into war against civilization itself.
Thus, our discrimination is not simply legal. A law did not make the Masterpiece Cakeshop baker refuse service to Craig and Mullins. A law did not make Amia Tyrae’s murderer commit transphobic violence. A law did not necessarily motivate police to raid Stonewall Inn. All three of those incidents were motivated by culture, one that instructs society to subjugate those it has been taught to hate.
Because in the end, government is simply an instrument that can be purposed for good or evil. Current powerful interests create, execute, and interpret law to suppress us, while the LGBTQ+ movement insists on reversing those processes to turn the tide and set a new foundation for politics.
However, what a law cannot do is change the minds of those it compels. Hatred exists in the psyches of those who vote, run for office, pass legislation, and lobby politicians. The byproducts of those actions — laws, court rulings, signing statements — are just that: byproducts. We need to think bigger and tackle our society’s infatuation with our destruction, instead of simply focusing on the way that our government enacts those desires.
Unfortunately, the law will never be able to access the culture of hatred that subjects us to endless violence. Only a paradigm shift that alters the way that we conceptualize queerness in our society can. Had there been a favorable ruling for the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, what stops bakers acting malicious towards gay customers in other ways? Hatred will always find a way to circumvent the system, so why are we confining ourselves within it?
Therefore, the solution is to untether our long-term vision from the confines of the law entirely. We must stop fighting on the turf of those who have structured a system that continues to fail us by design. While patriarchy controls the public consciousness and the seats of our government, we need to stop acting like we’re in control. The truth is, we have never had control. But, we could. Here’s how.
We cannot continue playing their game. Liberation needs to be achieved on our own terms.
We cannot rely on politicians who work with us only for their own interests. We cannot rely on a system that has placed us at the bottom without reason. We cannot rely on values that have been designed to strip us of our freedom. We cannot rely on a system that refuses to change its beliefs for our sake.
When Marsha P. Johnson fought back against the police — who raided the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969 — they set a clear precedent that defined the ends to which this movement must work towards. Not that we should fight for our lives on the terms of our oppressors, but resist the authorities whose existences threaten ours.
March towards that vision however you will — creating legislation, rallying justices, resisting police, starting revolution — but recognize that our freedom can never coexist with power, because it is power that relies on the containment of our freedom. And in that recognition, define your means by the ends, by working towards the deconstruction of power: always.
At the very most, the law is a means. We can garner several victories — same-sex marriage, transgender bathroom access, anti-discrimination policy — but when the time comes to finally abolishing the systems of power that has planted a target on our backs, we cannot rely on the law in the destruction of their own authority. That is our job.
But at the end of the day, the LGBTQ+ movement must not be afraid to be radical. This is a clash of civilizations that we have chosen to participate in, ever since Marsha P. Johnson taught us how to resist order with bricks. Only by radically challenging the culture of violence that has made our suffering mandatory can we finally understand what it means to be free. The law is not our friend, but a competitor seeking to usurp our power in every move.
That’s right: we must not negotiate our freedom with those who have dedicated their resources towards stripping it from us.
Our future does not lie in the hands of a majority decision from the nine justices seeking broken ethics, an executive order from the president seeking approval ratings, or an anti-discrimination bill written by legislators seeking re-election. Instead, we must be in charge.
We can only rely on ourselves and how we choose to shift the paradigm, because our liberation must be determined on our own terms. Write your own future, write your own fate, write your own freedom.