Hard times are upon us, but not all of us are affected equally. The richest among us are doing rather well—getting relatively richer, in fact. According to one recent study, 93 percent of all income gains in 2010 went to the top 1 percent. But the rest of us, the 99 percent hailed by the Occupy Wall Street movement, are suffering in different ways, to different degrees. The poorest and least privileged have been hit the hardest, by the escalating poverty rate and by the dismantling of the social safety net. Meanwhile, the American middle class is learning a shocking lesson in neoliberal economics as they face downward mobility, home foreclosures, stubbornly high unemployment rates and unsustainable levels of personal debt. And it’s not just our markets that are broken. All across the country, citizens are waking up to the reality that the political system is rigged for the 1 percent and that their voices are increasingly absent from the national debate, drowned out by corporate power and the interests of the economic elite.
And so it is among LGBT/Q populations and organizations as well. The agendas of mainstream organizations have been moving forward—the call for inclusion of gays in the military, the gay marriage movement, and the push for gay representation in corporate media have all experienced significant successes. This agenda has achieved primacy by hewing to two tactics. The first is to shrink the field of LGBT/Q politics so that it only represents a narrow strand of liberal identity politics, one that only recognizes immediately and exclusively “gay” issues as legitimate and that sees formal, legal equality as the end goal. The second is to argue that increasing lesbian and gay representation in dominant institutions lifts all queer people—call it the trickle-down theory of gay rights.
Meanwhile, queer immigrants, homeless youth, unemployed and impoverished transgender workers, and queers of color are getting hit even harder since the 2008 crash. This great divergence makes it more than clear—the time has come to change the agenda of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer politics in the United States. The agenda of the mainstream organizations has shifted away from the broad array of issues facing queer populations to focus primarily on marriage, military, and markets. These goals align too neatly with those of social and economic conservatives: seeking to join rather than critique and contest the inequalities and injustices of the privatized family, the imperial state, and the neoliberal market.
A New Queer Agenda proposes a new set of issues for a revitalized queer movement with a global democratic vision, reaching across lines of race, ethnicity, gender and gender expression, class, religion, and nationality. Though this collection focuses on issues and politics within the United States, and especially in New York City, this local/national context does not define the political horizon of the agenda we propose. Rather, this context reflects the primarily local character of the grassroots queer activism outlined here—a network of local organizations (like Queers for Economic Justice, listed in the introduction and in an appendix to this collection) that we hope to connect to efforts across the United States and around the world. The goal of this issue of The Scholar and Feminist Online is to forward the process of forging active transnational collaborations among queer progressive and left projects.
The writers of the essays, documents, and interviews collected in this volume are all activists from across the country; they are visionary thinkers who are community organizers, journalists, social workers, writers, academics, lawyers, advocates, and counselors. Most of them have worked with the nonprofit Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ)—either as staff, board members, volunteers, or as colleagues at other social justice organizations with whom QEJ has worked closely. All of them share QEJ’s vision of seeking common ground and coalition with the full range of social justice organizations, rather than trying to determine what is a specifically “gay” issue.
Some of the essays contained here focus on issues that the mainstream LGBT movement has prioritized over the past decade—marriage, hate crimes, antidiscrimination laws, and gays in the military. These essays explore both the strengths and limitations of that work. Most of the essays here examine the issues that have been largely missing from the current “gay agenda.” They address those “other” issues that affect the 99 percent—economic justice, housing, health care, welfare, immigration, sexual liberation, aging, disability, gender identity and expression, HIV/AIDS, rural and urban community organizing, public space, sex work, drugs, crime, policing and prisons, reproductive rights, racial injustice, and more.
The essays in A New Queer Agenda are deliberately varied in structure, style, and tone. We believe that some of the most important visions for queer politics today are emerging within activist, on-the-ground contexts, where busy organizers seldom have the time or resources to publish their ideas. Thus many of the essays in this collection are by first-time authors. Others are by much-published academics, journalists, attorneys, and public intellectuals. As a result, some of the following contributions are straightforward policy recommendations, and some are reflections on the history and state of the movement. Some of the essays are interviews with important figures in our movements, and some of them are explanations of important recent documents created by our movements (which are included here in this journal issue). Some of them offer thoughtful theoretical analysis, and others are more practical “how-to” guides. The common thread throughout all of them is an exploration of the ways in which economic, gender, and racial justice can, and should, be more centralized in the work of the LGBT movement.
The authors, interviewees, essays, and documents in this journal issue reflect the state of the real queer movement—the grassroots organizations and activists at work over the past decades, mostly at the local, state, or transnational rather than national level, working to address the barriers to full participation in public life. Each essay, interview, and document constitutes a snapshot of a moment in political organizing at the start of the twenty-first century. Our collection of them here is an effort to connect the dots, and to bring all the local efforts into dialogue and full global visibility.