Queer Justice Means More Than Gay White Men Having Public Boyfriends

feature image via livingneworleans.com

Y’all, good news: U.S. society has officially accepted queers, the fight is over! In fact our sexuality is as boring as our middle school haircuts. So says David Carr, the New York Times’ brilliant media columnist, in a piece that made me shake my head sadly.

Carr earned his reputation as an expert on media — how it works, where it’s headed and its impact. I’ve met him twice, a fact I use to make my journalist friends jealous, and he’s as bright, well-spoken and insightful in person as he normally is in print. But in the column, Carr does what many well-meaning writers and public figures do — he conflates the relative social acceptance of gay white men with the achievement of justice and equality for queer people.

In the piece, he rightly chastises Gawker for harassing and outing Fox News anchor Shepard Smith in a particularly Gawkerish fashion. He notes, also correctly, that these sorts of public outings rarely receive much attention anymore.

“We know why: The culture has moved on,” Carr writes. “People see other people who happen to be gay at their workplaces, in their schools and on their televisions. Somewhere along the way, what was once a scarlet letter because just another consonant in the personal résumé. And now that gay marriage is a fact of life, a person’s sexual orientation is not only not news, it’s not very interesting.”

Being gay is so passé it makes me rhyme!

He then explains how totally chill everyone is about gay marriage — solidly more than half of Americans support it, although only 14 states allow it. Carr’s focus on marriage is telling given that the original Gawker piece had nothing to do with Smith marrying anyone. Thanks to mainstream LGBT rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign, marriage equality stands out as the most visible queer fight.

Even Smith’s employer Fox News, Carr writes, has mostly gotten over its hostile aversion to marriage equality: “From what I can tell, Fox News has done a decent job of representing the broad range of conservative views on same-sex marriage and seems to have, along with the rest of the country, evolved.” Fair enough — Bill O’Reilly no longer says gay marriage is the same thing as bestiality. Sally Kohn, the station’s only openly lesbian contributor, left Fox last week to head to MSNBC, but viewers responded well to her during her three years with the network.

That’s something. But it’s not enough to have token gay representation and to not be constantly declared icky in prime time. Bill O’Reilly’s tacit approval of gay and lesbian marriage does not satisfy me.

I don’t mean to downplay the significance of marriage equality for many people. In a way, too, it indicates progress that a famous gay white man can hang out at a bar with his boyfriend and that no one bats an eye when a widely-read blog publishes a story about that man’s sexuality. But pieces like Carr’s cause damage because they encourage straight allies and queers to raise a drink (perhaps a gin and cucumber like the one Smith was drinking in the bar) in celebration of a fight fought and won.

The journey toward queer equality and justice includes so much more than marriage, and so much more than the social stability of famous white gay men. It includes promoting mental and physical safety for queer youth like the transgender high school student being persecuted by the California Justice Institute. It includes fighting for laws guaranteeing nondiscriminatory access to housing and employment.

According to a 2010 analysis of FBI crime data, LGBT people are more likely to be the target of hate crimes than any other group and the 2011 NCAVP Hate Violence report found transgender people of color specifically are almost 2.5 times as likely to experience discrimination as their white peers. An Argentinian psychologist told NPR in 2012 that the average life expectancy for trans* people is 30-32 years. According to a study from the UCLA School of Law, LGBT youth make up 40 percent of homeless teens.

In his capacity as media guru, Carr offered a meaningful objection to the Gawker pieces and offers an interesting analysis of the ways in which “the culture has moved on.” But columns like his give people a pass to keep right on moving on instead of sticking around to pursue the necessary fights to make it possible for all queer people to live in safety, pursue economic security and live full and happy lives.


 Audrey is a Texan living in Managua, Nicaragua. She loves journalism, country music and talking to strangers. Follow her on Twitter @audreywhitetx.

Avatar of Audrey

Audrey is a Texan living in Managua, Nicaragua. She loves journalism, country dancing and talking to strangers. Follow her on Twitter @audreywhitetx.

Audrey has written 16 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. Thumb up 13

    Please log in to vote

    I love David Carr so I was really disappointed to read this opinion in his column too — and scared, actually, that somebody so seemingly well-informed could be so out of touch with the real issues the queer community is facing right now, and the fact that Fox News is hardly a bastion of queer support. Like you said, Bill O’Reilly doesn’t think gay marriage is like marrying farm animals anymore, but he’s still a racist misogynist piece of shit, as are the majority of his network’s employees. The fact that Fox News has evolved on gay marriage while remaining a monument to white supremacy and Tea Party politics is kinda telling, actually…. as long as there are white gay men in high places, those issues will move forward in the mainstream, and all of us can then benefit — to various degrees ranging from “not really” to “a lot” — from progress on the issues gay white men deem important. Meanwhile we still can’t muster up support for trans people, gender-variant people, women, and people of color, and Fox News continues framing support of those groups as anti-American. YAY PROGRESS.

      • Thumb up 2

        Please log in to vote

        It’s not that odd, actually. Granted, I don’t watch Fox News ever if I can possibly avoid it, but I unfortunately have several members of my extended family who are Fox News junkies and are similarly racist homophobes, yet they are also staunchly pro-Israel. It’s actually a weird form of antisemitism. It comes from their evangelical premillenial dispensationalism (aka end times Rapture theology). Basically, they’re pro-Israel as a nation because they believe it needs to exist as a political entity and that several specific events need to take place there to fulfill Bible “prophecies” before Jesus will come back. They have no love for actual Jewish people, though, or respect for Judaism as a faith. They still believe all the Jews will be thrown in The Pit to suffer for eternity along with the rest of the non-Real True Christians(tm). But they support Israel as a political entity because they’re necessary for those “prophesies.”

        If you want to see an example of this thinking in action, check out the ‘Left Behind’ books. No, actually, check out the brilliant take down that Christian blogger Fred Clark does of the series (Index of posts 1, Index 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). If you don’t want to read all of them, the last 3 or 4 entries actually happen to show one weird manifestation of this pro-Jew antisemitism.

  2. Thumb up 15

    Please log in to vote

    It’s how the supreme court was able to strip part of the voting act, right? Racism doesn’t exist anymore because the old white guys can’t see it. I read the gawker articles, they stretched like over a week, talking about Smith and how he bullied some waitress because she didn’t refresh his drink fast enough. They mentioned that he was there with his boyfriend, i guess they thought it would make some ripple. But Carr saying that because nobody reacted, means nobody gives a crap about you being gay is too big a leap. Not everybody has Smith’s finances, people are still afraid of coming out to family members, losing their jobs , for crying out loud north carolina is refusing to give gay national guard members the benefits they qualify for. If you want to look for measures of equality, using white men as your bar would be disingenuous and willfully blind

  3. Thumb up 9

    Please log in to vote

    the thing this problem actually revolves around is class. Of course posh celebrities don’t lose ratings when outed anymore, so for them their problem is resolved and the fight is won. for homeless queer youth and subsistence sex workers (many of whom are lesbian/bi) on the street not so much. But only the posh people are of any interest to media – so what did you expect on the telly?

  4. Thumb up 10

    Please log in to vote

    If I had a quarter for every time my qwoc self got into an argument with a cis,white,gay guy over equality, I could buy an island and drop them all there to mull over their oppression. The racism, misogyny, transphobic bull, etc. that festers on that end is enough to make me want to dig my own grave and just lay there until the inevitable happens.

  5. Thumb up 7

    Please log in to vote

    Now, it could be because I’m short (OR queer or black or female or WHATEVER) but I feel like most of my life consists of me jumping up and down, waving and yelling “Hey! I’m still here and my voice matters too! …right…?!?” It happened reading the article, it happens watching television, it happens in life. Boo that.

    Yeah the piece was disappointing, but at least I know there are at least a few people who actually KNOW that queer justice doesn’t stop with white gay men. Articles like this one aren’t exactly spreading around the right idea.

  6. Thumb up 9

    Please log in to vote

    So many feelings on this.

    The fact that equality in America is all about marriage (at least in the mainstream press) really does nothing for me as a single, queer woman. Granted, I live in New York where we have ENDA-like legislation on the books. However, that didn’t stop Islan Nettles from being beaten to death a block from my home – which is also, sadly enough, a block away from the home of Harlem Pride.

    While legislation helps, saying that equal marriage will get rid of homophobia is like saying the Civil Rights Act got rid of racism. This may be far broader that what is being said in the article, but this has been on my mind.

    One of my favorite things about the queer community is that we are a part of every other community on the planet. WE ARE EVERYWHERE! We come from everywhere, do everything, and interact with everyone. It’s hard to remember this because a lot of times we are difficult to find. But we are here. We exist. We are real. And we are all encompassing. And I fucking DIG that about us.

    I love us.

    Please, world, recognize us and the diversity that makes us amazing. It’s too beautiful to ignore.

  7. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Nice article, but I find it so disappointing that the “I” is left out of the acronym over and over again here even though one of Autostraddle’s best contributors is an intersex person. Where I live intersex people are by far the most marginalized grouping and in terms of activism and politics the most marginalized is usually the best place to start thinking and acting from.

    • Thumb up 4

      Please log in to vote

      Howdy, I absolutely understand your frustration – the acronym is a complicated beast, which is why I mostly stuck with queer. I use LGBT in three places – to identify the HRC, which refers to itself as an LGBT rights org, and to convey the data in the two studies, which specifically examined LGBT populations, according to the studies themselves. I agree with you that the queer justice movement must include work by and for intersex people, but to include the I in the acronym in these cases would have been inaccurate/misleading. I hope that makes sense!

  8. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    While I appreciate the critique of David Carr’s entitled, flip comments, I’m not a fan of including statements by “Argentinian psychologists” stating the average life expectancy of trans people is 30-32 years. Firstly, no one, in any country, has an anywhere near accurate count of the trans community (nor can even agree with who and how they’re doing the counting)… so throwing out a stat like that is clearly trying to prove an assumption rather that investigating a community. Secondly, while I appreciate non-trans allies attempting to focus on the extreme level of violence trans women (especially those of color) experience, these kind of statements are panic bombs which accomplish little other than freak out young trans women and are often used by LGBT groups whenever they’re fundraising. There are lots of trans women of all ages, accomplishing a lot in the face of sometimes tough situations but also finding support and love. It’s way more important for young people facing transition to know about this than having scare tactics about how they’re supposedly going to die in 12 years.

    • Thumb up 4

      Please log in to vote

      I really appreciate your feedback. When I included that stat, I was thinking from the perspective of showing how urgent the need is for comprehensive efforts to eliminate the real dangers trans* and other queer people face. I see what you mean, though, about it functioning as a “panic bomb,” especially because the data is so inconclusive. I’m going to email my editor about amending or removing that line.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.