By Ruth Sybil May
Back in 2011, Hillary Clinton gave a speech to the United Nations for Human Rights Day and decided to focus her attention for the speech on the LGBTQ+ community (See link here). After reading the full transcript of her speech posted at the end of the article titled “Sec. Clinton to UN: ‘Gay Rights are Human Rights, and Human Rights are Gay Rights’” by Igor Volsky and Zack Ford (See link here), I see how her attempt to be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community is admirable, yet also problematic.
It is important that she recognizes our common humanity and publicly addresses issues of harassment, bullying, violence, and discrimination affecting our community because it creates a global platform for social change and advocacy (para. 11). However, I would like to shift my attention to one particular quote that I will critique and refute. It reads as follows:
…Well, in reality, Gay people are born into, and belong to, every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths. They are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes. And whether we know it or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality (para. 12).
At first thought, it seems wonderful to see such a high-profile politician who thinks positively of the LGBTQ+ community (though she uses the acronym LGBT, which is inherently exclusionary of people who exist across the extended and more inclusive LGBTQ+ spectrum). She is right in insinuating that existing along the queer spectrum is not a Western invention, but a natural part of human diversity. And it is true that we come from all walks of life and intersections of identities. But reading it again, I can see how she is participating in homonormativity, homonationalism, and femmephobia, all in one fell swoop.
By arguing that gay people should be accepted in American culture because of their positions as doctors, bankers, soldiers, and athletes, she is favoring queer people that are most assimilatory to the dominant, capitalistic, masculine, and androcentric culture. This is because they are the people who have the most class privilege and sociopolitical power in the queer community. These “normal” gays are the ones who most often buy into consumer culture, support war, believe in the fallacy that is the American Dream. They confuse ascribed status with achieved status (See Link here), get “gay married,” and try to disassociate themselves from feminine queers because they themselves deal with internalized queerphobia and femmephobia, thinking of femininity as a sign of weakness instead of a great source of power.
So to counter her shortcomings and foster more inclusivity, I would like to officiate a message of support and empowerment to my beloved LGBTQ+ community:
I want to give a shout out to all of the queers who inhabit positionalities of oppression and hardship. Whether it be derived from some intersection of racism, classism, homelessness, misogyny, transmisogyny, transphobia, mental illness, physical disability, nationalism, ethnocentrism, ageism, lesbophobia, biphobia, being HIV positive, or something not otherwise specified. Your resilience is astounding and a testament to your power.
I want to show my gratitude for all of the feminist, revolutionary queers out there who can see the writing on the wall and have made it their mission to make the world a better place for everyone. Your efforts are admirable.
I want to show my appreciation for all of the queers out there who occupy positions in the feminized sector and other low-paying sectors of the economy, legal or otherwise. Hairdressers, child care workers, retail sales workers, domestic laborers, nurses, sex workers, baristas, cashiers, fast food workers, student workers, drag queens, drag kings, and those who cannot work for whatever reason. You aren’t paid nearly enough, don’t receive enough (if any) benefits, and fear for your physical safety and well-being due to the nature of your work. This is a travesty given that you deserve so much more as a human being. But you make the best of it given your circumstances, and there’s so much beauty in that.
Your lived experiences tend to be swept under the rug in favor of the overrepresentation of the most “normal,” privileged queers in our community, making your voices ever so important and in need of amplification. Your lives are valuable and precious. You may be in a struggle, but we can get through it together with our collective strength and tenacity.
We are survivors, not always heard, but always great.
Ruth is a Programming/Outreach assistant at the Women’s Center and an undergraduate student in the Women’s Studies and Human Relations programs at St. Cloud State. They have an unquenchable thirst for social justice and a passion for fashion. In their free time, Ruth enjoys listening to an eclectic collection of music, going for bike rides, and spending quality time with their adorable cat.