Sara Whitman

The Ridiculous Notion of Gay Privilege

Filed By Sara Whitman | May 01, 2008 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: ENDA, gay agenda, gay rights, LGBT community, transgender, white privilege

Watching Tim Wise today has me wondering... how do we do the same thing in the LGBT community? How do we push hard against someone else, make someone smaller, less than in order to feel our privilege?

ENDA, of course, comes to mind first. The ridiculous notion of Gay and Lesbian privilege plays out in national politics, with some of our leaders saying it's too difficult to include transgender in the language. They made a division between transgender and the rest of the alphabet soup.

We divide ourselves, like the people of New Orleans. The "normal" queers can have rights but let's be sure those people can't move in on our rights. Our agenda.

That's too much.

It is ironic, because those who are against us think we're all freaks. They liken us to pedophiles and sexual deviants. As if cutting off one of our arms will make us any more likable to them.

It won't.

We say that transgender inclusion is too hard. We'll be good little queers and dress the right way, look pretty and handsome, play the game the way those in power have dictated the rules. We have, after all, already pushed the envelope to the edge by including Gays and Lesbians.

Instead of "crossing the canal" and being stronger as a whole by including everyone we shun those who not only are our allies, but they are a part of our soul.

We're not freaks, we're human beings. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender- all just people. We've been part of society since the dawn of time. We're not pushing a "gay agenda," we are pushing a human agenda.

Watch Tim Wise again. Think hard about the words in our own community, how we fight amongst ourselves, making ridiculous lines in sand to somehow feel more powerful.

We are not part of the club of those in power. We never will be.

It truly is a ridiculous notion of Gay Privilege.

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Bruce Parker | May 1, 2008 2:17 PM


Thanks for this post.

A question and then a comment.

Question: Can you tell me more about how you are connecting this with New Orleans? As a newly minted Louisiana boy I am curious and continually intrigued by discussion around New Orleans.

Comment: Admittedly, I am deep within the Judith Butler waters still trying to wrap up this final but, Butler would agree with you on a lot of levels. I am fascinated that she attempts to position the larger questions of social justice and identities in terms of the two questions, what is a human? and who decides if someone is a human?

It seems that in response to gay men and lesbians being told that they are not human they are willing to jettison transgender folks as non-human in order to gain visibility and acceptance for themselves. Could this avoidance of the excess in our community be reinforcing the power of hetersexual regimes?

Enough madness.

Well said, Sara!

I have long said what binds us as a community is the opositions view of us. As you say, we are all "freaks" to them- no matter what letter of the LGBT you fall under.

It is ironic, because those who are against us think we're all freaks. They liken us to pedophiles and sexual deviants. As if cutting off one of our arms will make us any more likable to them.

hear hear!

The nice thing about a blog is that there is no "gay and lesbian privilages," and anyone who tries to exert some form of GL privilages are quickly give an attitude adjustment. However, other forms of privilages exist on various blogs, including this one. It's the nature of the beast.

We're not pushing a "gay agenda," we are pushing a human agenda.
Well said!

Thanks for this great post, Sara.

I agree: all of us within the LGBTQ community should stand together, and proclaim that all of us get ENDA and other protections or none of us do.

I am willing to wait longer for ENDA protection until it ensures that we all will be covered, and I do not want my protection as a gay man to come at the sacrifice of the rights of others for political expediency with the horrific implication that transgendered people are "less than" human beings entitled to the same protection.

The irony is that transgendered people have been at the forefront in the fight for LGBTQ equality both pre- and post-Stonewall, and if they are not included within ENDA then I don't want it. I've waited decades for ENDA, and I am willing to wait a little longer to ensure that it includes transgender rights.

Bruce, watch the video under "you gotta see this" and you'll see the connection.

it's a part of a overall talk by Tim Wise on white privilege, institutional racism, that I found very powerful to watch.


FWIW, I've been on a queer history reading binge and the whole "virtually normal" argument goes back well over a century. Did ya know that "queer" was originally coined by straight-acting gay men in NYC to distinguish themselves from the effeminate "fairies" of the early 1900s, so that they could say "we're not like those people. And the madness has continued ever since.

Steven Petrow, past president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, just had a nice essay about how the reaction to pregnant trans man Thomas Beatie, mirrored lots of other examples of members of the LGBT communities to "go to the back of the lavender bus because they were not good PR vehicles for the gay rights movement."

The only disagreement I have is with your argument that we'll never be part of the "club of power." Things are changing -- albeit more slowly and more unevenly than we'd like. But they are changing.

I also am quite concerned that if ENDA is enacted without protecting transgendered people in the first instance, as it should, then the likelihood of the bill ever being subsequently amended to extend the same protections for transgendered people is slim.

I am afraid that if ENDA is passed just based on sexual orientation, as currently proposed, then the major LGBTQ advocacy and lobbying groups will consider their work a basic success, the mission essentially accomplished, and everyone will move on to the next big issue such as repeal of DOMA and DADT, and unfortunately the need for transgender protections under ENDA will be placed on the back burner or on some wish list and become essentially neglected. It's an unfortunate part of human nature that once we get ours, we care less about whether others get theirs.

Accordingly, the best chance for ensuring transgender protection under ENDA is by all of us insisting that it be included with sexual orientation in the first instance, and that the only acceptable ENDA is an inclusive ENDA.

The fact is that I cannot imagine gay culture -- at least the gay culture of which I am most fond -- without transgendered people, and asking me to support a non-inclusive ENDA is like accepting rescue from some plane crash or something but leaving my best friend behind to wait it out alone for the next rescue attempt that might not even ever come. Sorry, but I'm willing to stay behind until we both can be rescued together. The transgendered community has always been part of the gay community, and friends don't leave friends behind.

This actually has been my favorite post I've every seen, Sara, so thanks again. With a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate and a Democratic President in 2009 we will obtain a fully inclusive ENDA if we all stick together and insist upon it.

Sara, I just took a look at your profile . . . wow. I see that you are a contributor for Bay Windows among other publications. Back in late 1982/early 1983 I was the cover boy for a Bay Windows issue that accompanied an article written by John Preston (with whom I later spent an evening in a hot tub on Exchange Street in Portland, ME). Were you with Bay Windows back then? Did you know John Preston? I'd love to dig up a copy of that old Bay Windows issue; unfortunately, I never was in the habit of saving things but I'd love to see a copy of it again after twenty-five years.

Sara, I think this is one of your best posts yet. I can only completely agree with you...

excellent post! LGBT rights are nothing more or less than basic human rights...making HRC's devisive strategy all the more tragic and ironic. the "gay agenda" is the "human agenda". we are striving to make the dream of equality a reality. how can that be accomplished if we cave and condone discrimination?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 2, 2008 10:05 AM

I am picturing myself at a Gay party. There were always privileged gays even within our own community. We have to look inward to find our humility and THEN look outward to create our new reality

Ah,gaybars, you date me by a couple years. I've lived in Boston since 1985.

I've only started to write for Bay Windows in the last two years.

Imagine a movement based on race, color, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, age and disability...

to take back the social, economic and political power and share it. equally.

Allen Roskoff, a member of the Gay Activist Alliance that was formed after the Stonewall Inn riots, has a nice piece in this week's New York Blade concerning the orgins of ENDA, its subsequent bastardization to exclude trangendered people, and he urges us "to regain the spirit of the Gay Activists Alliance and fight for total equality."

Check out this fabulous 1971 photo of transgendered activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson who co-founded Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries, and anyone tell me how on God's green earth we dare can betray the work they performed on behalf of us all while most of us were still in the closet -- or not yet even born -- by now excluding transgendered people from the protections of ENDA?

I have learned in my work in recent years that what is most ridiculous--absurd is the term I'm more familiar with--is often the most true.

I've also learned one of the most profound differences between LGBT activism in the United States--which actually IS LGBT activism--is very different from what pretends to that name in Canada--there isn't any.

Excluding the Human Rights Campaign, which is exceptional for more than just its funding, I'm envious not only of the commentary I see here and elsewhere, but also of 'on the ground' activism of gay and lesbian people with transgender and transsexual people.

The dominant attitude among most of those cissexual people I've had the opportunity of trying to work with, particularly those who have power nationally, is what one of the 'privileged' once described as "inconvenient, divisive and ultimately unnecessary."

When sexual orientation was added to human rights law federally, provincially and territorially throughout Canada about a decade ago, the decision was made to go for "equal marriage," same-sex marriage by another name.

This is the culmination of what, in some quarters, has been described as the 'civil rights template' of gay activism--or simply assimilation.

Though the legislation--the Civil Marriage Act--refers only to "two people," no reference to ANY notion of gender/sex, what would have been a perfect opportunity to lay the foundation for the struggles for all those left behind--where the future lies--was deliberately, and without apology, squandered.

In its final press release, Canadians for Equal Marriage declared what has become one of the greatest barriers to the ongoing struggles for the human rights of transgender and transsexual people: that all LGBT people now have human rights and the future no longer lies resides in legislation and litigation, but ONLY in fighting for the 'hearts and minds' of straight people.

This is worse than silence for those who do NOT have formal human rights anywhere in Canada except North West Territories.

When this victory was achieved the funding base for Egale Canada simply evaporated.

Why hang around when your life's goal has been achieved?

Pleas to work for the future--before this calamity happened--were blithely dismissed.

After all, transgender and particularly transsexual people will eventually come out as gay or lesbian--so working for gender identity and gender expression is "ultimately unnecessary."

For a movement that, in Canada, has distinguished itself by a generation's work upon RELATIONSHIPS, all messages must reflect this, anything else would be "inconvenient."

And to work on another message, that would include those for whom gender identity and/or gender expression is the foundation question--i.e. am I a man, woman, both or neither?--before the question of who am I attracted to?--the relational/orientation question as well as those for whom the relational question is the only question--is "divisive" because it takes away from the 'unity' of the 'community.'

So, those of us who have not yet come to the place in our lives when we can ask the relational question, who may never be 'queer' in the sense of our orientation--i.e. we are straight--who need surgery which we may only get through listings IN the DSM, who may well be gay, lesbian or bi--and cissexual--but choose to express our identities in ways not 'straight' enough to pass enough not to threaten the legal strategy of the now defunct Canadians for Equal Marriage and the almost defunct Egale Canada. . . . .where, in Canada, do we fit?

The notion of a COALITION of those who are different, not the policing of a movement where IDENTITY is based on orientation, remains a vision for some future.

I remember an aphorism by Walter--not Harry--Benjamin upon a painting by Klee, Angelus Novus.

"There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm."

The best that can be said of those cissexual warriors whose legacy dominates mainstream "LGBT activism" in Canada is that their vision also remains focussed on the past.

"Could this avoidance of the excess in our community be reinforcing the power of hetersexual regimes?"

Bruce: Of course it does. This is what "The movement" has always done - as if an umbrella stitched from the alphabet was gonna cover us all and keep out the rain. And as if we only need one movement. In truth, there are plural movement[s]... and should be. Only, some don't get national attention like "the movement."

PS - Butler breaks down when viewed from a critical class[ed] position. Don't work too hard figuring out what she'd agree with - read it, swallow it... ignore it.

You make some very good points about the division within our greater community.

As I see it, we have two major problems. We are so divided by socio-economic status,and the portioning of rights to those who are supposedly advocating for us, that it becomes hard to serve the needs of a diverse community that pulls in so many directions when it needs to be both integrated and diverse.

For example, lesbians are pitting themselves against gay men. gays and lesbians divorce themselves from their genderqueer, bisexual, androgyne, and transsexual relatives. We cannot find common ground with heterosexual communities who might help us, and those of dual or more stigmatized statuses end up being divided in where they will stand, thinking they can't stand everywhere.

This is, however, what we must do, we must stand together, especially those with home we disagree on minor divisions, to see out a greater good. As we individualize into subgroups we lose the anger, and feel helpless when the government doesn't give us rights. HRC doesn't care that someone in Nevada managed to skirt its DOMA law and used a same-sex marriage certificate to institute a legal action with a Nevada State agency .

However, they spend money and time asking its members to take time and write John McCain a note asking its members to say:

I am surprised that you are embracing blatantly discriminatory measures and supporting these divisive and cynical ploys. Please stop supporting these anti-GLBT amendments.

Has HRC completely lost touch with politics? Does Joe Solemese really believe that Mr. McCain will stop and say, "Oh, since you said please, I'll stop what I've been doing all my career and start supporting gay rights. HRC, thank you so much for making me see the error of my ways. John"

Recently, I was a victim of heterosexism at my school practicum (I'm allegedly learning to be a budding social worker). I received no help when I asked for the University of Las Vegas Social Work department to assign me a GLBT friendly liaison to make navigating the process easier. Instead, I was assigned a professor who plays a leading role in the Roman Catholic church on campus.

The big kicker is, I got this because I offended the director of my program for disagreeing with her. She tried to get me fired from my job.

And, sadly, she's an upper-class lesbian who should know about the effects of patriarchy and why, as a social worker, we need solidarity. Welcome to apathy and malice, USA.

Have we lost our ability to fight?

Sara: As straights, we'd be wrong to say we understand the conflict swirling around the LGBT community. But we do have one question, based on what we've always heard about gays--what IS your agenda? We can't seem to find what they're talking about. It can't possibly be that you just want what everyone else has, equal protection, equal rights, equal responsibilities etc. We're allowed, as white, middle class, straight, Christian suburbanites the luxury of obliviousness to most issues, so educate us. Do LGBTs really want only what every other American taxpayer already has? Really? I see why they're up in arms. Human rights? Sounds subversive.
Seriously, the quote above says it best: it truly is a human rights issue, and hopefully, soon, we'll elect reasonable people, erase years of discrimination, and begin to see that the real 'agenda' is America living up to its promise.
Keep up the great work. Byron & Mariah in Columbus

first, I'd like to say thanks for reading this... it was posted a while ago and I was surprised to see a few new comments.

Forge, I don't think Joe Solomonese is welcoming McCain in the slightest little bit. Nor do I think he plays footsies with the right. he has a strategy to get rights that I believe is flawed.

but I'm not interested in taking him down.

I think more about the log cabin republicans, to be honest. self absorbed money grabbing idiots more interested in their tax rate than anything else. if the republican party was about smaller government, fiscal responsibility and less regulation that would be one thing- I could sincerely respect that. I don't agree, but I could respect it.

but they are not. they are about legislating personal behavior, spying on every aspect of american's lives, and giving away irresponsible tax free rides to corporations. and having jesus in the oval office.


Sara: We haven't posted for a while, but we thought this information may help your readers. Cheers! is a real live website! YES! After several months, and long, tedious, tender tendering, our caffected couples website is up and running. It’s very much like sending one’s child out into the world. Take a peek at and you’re bound to find something there of interest to you, to help celebrate your caffected relationship.
We feel compelled to reiterate here on our launch announcement just what our mission statement is:
Our mission is to energize relationships, and celebrate an elite status--Married Best Friends. Caffection is the brand for married friendship.

We believe in marriage. We believe those who choose to marry should be married to their best friend.

In the final days leading up to launch date we offered the URL of the ‘phantom’ site to several associates to help us clean up loose ends, make sure the buttons worked, and get feedback. One thing mentioned was the apprehension that the term marriage would appear to exclude our gay friends. Nothing could be further from the truth. We believe exactly what the mission statement says. This is a site for couples who wish to visit and find resources to help celebrate their union. And yes, we believe strongly in gay marriage. So visit often, use the site, give us your suggestions, ideas, criticisms, and please share your own story with us and all other caffected couples. This is not about us; this is a website for you, the elite couples who are proud to say they’re with their best friend.
So, speaking of freaks--I guess we are, because we think that crummy little document called the U.S. Constitution actually means what it says. Go figure.
Mariah & Byron in Ohio

I doubt that the LGB community cares about employment rights inclusion for the trans community. It is only human you see. With the passage of a non-inclusive ENDA, the gay community is now moving on to marriage as its hot button issue.

Therefore the promise that there will be a push to later help the 'poor trannies' get employement protection by the LGB community, now that rights have been secured for LGB, is effectively dead.

The truth of the matter is that discrimination against a LGB person in non-military situations is not nearly as persuasive as that against trans.