Self-determination over one's body and land are core to my personal and political principles. I'm going to go even further and say that I think that self-determination over one's body and land should be a central tenet of the queer movement.
Now let me explain.
The bodies of queers, Jews, Muslims, women, immigrants, people with disabilities and people of color - essentially all communities living on the margins of society - are constantly under attack by right wing forces. What's under attack? Our bodies! It's been made pretty clear by the right that our brown, black, disabled, immigrant and gendered bodies are not "acceptable" because they are not made from a white, able bodied, hetero, Judeo-Christian mold. Damn, I wish I could track down the person(s) that made "the mold" and give them a piece of my mind!
The queer movement has a long history of understanding that the attacks on our communities are grounded in our struggle for sexual liberation and free expression of our bodies, love, genders and desires. Yet what the queer movement has failed to do is to further this understanding by connecting our struggle to the struggles some communities face around the colonizing of both their bodies and land.
Yeah, I said it: colonizing!
So much of what fuels my commitment to challenge the colonization of bodies and land is rooted in my own Middle Eastern background. For the past 15 years I have been deeply committed to ending the occupation of Palestine. As strongly as I oppose anti-Semitism, I also oppose the occupation of land that was the home of the Palestinian people long before the state of Israel was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1947.
Since that time, the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic, political, social and cultural repression and denied their rightful access to their homeland by the state of Israel. Colonizing land and bodies happens when powerful forces (such as governments) use money, legal, political and spiritual institutions and war to take away the rights of whole communities and countries to govern their people and land on their own terms.
Without question another clear example of this is the struggle for self-determination by First Nations and Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas. For 500 years the United States government has occupied land that belongs (not belonged) to Indigenous communities and tribes. Long before the arrival of Europeans, First Nations peoples had their own ways of self-governance, sharing of resources, resolving conflicts, engaging in spiritual practice and forging relationships to land. European settlers, bolstered by the formation of the United States government, colonized this land by imposing our own laws, religious doctrines and capitalist plans for regulating every aspect land across the Americas.
All the while the plan was to actively destroy and disrespect what was here first so that profit could be made through trade, the buying and selling of land, slavery and agricultural production. The First Nations Collective so clearly articulated the impact colonizing bodies and land has on whole communities in a recent Blierico post on the racist immigration law passed in Arizona:
As queer Indigenous people and allies, we bring forth memory of a time before capitalism, before colonization. We remember a time when our communities were whole, self-sustaining, and thriving. Our survival was rooted in our belief in community and communal values. Our respect for land meant we did not try to control it or exploit it for profit. We did not divide it or pillage it. If you can divorce yourself from the land and the Earth, you can divorce yourself from each other. Once we stop believing in community and communal values, we are all at jeopardy and our ability to survive is compromised.
I couldn't agree more with the First Nations Collective that "when you divorce yourself from the land and the Earth you can divorce yourself from each other." Divorcing ourselves from one another and from our collective responsibility to community is what leads to the building of walls, the policing of boarders, the waging of war, the justification of occupation and the violence that fuels cycles of hate, ignorance and misunderstanding across communities.
Yes, my friends, when we divorce ourselves from one another bad things happen like Arizona passing a racist immigration law and then banning ethnic studies, the state of Israel erecting a wall between Israel and Palestine and restricting the ability of Palestinian people to freely move for decades and the implementation of social, legal and cultural Apartheid in South Africa from 1948-1994. Nothing good comes from colonizing bodies and land - nothing!
Let's take another example. Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since 1898 which means it has a long history of having its land, people and economy controlled by the US government. One example of how Puerto Rican bodies have been colonized by the US government occurred in the 1930's when the Eugenics Board instituted a "population control" program throughout the island. The end result was that by 1968, 35% of Puerto Rican women had been coerced into sterilization. According to the "Our Bodies, Ourselves" website:
The passage of Law 116 in 1937 signified the institutionalization of the population control program. This program, designed by the Eugenics Board, was intended to "catalyze economic growth," and respond to "depression-era unemployment." Both U.S. government funds and contributions from private individuals supported the initiative. Instead of providing women with access to alternative forms of safe, legal and reversible contraception, U.S. policy promoted the use of permanent sterilization. Institutionalized encouragement of sterilization through the use of "door-to-door" visits by health workers, financial subsidy of the operation, and industrial employer favoritism toward sterilized women pushed women towards having "la operacion." These coercive strategies denied women access to informed consent. More than one-third of the women in the 1968 study didn't know that sterilization through tubal ligation was a permanent form of contraception. The euphemism "tying the tubes" made women think the procedure was easily reversible.
The colonizing of Puerto Rico extends to its land as well. During World War II the US Government seized a small island in Puerto Rico called Viequez. Up until 2003 the US Navy used the island to conduct weapons testing and maintain a military base called Roosevelt Roads. The local people, along with an international community of activists, organized decades of protests to end the occupation of the island and stop its environmental degradation. It took generations of Puerto Rican people to end the occupation of their land. Today, Viequez is a National Wildlife Refuge under the control of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
So why do I think that all of these issues are queer issues? Well, for one, there are queer Palestinians, First Nations and Puerto Rican people all around us. Many of the issues I have written about impact their communities and families. The LGBT community has to stop thinking that certain issues don't impact the community because all issues impact the LGBT community. It's only out of political expedience that we push issues that do not fit a narrowly defined LGBT frame to the margin of our movement. How does this make sense when queer people are everywhere, in every community and experience every type of social, political and cultural issue taking place across the globe?
Secondly, as queer people struggling for self-determination over our bodies and our right to define relationships, community and family we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with communities struggling for self determination in other ways. Self-determination over one's land is often critical to a community's survival and ability to sustain a communal way of life. This is just as important as being able to have self determination over how you make family, who you love and whether or not you are able to legally marry.
As an LGBT community we must broaden and connect our struggles in ways that require us to stretch beyond our own individual or community specific experiences. As a diverse, growing and global LGBT community let's get our learning on and figure out how we are going to support self determination in all of its complex and multi-layered forms. Why? Because our collective survival depends upon it.
This post is dedicated to Lisbeth Melendez Rivera and Coya White Hat-Artichoker whose fierceness knows no bounds.