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Queer activist Yasmin Nair says that the fight for gay marriage was driven by an elitist, conservative movement

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DHARNA NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor joining you from Baltimore. In breaking news, the Supreme Court has made the historic ruling that states cannot ban same-sex marriage. Just hours after the decision came down, same-sex couples across the country began joining together in wedlock. In 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that all spouses, same-sex or otherwise, must be granted the same federal benefits. Today the court went even further, ruling gay marriage a Constitutional right. This comes just in time for the weekend’s festivities. Gay pride parades will take place this weekend in cities like San Francisco and New York. But is it all rainbows from here for the queer community in America? Now joining us from Chicago to unpack this is Yasmin Nair. Yasmin’s a writer, an academic, and an activist. She’s a member of Gender Just, a radical queer grassroots organization, and a co-founder of the editorial collective Against Equality. Thanks so much for joining us today, Yasmin. YASMIN NAIR, CO-FOUNDER, AGAINST EQUALITY: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. NOOR: So Against Equality, huh. Do you think that it’s right for institutions like marriage to be exclusionary? NAIR: No. I mean, what we’re saying is that the equality movement [exactly] the way it’s configured has nothing at all to do with any kind of social justice, any kind of equality under any law. It has everything to do with excluding people from life saving benefits such as–even now such as healthcare, immigration status, any number of benefits you could name. The word equality has been vastly misused by the gay marriage movement. And what we wanted to do by naming ourselves as Against Equality was to first of course get people interested in our group, and also for us to be able to say, you know, you need to really question what the word equality means. For whom equality, for whom, who [disperses] equality, under what conditions, most importantly. NOOR: So today gay marriage passed by a margin of one vote. There were five yeas and four nays. And among those who voted in favor was a Republican appointee, Justice Anthony Kennedy. Is it shocking that somebody who’s sided with conservatives on things like affirmative action and campaign finance reform would support this? NAIR: It’s not shocking at all. It’s actually inevitable, because in fact that is gay marriage, as I have argued elsewhere, is a fundamentally conservative movement. I’m actually surprised that it took, you know, it only squeaked by by such a narrow majority. But gay marriage is a fundamentally conservative institution, and conservatives love it. Conservatives, liberals, even leftists love it, because what it does it to shore up a system whereby, a neoliberal system whereby benefits accrue to those with the most private resources. And that’s what conservatism is all about, right, it’s all about everyone for himself or herself. The state takes absolutely no responsibility for one’s welfare. Every man and woman for himself or herself. That’s, that, you know, fundamentally is one of the tenets of conservatism. It’s an economically–marriage, not just gay marriage, but marriage is, is an economically sound institution for many conservatives. They have wanted it. You know, they always propound its benefits. So it makes perfect sense that this would be, this is how it all goes down. NOOR: So you’ve also noted in your writing that pro-gay marriage organizations have used all these images of black civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King in their branding. So why is it that when people think of the gay rights movement they so often think of the faces of moneyed white men like Dan Savage, the creator of the It Gets Better project? NAIR: Right, right. And Dan Savage isn’t even–to be clear, you know, Dan Savage is not even one of the wealthiest gay men who are behind the movement. The gay marriage movement is actually fundamentally–yeah, someone has, people have always accused me and Against Equality of acting like the gay marriage movement is run by a cabal of white men. What we’re finding out is that that is in fact quite true. The gay marriage movement has been funded by millionaires and multi-millionaires. If you look at someone, something like Jo Becker’s book Forcing the Spring about the gay marriage movement, we find out–when you look at that book you find out that a lot of the funding actually came from extremely wealthy people. It’s not a grassroots movement at all. It has been funded fundamentally from the start by wealthy white gay men and women. What the gay marriage movement has done to counteract that particular appearance which keeps coming to the surface is to exploit and use the faces and actions of civil rights leaders and heroes like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. At the same time, the gay rights movement has also been fundamentally–and it is fundamentally at its core, it’s a racist movement. It is all so often said, they use slogans like gay is the new black. Gays are very fond of saying that gay people are the last oppressed minority in the country. Anyone who’s been following the news in the last few months, including about events like Charleston, anywhere in this country. I live in Chicago, I live in Hyde Park, I live in the South Side. Anyone who actually knows what reality is about knows that is simply not true. But the gay rights movement has always enjoyed using the metaphors and lives of black civil rights leaders in a sense really not–in order to do nothing but just appropriate, and to cover up the fact that it is fundamentally at heart a movement led and financed by wealthy gay white men. NOOR: And you know, even some that would agree with you on some of the problematic ideals that are within the current gay rights movement, would say that now that we’ve checked gay rights off the–or gay marriage off the list, we can move on to further radicalizing the movement. What’s your response to that? NAIR: My response is that this isn’t–gay rights is an economic movement. It is a movement by and about–it is fundamentally about the economic–it’s about accruing economic benefits for the privileged few. It is fundamentally neoliberal. It is about creating a system whereby people can only access resources through privatized means like marriage, right. So that–economic systems don’t work in any other way but to dismantle current systems and then to move on and create even more oppressive systems. Gay marriage is not a social function, it’s an economic function. Right? So what you already see–this is, it’s never going to happen. What’s never going to happen is that gay marriage will now lead to some further radicalizing of causes, or that we can now take a breather and say well, now let’s get to queer youth homelessness or HIV/AIDS. Because what’s happened in the last 20 or 30 years is that gay marriage has sucked away a lot of resources from both straight and gay people. Is that organizations that deal with HIV/AIDS, organizations that deal with queer youth homelessness and so on, have actually shut down. Again, there is no moving beyond gay marriage simply because gay marriage has already ravaged the economic landscape of queer organizing. There is no more money to be had, and it’s very unlikely that the wealthy gay white people in particular for whom gay marriage was such a big issue are going to turn around and say yes, now let’s work on all the other things that actually matter. They don’t have to care about it. Remember again that wealthy gay white men in particular never had to care about HIV/AIDS really, because they could always afford the medications. So it’s all, it, it’s just–that’s just not how economic structures work. And we have to think about gay marriage not as a social [problem], not as a social issue, but as an economic problem. And neoliberalism does not work to stop and look back to see whom it has left behind. It just plows on. NOOR: Sure. And we’ve seen a steady rise in support for gay marriage in the U.S. in recent years. So I guess you’re saying this isn’t just because people are becoming more accepting, more accepting of people, more accepting of love. NAIR: I’m sorry, I have to laugh at that. But no. No, love has nothing to do with it. I do think that a lot of the sort of liberal left support–the delusional, frankly, liberal left support for gay marriage has been because it has been, it has perceived the movement as being one about love. So all it sees are these sweet gay couples and their children and so on and so forth. The subterfuge has worked really well. I think the more and more people learn about gay marriage’s economic ramifications and also who’s really behind gay marriage, I think there’s going to be much less support for the cause. Of course, now it’s, it doesn’t really matter because we’re in it now. But no, I think the support has been because again, because of the failure to recognize gay marriage as an economic matter. NOOR: So what kind of policy solutions do you see as being effective, to truly support the American queer community, the gay population, trans population, et cetera? NAIR: I think what we have to do is first of all–I do think that there is a, there’s an enormous ideological and psychological component to all of this. The first thing we have to realize is that we’re in a terrible spot, right. So as long as we keep thinking that gay marriage is one point in a long history of achievements, we are, we–we are, I’m trying to think of a word that’s polite enough and that’s not a four-letter word. We’re just screwed. As long as we think that we can move on, there is no–there is no healthy alternative for us. What we have to do moving here onward, here forwards, is to stop and first reevaluate how we think about what communities need. We also need to think about, I think the really big issue for the queer community is to start thinking about it as part of a larger community. As part of a larger fabric, as it were. So as long as the queer community only thinks selfishly about itself as gay marriage is being the guiding, the guiding force, for instance, everybody is doomed. And I think moving forward we have to start realizing that matters like the intense racism, right, that exists in this country which is worse than–as bad or worse than plantation racism. That’s what we are in right now. And 21st century America is suffused with plantation racism. We have to think about that. We have to think about the devastating economic and environmental policies that we have set in place. All of that is connected to people. It’s not just about gay people and their particular gay issues. So moving forward we have to think in those kinds of dare I say collaborative ways. But we also have to start thinking about how to get support to matters like, for instance, queer homelessness. Or an issue that I’m very concerned about with, I see it in a lot of my older friends, the questions around geriatric AIDS, for instance. For the first time in many generations we actually have a couple of generations of men and women who are actually living older, who are aging with AIDS, right. And [inaud.] gay men who are actually living to very, to quite a ripe old age, and we don’t know what to do about them because we can’t simply put them in the usual kinds of senior housing services, for instance. Those are the issues we have to think about, and we also have to think about how do we fund and support those matters. How do we sustain those kinds of struggles without being focused only on the funding given to us by a few wealthy gay people. And that has been the fundamental problem with queer organizing for far too many years. And that, a lot of that is because nobody would fund us before. Nobody was funding AIDS research until we forced the government to do it. So we’re in a different time and place. And we have to start thinking, stop thinking about the gay patriarchy as being the only source of revenue or the only source of support. We also have to think collaboratively. What all of this means is actually in many ways it’s going to be really difficult, is to dismantle and to sort of, and to kind of interrogate a gay nonprofit-industrial complex that has sprung up in the meantime. That’s really hard work. I’m tempted to say it’s impossible. I’m just going to say that it’s hard work, simply because I know so many of my friends who are actually working within the bowels of that machine, right. So it’s a long and hard struggle, and I think it is delusional of any of us to say that now that we have finished with gay marriage we can move on. The work is much harder because there’s much less money, there’s much less political energy, and times are hard. Neoliberalism is flexing its–not just flexing its muscles, it’s, it’s taken over and ti’s strangling us. NOOR: Thank you so much for this very sobering conversation, and we look forward to hearing from you in the future. NAIR: Thank you, it was a pleasure. Thank you for having me on. NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Dr. Yasmin Nair is a freelance writer, activist, academic, and commentator based in Chicago. She is the co-founder of the editorial collective Against Equality and a member of Gender JUST, a radical queer grassroots organization based in Chicago. The bastard child of queer theory and deconstruction, Nair has numerous critical essays, book reviews, investigative journalism, op-eds, and photography to her credit. She has appeared in publications like In These Times, Monthly Review, The Awl, The Chicago Reader, GLQ, The Progressive, make/shift, Time Out Chicago, The Bilerico Project, Windy City Times, Bitch, Maximum Rock'n'Roll, and No More Potlucks.