In the 1960s and 1970s, LGBT liberation (what we now call “LGBT equality”) was seen by its advocates as an all-inclusive movement intrinsically bound to other social justice movements: there could be no justice for LGBT people without justice for people of color, women, workers, those in other nations, etc. Accordingly, LGBT activists worked hard to build coalitions with all those determined to fight for justice.
Nowadays, the LGBT movement does more branding than coalition building.
Steven W. Thrasher, who has been nationally recognized for his LGBT journalism, called out national LGBT nonprofits and advocates, colloquially referred to by some as the glitter industrial complex, in a Gawker article, contending that the LGBT activists and nonprofits “have been bought, paid-for and sold to the highest bidder.”
It’s true: corporate America runs the LGBT movement, or at least the part of the LGBT movement that gets press time and donors. Their sponsorship keeps the LGBT movement from addressing the issues that matter most for the LGBT community and beyond.
Thrasher highlights that many of the biggest donors to the Human Rights Campaign, the multi-million dollar nonprofit that receives the bulk of donations for LGBT issues, are drone manufacturers. These donors profit off of the United States’ use of drones to kill civilians, including children, with little oversight or accountability. Drone manufacturers are far from the only ethically dark gray to black donors to LGBT advocacy organizations: a brief perusal of any major LGBT organization’s list of donors reveals that corporate black hats like Bank of America, BP, Coke, and Nike all provide major cash to LGBT nonprofits.
And it must be acknowledged that these corporate dollars do some good: programs that encourage the leadership development and empowerment of LGBT young people, the election of LGBT public officials, and advocacy for greater research into LGBT issues would be practically impossible in the modern economy without significant corporate donations. Yet there is something antithetical about a movement for equality and justice funded by the forces in the world most responsible for widespread economic and social inequality.
When the LGBT community is not united with social movements that address the issues facing the most marginalized LGBT people, with racial justice proponents (proportionally more people of color identify as LGBT people), with those fighting against systemic poverty, with pacifists, are we really making any progress? Or has the LGBT movement been kidnapped by power elites advocating for their own interests? The dilemma is reminiscent of an image circling some corners of the web: a white gay male couple superimposed over the Human Rights Campaign red equality symbol that dominated Facebook during the gay marriage Supreme Court hearings.
“We’re just like you: racist, homophobic, and sexist,” reads the caption. All that’s missing is “market driven” and “war profiteers.”
Of course, claiming that the agendas of nonprofit executives and corporate leaders are the agenda for the entire LGBT movement is just as misleading claiming that gay marriage is the deciding issue of the LGBT movement. LGBT activists around the country, from radical groups like Southerners on New Ground (SONG), and LGBT people for Economic Justice, are connecting the dots between LGBT liberation, pacifism, and economic and racial justice. Countless more groups and activists, with or without 501c3 status, are fighting to make sure that LGBT liberation — not LGBT equality — is tied up with justice for all oppressed groups around the world.
Progress for LGBT people means nothing if it comes at the expense of others also marginalized and fighting for justice. Gay advocacy paid for by companies that poison the land, treat their workers unfairly, and assist in the killing of children from other nations is worthless in the long run. If we truly want a world where LGBT people are equal, we have to recognize that such equality is contingent upon justice for all people.
Not when health care is provided to every same-sex couple, but where health care is accessible to all; not when violent homophobia is eliminated, but when violence based on hatred of any group is eliminated. It might sound Utopian, and it might not be achieved through high profile fund raising dinners. But the alternative, inequality and corporate exploitation draped in a pride flag, is neither progressive nor equal.