Anybody who has ever taken a class with me know that we do a great deal of reflection on the ideological underpinnings of the words we use. We examine the power of these words to shape our worldview and the ways that words are often used to justify inequality. We also examine and reflect on how we can use ways in ways that bring focus to structural inequality and advocate social transformation.
In line with this thinking I was particularly intrigued by the use of #lovewins in response to last weeks Supreme Court ruling making marriage equality the law of the land. At first glance the meaning of #lovewins seems simple enough. People who love each other can now have this love recognized by the government in ways that they previously could not. Yet, a deeper reflection on #lovewins raises questions related to whose love was being talked about and what exactly was being won. For example, it didn’t feel like love was winning when a group of LGBT leaders invited to the White House to celebrate a Pride event shushed and booed transgender immigrant activist Jennicet Gutierrez when she spoke out against the mistreatment of transgender people in immigrant detention centers. On the contrary, the responses of those present and the subsequent response on social media seemed anything but loving. So if #lovewins why are so many people completely unloving in their responses to the most marginalized in US society?
Perhaps this is because #lovewins isn’t enough. Instead, maybe we need #queerlovewins. #Lovewins centers the lived experiences of the most privileged elements of the LGBT community who can now claim “first class citizenship” because of their ability to receive government-sanctioned marriage. In contrast, #queerlovewins centers the lived experiences of the most marginalized elements of the LGBT community who continue to be criminalized despite marriage equality becoming the law of the land. #Lovewins is premised on a narrative of gay assimilation that seeks access to heteronormative formulations of love while #queerlovewins seeks to open up spaces for new types of love outside of a heteronormative framework. #Queerlovewins refuses mainstream narratives of the fundamental disposability of black and brown bodies and instead adopts an intersectional analysis that seeks to expose the injustices perpetuated by the white supremacist, patriarchal and capitalist relations of power of these dominant institutions.
One prominent example on #queerlovewins can be found in the AIDS advocacy work of ACT-UP in the 1980s and 1990s. ACT-UP’s constituency included marginalized communities who were also disproportionately impacted by the AIDS crisis including gay men, people of color, sex workers and drug users. ACT-UP activists enacted #queerlovewins by refusing to accept individualistic narratives that placed the blame on individuals for their circumstances and instead focused their efforts on exposing the injustices perpetuated by institutions. This focus on institutional injustices included direct action campaigns that were meant to confront the institutions that were doing nothing to address the AIDS crisis. ACT-UP was often criticized for its confrontational approach–an approach that many found to be offensive.
Jennicet Gutierrez’s action is a modern example of #queerlovewins. Like ACT-UP, Gutierrez spoke up for a population that is seen by many as disposable and deserving of their circumstances. She has forced us to confront the fact that while many in the LGBT community are celebrating #lovewins others in the LGBT community are dying because of the criminalization of their identities. She articulated an intersectional analysis that included advocacy for transgender people, immigrants and people of color. And she was chastised for being offensive in ways that either intentionally or unintentionally distract from her message.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that the actions of Jennicet Gutierrez were identical to the actions of ACT-UP activists. Each of them were responding to different circumstances and bringing attention to different issues with different tactics. What I am suggesting is that Gutierrez’s action can be understood as a continuation of #queerlovewins that has a long history within the LGBT community. Like in previous eras, this contemporary #queerlovewins is scorned by both mainstream society and the mainstream LGBT movement and offensive and disrespectful. Yet, when your very existence is offensive to mainstream society the only way possible for you to be heard is to offend.
Those of us committed to the liberation of all cannot be satisfied with #lovewins. We must, instead, fight so that #queerlovewins. #Queerlovewins when we are more offended by the brutalization and torture of transgender people in immigrant detention centers than we are by the pleas of a transgender immigrant trying to bring these injustices to the attention of the president. #Queerlovewins when we focus our energy on amplifying the message of the most marginalized members of our community rather than on criticizing the tactics they use to make their voices heard. And #queerlovewins wins when we bring attention to the political and economic conditions that are at the root of their marginalization in ways that resist their criminalization.