Mind Your T’s and Q’s

SFL Staff

I greatly appreciate how Zak Slayback highlighted how important the issue of extending basic legal rights to LGBTQI individuals should be to libertarians in his recent article on SFL’s blog, but I think there are some serious problems with framing it as a “gay rights” issue. For one, many of those in the broader LGBTQIA community are not even gay — hence the “B” for “bisexual,” “T” for “transgender,” “Q” for “questioning, “I” for “intersex.” Another problem is that there are many LGBTQI individuals who are not interested in participating in neither heteronormative or homonormative culture; they want the freedom to live their lives in whatever ways they choose. In Alex McHugh’s response to President Obama having “come out” in support of gay marriage, he rightly pointed out the danger of thinking that “it’s acceptable for gays to be granted incrementally more rights in proportion to their normalization to “acceptable” lifestyles,” and that is a major problem with continuing to frame the discussion of rights for sexual and gender minorities around the issue of marriage equality.

I understand that from a linguistic perspective it is simply easier to talk about “gay rights,” or “the gay community,” but that also makes it easier to forget about the BTQ&I’s and the specific legal problems that they face in addition to marriage discrimination. When we talk about gay rights, the discussion is usually centered around marriage and adoption, but trans* individuals still lack legal recourses for workplace discrimination in all but 16 states, the District of Columbia, and 143 various cities and counties. Obviously, as libertarians, we should want all of these rights granted to all of these groups in the spirit of legal equality, and I am not saying that we should focus on one group over or before another. In fact, I believe that is precisely what we and other LGBT advocates should stop doing. In 2007 protection for transgender people was added and later stripped from the still unpassed Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Most LGBTQI advocacy groups found this change unacceptable, but the largest of them, the Human Rights Campaign, was willing to take the compromise, resulting in the resignation of their only transgender board member and earning them the ire of many in the LGBTQIA community. Fortunately, several other organizations, including more mainstream gay rights advocates, were not content (to put it lightly) with this change, and a separate bill was introduced which would protect gender minorities from employment-related discrimination.

In the opening of his article, Mr. Slayback reminded us of the upcoming anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn in 1969. However, it is important to remember why the riots even happened. The inn was an especially popular establishment for people of color, the poor and homeless, and gender non-conforming folks like drag queens and transgender people. Frequent victims of police brutality and harassment, it was the refusal of trans* individuals and others dressed in drag to produce identification that disrupted the intended plan for the raid and led to the now famous three days of riots, as it was illegal at that time to dress contrary to one’s legal sex. Why is it imperative to remember the specifics of the event? Today the riots at Stonewall are considered by many to be the beginning of the gay rights movement in the U.S., but the actual history has been whitewashed and is yet another example of the erasure of trans* history. While we should celebrate any improvements in the legal treatment and status of any LGBTQI people, the strategies for achieving these rights must always be inclusive, and the language that we use plays a significant role in that.