This piece has also appeared on The Huffington Post Gay Voices, Huffington Post Impact and In Our Words Blog
What in the world could be wrong with this picture?
It’s all over Facebook and Twitter right now as part of a wider social media campaign for marriage equality. If you’re especially savvy, you’re aware that it’s a spin on the Human Rights Campaign’s logo (which they’ve self-promoted). And if your Facebook and Twitter friends/followers are anything like mine, you’ve probably seen a variation of profile photos and status messages critiquing it.
Keeping it 100 percent honest here, there’s an air of uneasiness implied by all the commentary about a seemingly innocuous red photo of an equal sign.
Should marriage equality become law of the land, I’m sure hordes of us will celebrate a historic moment — that our nation’s highest court ruled in favor of the right to marry the person we love. But after the drinks clink and the confetti gets swept away, what will come next?
Allow me to be blunt.
Not everyone appreciates how the HRC has been lent high legitimacy as the organization representing the entire movement when their actions have consistently proven otherwise. Going further, some people have reservations that a large number of people — especially economically well-off, able-bodied, gender conforming, non-immigrant and white (read: relatively privileged) gay and lesbian Americans — will disengage from the many other institutional and social changes necessary for full inclusion of LGBT communities.
That may very well not be the case. But who comprises the majority of the Human Rights Campaign’s staff and donor base? The same white, gay and lesbian people previously described. For many of these folks and some others, marriage equality is the last major step to becoming “fully privileged” citizens relative to their heterosexual peers (well, save perhaps for employment protections).
Just the sight of the HRC logo recalls that scary possibility of broader disengagement given how the organization has represented itself so far — and what’s below only scratches the surface.
The HRC has appeared more concerned with praising corporations and financial institutions that continue to oppress the poor and play reverse Robin Hood to screw many folks (LGBT* included) out of homes and livelihoods.
The HRC has yet to make a strong, substantive appeal on youth homelessness, which disproportionately impacts LGBT communities.
The HRC has a long history of throwing trans* people under the bus. Many folks still remember them dropping the “T” while attempting to push the Employment Non-Discrimination Act through Congress in 2007… and it still failed to capture enough votes to pass in the Senate and become law. They’ve since reverted to supporting a trans-inclusive bill, yet many still feel the sting.
The HRC has tokenized and otherwise has given lip service to issues pertaining to LGBT communities of color. Racial justice (or even an allusion to it) isn’t even listed on their website’s “issues” tab as part of a broader strategy. And dare we not address how that functions from within, given the racism many people experience in LGBT* spaces and forums.
Yet the HRC has thrown almost the full weight of their strategy, fundraising moolah and public platform on the issue of marriage equality. And they’ve done it for a while now.
It’s as if the organization can’t make fully-voiced statements and actions to push forward other pressing issues. I’m sure many folks can appreciate that they’ve at least tried with employment protections and addressing bullying. But, more often than not, you won’t hear HRC’s voice on issues other than marriage. A quick perusal of their Facebook posts over the past year confirms that.
With marriage equality occupying so much space in the conversation, many people have grown tired of the perfunctory strategies that eat up time, money and resources to address surface-level issues rather than work intersectionally to address the root cause of systemic issues impacting LGBT communities. That’s not to say marriage doesn’t matter — it’s indeed a big step that’ll move us closer to achieving equality — but the high, high level of its prioritization is troubling to many.
When people openly express their discomfort about the red HRC logo heavily populating their Facebook and Twitter news feeds, they’re doing more than simply raging against the Gay Inc. machine. Scrutinizing marriage as an institution and acknowledging broader community issues while supporting marriage as an option for all couples are not mutually exclusive ideas or actions.
If anything, it’s a plea for recognition that the marriage issue is one part of a larger strategy for equality and not the ultimate end goal.
It’s a plea for people to understand why the HRC deserves more scrutiny rather than childlike faith that they’re out there representing a broad base of people in LGBT communities. As with other leading organizations and political figures, they don’t deserve a free pass.
It’s a plea that people who still require and desire more than marriage equality won’t be forgotten about.
Here’s hoping that won’t happen on this issue and many others to come. But, for now, we await two rulings…
Author’s Notes: My friend Miri over at Brute Reason offers an important take on other elements of the discourse stemming from these red HRC logo photos: accusations of “slacktivism” and how these and other “red” Facebook/Twitter photos made many people feel supported and affirmed by their peers. Check it out.
The equal sign means different things to different people. That said, here are but a few alternatives to the red equal signs — because you can still show support and solidarity in your own way:
1) Depending on your interpretation, an arrow oriented the “forward” direction or a “greater than” sign implying that there are many more pressing issues beyond marriage equality.
2) A plain, square photo of the color red.
3) Simply red scale your current profile picture. Pixlr is good for that.
Also the asterisk (*) next to LGBT is intentional, since the acronym doesn’t necessarily represent the various community segments.