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Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

Seb Westcott

Where the Gay Things Are

Gay marriage was a victory, we’re told—but a victory for what?

“That Is So Your Generation!”

In the sitcom Younger, an entertaining if unrealistic show about the publishing world, a millennial named Lauren Heller (Molly Bernard) finds out that the man she has been lusting for is gay—when he introduces her to his boyfriend. Unperturbed, Lauren quickly propositions the two of them into a threesome. When she tells her friends about it, Liza Miller (Sutton Foster), a coworker in her forties who is consistently portrayed as slightly behind the curve, asks excitedly (clearly pleased that she knows the term): “Are you in a throuple?” 

Lauren shoots back, “Liza! Throuple! Nonononono, that is so your generation. Listen, I’m free and I’m happily non-heteronormative.” 

It’s a brave new world where being gay or lesbian or queer or gendernonconfirming or nonbinary or in a throuple is not just accepted but subject to trends. Some might argue that such things are mostly only possible in certain urban areas, but it does feel as though, for the most part and against some frustrating pushback (particularly on trans matters), we are gradually moving toward the shattering of traditional sexual and gender norms. All of that is for the better. 

But it would be a mistake to assume that the widening of sex and gender norms means that we have come to terms with recent gay and lesbian history, or that we have confronted the enormous and far-reaching effects of the activism of the last few decades. Historians and cultural commentators tend to think of gay history as somehow separate from, well, history itself, and gay and lesbian issues are only analyzed within a rights-based discourse. So, in terms of the Holy Trinity of gay activism (gay marriage, hate crime laws, and gays in the military), the logic is this: gay marriage is simply about “equality” in the sense of allowing gays and lesbians access to a historically significant cultural institution, hate crime legislation is about expanding existing laws to include crimes against LGBTQ people, and inclusion in the military is about just that. But all three movements saw arguments from radical queers who pointed out that these issues were not about “equality” but instead helped strengthen the endless privatization of everyday life and necessary resources that we call neoliberalism. The radical queer critique, however, was systematically ignored in favor of a larger diagnosis within the framework of rights. All three movements were, in a sense, victorious. 

In 2007, Human Rights Campagin (HRC), the largest gay nonprofit on the planet and led by then-CEO Joe Solmonese, backed a conservative and limited version of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. While affirming the rights of gay people to not be discriminated against in the workplace, the act was stripped of gender identity protection in order to make it more palatable. That HRC felt free to do this speaks volumes about the vulnerability of trans people within the gay community at the time; nonetheless, the move galvanized the larger LGBT movement and resulted in gender identity being increasingly centralized in legislative activism. Today, the giant gay nonprofit world has taken up trans rights issues with a vengeance, partly because of new commitments to protecting trans people and partly because it needs a blockbuster fundraising issue. Trans identity certainly remains a battleground, with LGBT organizations fighting legislative efforts to malign and stigmatize trans youth in particular. 

Still, against this backdrop: if the three big issues of mainstream gay activism have been resolved, and if fewer people seem interested in banning visibly alternative modes of sexual expression and activity and, it seems, at least on TV, everyone is potentially queer—is there (once the anti-trans bathroom bills have been defeated) really anything to fight for anymore? Are we close to living in a rainbow paradise, bathed in sunshine and with no imperative but to continue to live our best lives? Where, to echo Maurice Sendak, have all the gay things gone?

“But we won.” 

In 2016, I gave a short presentation at the august 165-year-old Chicago History Museum titled “How Gay Money Became Gay Wealth.” I focused on the fact that nothing about the gay marriage movement had ever been about ending “inequality” for all and that in fact, it had always been designed by wealthy gay men and women to ensure that they too could hold on to and pass down their estates just like their straight counterparts. The fight for gay marriage was predicated on the ideas of inclusion and normalization/assimilation; but, as groups like Against Equality (the radical queer collective I still belong to) had consistently pointed out, these goals were tiny and ineffective: they perpetuated a rights-based discourse which ignored the political and economic costs of extending the idea that marriage should guarantee basics like healthcare. Gay marriage, I argued, was not about “equality” but about the consolidation of wealth for gays who were part of the wealthy minority in the country, people who didn’t actually need jobs with healthcare or excellent public education. I used as an example the now famous Windsor vs United States case, and the unexamined history behind it. 

In 2013, the Supreme Court came down in favour of plaintiff Edith Windsor in Windsor vs. United States. Prior to this, Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defined “marriage” to only mean a union between a man and a woman, which had significant tax consequences for gay and lesbian couples. In Edith Windsor’s case, this meant that she had to pay taxes on the substantial estate she inherited from her wife Thea Spyer (they had been married in Canada). Windsorheld that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional because it violated the constitutional principles of equal protection,” as the law firm of Smith, Gambrell, and Russell (SGR) puts it. The impact of the decision meant that the IRS would now recognize same sex marriages, and all their tax implications.

After Windsor, those whom SGR refers to as “high net worth Same Sex Couples” could now marry comfortable in the knowledge that their spouses would not have to pay estate taxes (the sort that, in the United States, allows us to pay for piffling stuff like roads and education), by claiming the unlimited marital deduction formerly available only to opposite sex married couples.

Windsor’s net worth was around 10 million, but her attorneys, plus all of the press—gay and straight—and supporters of gay marriage generally kept that fact hidden from the public as they sought to rally support for the case. Instead, most accounts only disclosed that Windsor had to pay around $300,000 in what many called the “death tax” (a term more proletarian-seeming than “estate tax”)—a number that seemed shockingly large to a sympathetic public. But in fact, she actually owed $638,000, or about ten percent of the estate she inherited (all that plus $70,000 in interest was refunded to her after the case was settled). If there had been any hint that Windsor owed that much in taxes, people might have begun to do the math and realise that she was in fact a millionaire, not a starving widow striking matches to stay warm in a cold garrett in big, mean New York City.  It was certainly true that forcing someone to pay that amount in estate taxes was unfair when heterosexual widows and widowers were not compelled to do the same, but only in the abstract sense of unfair taxation laws. The larger point, again kept hidden from the public, was that such estate taxes only fell upon the estates (we cannot emphasize that word enough) of very wealthy people. According to the Population Division of the Bureau of the Census, “only about 0.07 percent [of Americans] will pay any estate tax.”

Windsor was simply about the reproduction of capitalist patriarchy, only this time with lesbian overtones. 

I was one of the first to reveal these facts and to implicate the national press in its subtle coverup, or at least failure to tell the full story. Three years after the Windsor decision, my revelation dropped into an uncomfortable silence as I spoke, and dark blue-suited gay men and women—wealthy donors to their beloved Chicago institution—absorbed it. My comrades and friends in the audience grinned knowingly and clapped in support, but as for the others: let’s just say that several eyes shifted away from mine as the session ended.

That is, except for one man, who came bounding up to me, hand outstretched. “You’re absolutely right, and I agree with everything you said,” he told me. “But we won.” 

“Won what?” I asked. It’s a question I’ve pondered ever since, even when I’m not faced with people who simultaneously believe that the movement was about accruing benefits for the wealthy few and a win for the masses.

When queers and straights want to express criticism of mainstream gays and lesbians like the man who came up to me, they are most apt to dismiss them as “assimilationists.” Assimilation, we tell ourselves, is the problem: too many people want to be just like straight people and enjoy the same benefits, denying their amazing, fabulous selves. 

But “assimilation” has never really been the problem. As we’ve always said in the Against Equality collective, if you need to marry for healthcare, that’s not assimilation: that’s survival in a country without a healthcare system. If marriage is what will get you citizenship and security, marry away. Additionally, the charge of assimilation is not much of a left, materialist critique: it assumes that people wanting to be a lot like other people is the biggest problem and that those who are resolutely unlike others are somehow inherently radical. We see this with the annual fictitious uproar over “Kink at Pride.” Every year, rumors spread that someone, somewhere is trying to shut down the exhibition of kink at pride parades and every year, the rumor turns out to be just that. But more importantly, the resulting online kerfuffle assumes that kink, a sexual/pleasure practice, is somehow politically radical when it simply isn’t: it’s merely a practice. The purported anti-assimilation argument leaves untouched the devastating economic and political effects of the last few decades of gay activism. Over the last thirty years, gay activism has won victories, but it has also helped strengthen neoliberalism and the brutality of the state. Hate crime legislation enhances prison sentences and can even bring the death penalty into play. Inclusion in the military, whether gay or trans, only provides more vulnerable, mostly poor bodies for the killing machine of U.S imperialism. (For more on all three issues, try the excellent anthology Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion). 

Most of all, gay marriage, the big cause that has defined gay activism for the last three decades and whose spectacular public success emboldened the fights for the other two issues, has quietly shifted the national political conversation towards more privatization of resources. Need healthcare? Gay marriage will help because you can get on your spouse’s plan! Neither one of you has such a job? Too bad! Gay marriage was not for you anyway! Gay marriage was never simply part of the machinery of a neoliberal privatization of resources: it was from the start a necessary cog, an essential gear in the machinery. It was always a deeply conservative movement that has had long-lasting and damaging effects. 

“The Fight for Our Lives”

The lore regarding gay marriage would have us believe that the struggle for legalization occurred state by state, fueled by bitter opposition between rabid conservatives and the embattled gay and lesbian couples and activists who bravely rallied their forces again and again. A popular example of this narrative is Maine in 2009, where Governor John Baldacci signed a bill to legalize gay marriage. Maine voters rejected the legislation, and gay rights activists returned with renewed vigour until gay marriage became legal in Maine in 2012. The 2011 documentary Question One details the 2009 battle, portraying it as, essentially, an ideological and cultural battle between church-led people and lesbian moms. The truth is quite different. In what remains the only such history of the Maine matter, the writer and activist Ryan Conrad (and my co-founder of Against Equality) analyzes how marriage even became an issue in that state. In his “Against Equality, In Maine and Everywhere,” Conrad reveals that a significant part of the LGBTQ community in a state that is among the poorest in the country actually did not want to waste resources on gay marriage. In 2007, the Maine Community Foundation’s Equity Fund convened a symposium and subsequently published a 4000 word summary which only mentions gay marriage twice, and positively only once. The report notes that many young people in attendance thought marriage was about pressuring them to live up to “unwanted heteronormative expectations.” In 2009, the LGBTQ Family Affairs Newsletter put out a pre-election poll and found that 70 percent “did not identify marriage as their top priority issue.”  

Despite such clear evidence that queer Mainers had little interest in gay marriage, both HRC and NGLTF (the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, now known as the The Task Force) sent their executive directors at the time—Joe Solmonese and Rea Carey—to speak to Maine voters at a pep rally. Even more significantly, the two organizations together gave Maine gay marriage activists $400,000, along with staff members’ time and labor. Money also flowed in from gay marriage organizations in places like Massachusetts, Vermont, and Colorado, states where gay marriage had recently been a winning issue. Equality Maine, an organization devoted to gay marriage, declared that gay marriage was “the fight for our lives.” 

Meanwhile, as gay marriage organizations and gay nonprofits in general poured in money and whipped up national frenzy around the issue, several AIDS organizations like the Western Maine Community Action Health Services and queer/trans youth support groups like Out as I Want to Be and Outrageously Supportive struggled. The Maine Speak Out Project and the Charlie Howard Memorial Library shut down from a lack of resources. In 2010, the Maine Department of Education announced it would no longer fund HIV Prevention Outreach Educators. In Conrad’s words, gay marriage was “sucking up resources like a big sponge.” Even Karen Ocamb, a gay marriage advocate writing in Bilerico, questioned the wisdom of what gay organizations were clamoring for that year: a giant gay marriage march on Washington. Did it make sense to devote so much energy to this when California, for instance, had just instituted massive cuts to public services? Ocamb quoted Mike Genest, the state’s finance director, in reference to the state and local AIDS agencies losing a lot of their funding: “Government doesn’t provide services to rich people.” 

Maine remains a poor state, one whose picturesque coastlines attract wealthy out-of-staters who buy exclusive waterfront property where they spend their idyllic summers while literally turning their backs on local economies. Ultimately, the wealthy who were fighting for the “rights” of marriage were not the ones who would need the kinds of services that other queers needed simply to survive, to find housing, and to live, in Maine or elsewhere.

The story was the same across the country. In the years until gay marriage became the law of the land, I covered several gay protests and actions in Chicago for Windy City Times, currently the city’s only remaining gay paper. Rallies numbered in the hundreds, filled with impassioned lesbians and gay men who often brought their children to participate, held up homemade signs, and genuinely thought that theirs was a grassroots movement about securing their rights and those of the people who would inherit their “estates.” Either willfully or genuinely clueless, few seemed aware that they were unlikely to be as rich as Windsor and Spyer. Much was made of the 1,138 federal rights that gay couples were denied but, as Conrad points out, they “largely pertain to the transfer of rights and property.” Chicago ended up looking much like Maine as the HRC, the Task Force, Lambda Legal, and numerous other gay organizations poured money and resources into the gay marriage fight, and even LGBTQ nonprofits that had nothing to do with marriage were forced to issue statements in support of the “struggle.” 

A little-known dark secret of the gay nonprofit world, which outsiders likely imagine to be composed of Birkenstock-clad, patchouli-scented hippies, is that it’s a cutthroat and brutal sector, where large organizations often serve as fiscal sponsors for smaller ones, maintaining a great deal of control over how money is disbursed to smaller organizations and groups (and no one unironically in Birkenstocks is usually allowed into their ranks). Larger organization leaders did not hesitate to tell the smaller ones to publicly support gay marriage or see a withdrawal of support. It made for some bizarre statements on the websites of organizations, which posted statements in support of gay marriage that stretched credibility in terms of the connections between the work they did and this cause that had nothing to do with them. 

Again, as in Maine, gay marriage sucked resources, time, and energy from everything else affecting the community. The majority of the events covered by the Windy City Times were focused on gay marriage, even though there were several other more pressing issues facing a city where, at the time, queer health resources were focused almost exclusively on the white north side, meaning that people of color, concentrated in the south and west sides, had to trek out of their neighborhoods on slow and unreliable public transportation into wealthier neighborhoods where cops and neighbors treated them with suspicion or worse. 

Meanwhile, of course, the city’s wealthiest LGBTQ people had no such concerns, given their access to the best and finest of all resources. In Chicago and all around the country, thousands of gays and lesbians would keep marching for gay marriage in those early years, believing that they and they alone were bringing about change, and that every political win was due to their efforts. In some ways, this was true—in the sense that the visibility of the marches sent a message to the public that gays and lesbians not only existed but were now out chanting for their rights. In a country where feminism means so little that abortions are in fact now virtually impossible for most women, the presence of a minoritized community speaking up for their conservative marriage rights presented little threat to the comfort levels of straight liberals and lefties. Many straight advocates for gay marrige took up the banner using archaic, even Biblical language. In the Seattle Times, Lance Dickie wrote, “This is and remains an issue about the sanctity of families. For loving couples and legions of children with attentive, responsible parents there is no issue.” Few expressed any criticism of such rhetoric, and the inherently patriarchal and conservative assumptions behind “sanctity” and “attentive, responsible parents.” 

illustration by seb westcott

Despite all the show of grassroots fervor, the gay marriage fight was being fought in the conference rooms of the large nonprofits and, as it turns out, in the private planes of their biggest donors. Jo Becker’s Forcing the Spring, a record of the marriage movement, is a book so bad, so ass-kissey that even the man at the center of her long narrative, Chad Griffin—the HRC CEO who led the campaign in its tail end—felt the need to distance himself from it (though not to the satisfaction of his critics).  The short version of all the criticism of the book is that Becker 1) compares Griffin to Rosa Parks and 2) ignores the contributions of people like Michaelangelo Signorille and Andrew Sullivan, who complained of having their part in the story erased. But putting aside the controversy that surrounded the book (which is truly quite bad, as my own review points out), Becker’s book is actually invaluable: she inadvertently reveals the money at play through the years of the gay marriage fight (and she reveals them with great pride, thrilled at the dollar amounts and prestige on display). Among some of the details: Griffin and Rob Reiner—that Rob Reiner—and others flew about in private Gulfstream jets owned by David Boies, who had been part of the legal team that overturned California’s anti-gay Proposition 8. They also attended $1,250-a-plate fundraisers for Obama, and received a check for $100,00 from J.J. Abrams—that J.J. Abrams—as well as a contribution of $1.5 million from David Geffen, along with the support of the billionaire David Koch—that David Koch—plus a million from the Gill Action Fund and a million from Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa on The Simpsons. You know, those Simpsons. This is just a tiny fraction of the amount that gay organizations and the major players were able to gather for the gay marrige fight. On the ground, ordinary gays and lesbians were tramping in the heat and cold in a city that only knows extremes in both, organizing bake sales or the equivalent, and donating what they could to “the cause.” Ultimately, none of that mattered in comparison to the sheer amount of money being collected up above them, in the private planes that jetted by. 

Who Won?

So, yes, gay marriage was “won” but it wasn’t exactly “won” against a monstrous and conservative Right. There certainly was a conservative Right arguing against gay marriage for a time, but by 2012, presidential candidates couldn’t be bothered with gay issues and in 2016, even Donald Trump didn’t care. More importantly, what commentators and historians fail to see, or ignore, is that these supposedly gay social and economic and cultural values (marriage, children in wedlocked families, the accrual of wealth) were always conservative values, even if articulated by men and women who seemed outwardly liberal and, say, campaigned for Obama. The real people who had to be won over were not hidebound, hateful bigots but socially conservative Democrats and Republicans: the potentially sympathetic straights who just needed to be convinced that gay people were every bit as worthy of traditional, patriarchal marriage and family structures. The public and media were sold this idea that there were Ogres of Repression, Wild Things that were dangerous and threatening to the good and kind gays and lesbians who merely wanted to live in nice houses, raise sweet and legitimate children, and eventually pass down their fondly imagined “estates” to said children. Because the gays and lesbians arguing for marriage were gays and lesbians, straight supporters were reluctant to either see the inherent conservatism of their goals or, if they saw them, to call them out for fear of seeming homophobic. And, in fact, who could blame them when gays and lesbians themselves were apt to call out allies for not giving their complete, uncritical support? 

I once participated in a debate on gay marriage with Andy Thayer, a supporter of gay marriage. At one point, after I’d spoken, a member of the audience leapt to her feet, turned to the audience, and forcefully declared that everyone needed to support gay marriage. As she put it, the stakes were clear and, strangely echoing George Bush rousing support for the Iraq war, said, “You’re either with us or against us.” That interjector was Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, today a spokesman for and writer of left opinions (much of which I support and admire, incidentally), at the time a member of the International Socialist Organization and whose speeches at various pro gay marriage rallies I had covered. Faced with such stridency, no one in the audience was willing to express any dissent. Here was a very left woman giving them an ultimatum. Who could argue? How could gay marriage not be a left cause?  

The gay marriage movement has always been a peculiar political animal. Like a griffin with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion, it has managed to seem both conservative and liberal/left at the same time, its exact political persuasion depending on which end you’re looking at. The arguments made by people on the liberal/left side of the spectrum were essentially that to be against gay marriage was to be against gay people. And there was plenty of anti-gay sentiment and legislation floating around (Prop 8 was just one example). Many liberals and lefties who were invested in the gay marriage cause likely did so both out of a genuine spirit of solidarity and because they feared being called homophobic: all the gay people they knew were, after all, reminding them to be for gay marriage. (Against Equality was frequently barred from speaking at various universities when their local LGBTQ organizations deemed that our radical queer critique of gay marriage was proof that we were in fact anti-gay). 

That easy alignment of “Gay Marriage = Liberal/Left and Opposition to Gay Marriage = Homophobe” becomes vastly complicated when we consider the deeply conservative origins of the fight for gay marriage. To start, let’s look at the career and writings of the gay rights advocate and attorney, Evan Wolfson, considered by many to be the father of the gay marriage movement. Wolfson’s 2004 book Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry shares a title with the conservative Glenn Stanton’s 1997 book Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Postmodern Society. Put the two books together side by side and they are nearly indistinguishable in their proselytizing about marriage as not only an economic good (Wolfson and his cohort have spoken at length about the thousand-plus tax benefits) but as a necessity for a healthy society. Both speak, for instance, about how marriage makes for happier and healthier children, and both believe that marriage affirms love and commitment and mutual respect (while giving lip service to other arrangements, mostly it seems to just give lip service). Wolfson would freely admit he’s no queer radical, but the extent of his conservatism on a social issue like marriage has never been scrutinized or challenged. If he had been, say, a Director of Global Family Formation Studies at the Christian fundamentalist organization Focus on the Family (Stanton’s post), he would have been dismissed and ignored by straight society. But because Wolfson is gay—and because he has always been backed by wealthy gay lobbying interests (on the existence of which we could also write entire books)—no one has dared to question his vision of the world vis-a-vis the family, a vision that should perplex and alarm feminists across genders. Wolfson’s pro-normative-family proclamations tacitly reaffirm the importance of a particular kind of individualized care labor which tends to  fall unequally on the shoulders of women or those who are deputed to stand in their stead.  

“Our Dreams Have Become So Small.” 

The gay marriage movement came after the AIDS crisis, and the work of groups like ACT UP and Queer Nation. These organizations fought loudly and relentlessly for the state and pharmaceutical companies to improve access to life-saving drugs, efforts that have long been painted as strenuously and inherently radical. My own baby queer heart fluttered in joy as I watched Larry Kramer rage against the “Bullshit!” of the state during the 1993 gay rights march on Washington. Kramer more than anyone actualized the fierce anger that had brought the gay community to the attention of the public; ACT UP was well known for its agitprop tactics which included a die-in in St. Patrick’s Church in New York and throwing fake blood at politicians to bring attention to the numbers of people who had died of AIDS. But after the AIDS crisis was over, especially for white, gay, well-off men who now had easy access to pharmaceuticals, Kramer and other ACT UP activists like Michaelangelo Signorile became fervent advocates for gay marriage. 

Once upon a time, AIDS movement activists had marched with Haitian immigrants stigmatized and brutally quarantined as health risks, as part of an argument that what we needed was a more just system of universal healthcare. The marriage movement, following on its heels and composed of many of the same people, now rationalized the fight for marriage on the grounds that it could get us healthcare through marriage. How did a movement that was entirely constituted around a massive health crisis and whose activists once insisted that universal healthcare was necessary to prevent future epidemics end up becoming a movement that insisted that people should be able to marry so that they could be covered by their partners’ healthcare plans? 

The problem is not just that gay marriage has been overdetermined by the money and power behind it but that it has come to define gay rights, period. If you were to start a whole new country, tucked in somewhere between Moldova and Romania on a tiny sliver of land, you could begin from the ground up, ensuring free education and housing and healthcare for all as a basic human right. But if you don’t somehow guarantee the right to marriage for all, the United Nations and Evan Wolfson (who literally flies around the world, teaching others how to win gay marriage battles) will shame you until you emerge with a proclamation about the “freedom to marry.” It doesn’t matter how many rights you have for queer people, as long as you have that one (marriage); and if you have marriage, then according to the gay nonprofit superstructure it seems it’s not really imperative for you to have the others.

In Where the Wild Things Are, Max sets sail in a boat across the seas and his journey at night and his eventual meeting with The Wild Things are lit by the stars. The long journey of “gay rights” from the mid-1990s onwards to now has always been lit by a single constellation, Gay Marriage Ursa Major. Sure, there were other battles along the way, like inclusion in the military, but those were considered ancillary and only picked up once the major organizations realized they could be deployed to strengthen gay marriage (Nathaniel Frank’s book In the Line of Fire points out that HRC ignored Don’t Ask Don’t Tell until it couldn’t). Gay marriage has always been the lodestar for that combination of matters we call “gay rights” because nothing else could advance a neoliberal gay agenda that guaranteed both social acceptance and economic power to a group that so longed for both, that so desperately wanted to abjure all the messiness of a contentious, tumultuous history marked for so long by exclusion and stigma. 

Matilda Bernstein Sycamore has spoken about the failure of the gay imagination, of the fact that “our dreams have become so small.” For men like Evan Wolfson, the dream of gay marriage was the biggest dream of all, the ultimate victory for gaykind. In 2015, having seen that dream realized, Wolfson packed up his organization Freedom to Marry—in some ways, the most ethical thing to do, but also a giant shrug. The larger LGBTQ community still suffers from a realm of problems, including homelessness, healthcare inadequacy, and more but, eh, who cares? Gays could now get married. 

There’s an argument to be made that the battle for gay marriage, which squarely and firmly insisted that healthcare was something that only gay couples and spouses deserved, helped weaken and even invalidate the struggle for universal healthcare. In 2005, Cheryl Jacques, then the outgoing CEO of HRC, was asked by the Windy City Times: “But won’t gay partners feel like they must get married to gain benefits?” She responded: “I think gay couples will feel the same as straight couples. If you get married, there’s a host of responsibilities and rights and protections that come with that, and if you don’t, those don’t.” 


We might imagine a different world, one where those who had fought hard to get AIDS pharmaceuticals to everyone thought, “What if we continued to fight for healthcare for all?” We might imagine a country where the advent of COVID-19 would not have been nearly as devastating as it has been, with the number of deaths at over 600,000 at the time of this writing. We might imagine a country where medical expenses are not the leading cause of bankruptcy and where most people live in fear of penury even when they have health insurance. We could have worked to eradicate homelessness and poverty for everybody including gay and trans people (who are especially vulnerable to homelessness and poverty), rather than turning them into funding opportunities.

We could have dreamed bigger dreams, but we chose marriage instead. 

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