Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Queer Citizens

I've been thinking a lot about citizenship and queer identity lately.  The first openly trans person to testify before the U.S. Senate spoke in support of ENDA (the Employee Non-Discrimination Act) today, so these issues are especially present in my mind at the moment. (To see a video of the testimony, visit here).

For a nation that prides itself on its abundant "freedom" and "liberty," the United States actively denies many of the rights and privileges of citizenship that many people take for granted to its queer citizens.  Social and legal constraints work in concert to prevent queer and trans folks from participating in the social, political, economic, and religious life of the nation to the same extent that straight and cis-gender folks are able to.

Understand that there are people - United States citizens - who have been effectively deported from the U.S. because they can't sponsor a spouse for citizenship the way straight people can, and rather than face permanent separation from their loved one, they leave the country.

Understand that there are people in this country who would fire other people from their jobs based solely on their gender identity or expression and understand that current U.S. law permits this behavior, as do most local and state laws.

Understand that there are places in this country where a trans woman can be placed with male inmates in prison, despite grave concerns for her bodily safety and psychological well-being.  Understand that this is akin to cruel and unusual punishment, a fate our country strives to protect its other citizens from.

Understand that there are people in this country who are denied the right to adopt children and become parents because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer-identified.  Understand also that this means that there are children in this country who are denied the right to have parents because they live in a state where LGBTQ folks are not welcome to adopt and there simply aren't enough straight adoptive parents.

Understand that there are people in this country whose physical safety is under threat each time they exercise the simple freedom to walk down the street at night with friends.

Understand that there are people in this country who cannot use a public restroom without being gawked at or scrutinized at best and harassed, physically harmed, or killed, at worst.

When Americans get all excited about their "freedoms," I always wonder: which (and whose) freedoms are they referencing?  Because it seems to me that the U.S. has a number of laws (or lack thereof) that protect straight Americans' intolerance of things that make them uncomfortable, like gay folks getting hitched or transfolks working in the cubicle next to theirs.  Despite this, there's reasonable precedent in the U.S. to prevent one group's discomfort from standing in the way of another's rights, especially if the group experiencing discomfort is the one in power (see history re: emancipation, women's suffrage, Brown v. Board, Loving v. Virginia, repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell").  I heard someone say recently that if Mississippi were to put interracial marriage up for popular referendum, the way same-sex marriage has been up for referendum in a number of places, it would fail by a long shot.  Waiting for a majority of the country to get on board with same-sex marriage and non-discrimination isn't fair - if we'd done that with interracial marriage, it would still be illegal in some states.  We can't love freedom and deny the rights of citizenship to our own citizens simultaneously.  So even if queer folks, for whatever reason, distress you, imagine someone in your family being forced out of the country in the name of "family values" or imagine someone you love enduring unemployment or suffering public humiliation condoned by your government.  Then call your elected representatives in DC and tell them to support ENDA.  While you're at it, mention that you think DOMA sucks.  It's the American thing to do.  It's what any American citizen would expect of another.

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