Trickle-Down Rights (Part 2)

April 29, 2013 in inQueery

Thatcher recently gained additional funding from the Haas Scholars Program in order to travel to Austin, Texas, where he will conduct additional interviews and expand the scope of his research. Travelling to Austin—considered a “liberal hub” of Texas—will enable him to explore the impact of “regionality” on shaping the attitudes toward the LGBT rights movement. This perspective is necessary, as he elucidates, because:

A lot of LGBT research, or queer research, is done in the bay area, and while this makes sense—because of the large population of LGBT people here—it skews the reality of most people in the country. The SF bay area is very much a bubble; there is a big difference between living here and being queer, and living in Texas and being queer, and I think its important to inject that perspective into academic discourse, because academics mostly live in this very abstract and theoretical space. While writing about these things is important, I think it’s also important to be conscious of the fact that people’s experiences outside of the Bay Area are much more difficult. More research should be focused on that, and stop privileging the lifestyles within it. We should be discussing the experiences of people who deal with the brunt of social issues that arise in response to queer identities. One of the main reasons why physical and emotional violence is inflicted upon LGBT people is based on the fact that they usually aren’t normatively gendered, which is the exact issue that the majority of trans people face. A heteronormative agenda focusing on same-sex marriage isn’t going to change that.

Heteronormativity refers to the set of norms traditionally associated with heterosexuality, such as conventional gender-conformity, monogamy, and marriage. By endorsing these norms rather than resisting the way they have marginalized people’s expression of alternative lifestyles, the LGBT Rights movement has become increasingly homonormative. Within the context of the LGBT rights movement, he recognizes homonormativity as the all too familiar mantra “We’re just like you,” which has been repeated by marginalized groups as a way of securing their legal rights and furthering . . . equality.
Yet, everyone is not like everyone else, especially within a group as diverse as the LGBT community, and the movement toward securing the rights of LGBT people seems to be geared toward members of the community who fit more comfortably into a normative mold. The consequence of this strategy, as Thatcher coins, is a “trickle-down rights movement,” which secures the rights of LGBT people who have stronger claims to privilege, with the vague promise that those who are left behind—such as transgender people, people of color, or those who simply do not wish to marry, to name a few—will receive help later on. However, he worries that,

Once the privileged members of the LGBT community are able to secure marital rights, what else is really left for them to fight for?

Moreover, he recognizes a greater danger in seeking social equality solely by way of the legal system:

When we buy into this idea that legality is the only way to change society, I hate to say it, but that’s how we get comments like, “There isn’t racism in our country because we have an African American president.” This tactic totally disregards the deeper issues at hand, while at the same time, providing ammunition for people to claim that we do have equality.

Yet, Thatcher concludes:

I think it’s unavoidable to fight for equality by way of the legal system due to the way our society operates; I understand the importance of social legitimacy—I get it. My perspective is: while we fight for those rights, we shouldn’t be leaving behind all of the other systemic issues, because these are the harder things to fight for. It is more difficult to combat the norms around gender and sexuality, but just because it’s harder, that doesn’t mean we should be leaving it behind. We should be fighting for that even more.

Benjamin Marmolejo is a Staff Writer at InQueery & studies English at UC Berkeley.
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