Contents Page: Voices of Women and Gender Minorities

Crowdfunded special edition of Fightback magazine (subscribe here), dedicated to radical writing by women and gender minorities. All contributors were paid.

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Living Outside The Rainbow: Queerness and the Housing Crisis

LGBT youth homelessness protest, USA

LGBT youth homelessness protest, USA

Fightback is running a series of articles on the housing crisis in Aotearoa/NZ.

Kassie Hartendorp (Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington) explores the specific housing problems faced by queer youth.

When you start to peer past the rainbow flags and glitter shine of LGBTIQ ‘issues’, there are many more stories to be told that don’t end with a marriage certificate and picket fences. While more privileged people along the rainbow have been able to make gains, it’s easy to forget about those who are nowhere near that pot of gold, despite ‘heartwarming’ Youtube clips from rightwing politicians and banks showing their ‘diversity and inclusion’ with their rhinestone adorned cash machines. There have been important gains made, and each one through great struggle – but we are not at the final frontier yet.

One key issue that often gets swept under the rug is housing and homelessness. The very fact that housing continues to be a need for high numbers of people across the globe means, naturally, that it affects sex, sexuality and gender diverse people as well. But the nature of homelessness can look different for our communities, and have more complex factors taking place.

The NZ Government defines homelessness as “living situations where people have no other options to acquire safe and secure housing. This includes people who are:

without shelter

in temporary accommodation

sharing accommodation with a household

living in uninhabitable housing.

This definition goes further than the stereotype of people living on the street, and can encompass many forms of housing instability. Homelessness figures are difficult to record and track easily. Most people who are in transitional housing or are couchsurfing may not associate themselves with the label of ‘homeless’ which carries a heavy stigma – despite the fact that many have experienced it at some point in their lives. In 2009, the Housing Shareholders Advisory Group estimated that the ‘urban homeless’ or those sleeping rough, numbered less than 300 across the country, yet between 8,000 and 20,000 people were living in temporary accommodation unsuited for long term habitation. Within the past year, service providers say that homelessness is ‘on the rise’ with an Auckland Council report claiming that about 15,000 people in Auckland are “severely housing deprived.”

With housing being a key commodity often left to a profit driven market, it is hard to envision a world under capitalism that would not have high levels of poverty, poor health and homelessness. The gap between the rich and the poor, and reliance on a ‘user pays’ system that means paying for almost everything we need to survive, create exactly the kind of conditions that leave many without affordable, stable and secure accommodation. The causes of homelessness can be heavily linked to and influenced by poverty, mental health experiences, disabilities, addiction issues, emotional health and trauma, sexuality and gender, convictions and imprisonment, unemployment or low wages, a lack of affordable housing and are underpinned by the forces of colonisation, patriarchy, racism and capitalism.

This already shows a complicated snapshot of the context that homelessness takes place in – how does this look for people who are sex, sexuality and/or gender diverse? Figures from the USA show that 40% of homeless young people are LGBTIQ (despite being 10% of the population), yet here in Aotearoa, we don’t have statistics on the state of homelessness for our communities of any age range. Anecdotally, when our friends or whānau struggle to find housing, we often take them in and support each other, but this isn’t reflected on any national database.

Some of the key themes that play out in sex, sexuality and gender diverse homelessness are family breakdowns, discrimination (overt and covert) and isolation. It is a sadly normal occurrence for young people to come out and face family rejection, particularly when they are gender diverse. A common scenario exists where parents will only accept a young person back into their home if they commit to living as the gender they were assigned at birth. It is not a safe or healthy option to force someone to ‘go back in the closet’ or live as someone they are not, for the sake of shelter. Yet agencies such as WINZ have had trouble recognising this as a true ‘relationship breakdown’ in the past and have therefore refused youth payments for teenagers who cannot live in such an oppressive environment.

While poverty is almost always a key factor of general homelessness, a person of any socio-economic status can find themselves unwelcome or kicked out of a family home for their sexuality or gender identity. One of the people I spoke with, who has faced an abusive home life says:

I’m a migrant with rich parents who’s under 21. Is anyone going to think I’m genuinely in need? My parents are pulling the “please come home” act, refusing to give me access to my health insurance policy and telling me instead that if I’m ill they can nurse me back to health if I would only come home, and what am I meant to do?

When family and whānau become a site of pain and trauma for LGBTIQ people, often the only option becomes to find new homes and families that will validate the parts of them that are not accepted in their former home.

Homelessness doesn’t just affect young people, and there are further layers that add complexity to the issue such as race, disability and gender. With a shortage of accommodation in urban areas in particular, if you don’t look ‘normative’, you’re a person of colour, you have children or a disability – the chances are low that you will be the first pick of landlords, housing agencies or even most flatmates. Many gay or queer identifying people can downplay their sexuality, but if someone is ‘non-passing’ as a transgender flat-hunter, they are more likely to experience discrimination.

One interviewee based in Auckland currently shares a single bed with their girlfriend while staying in a person’s storage room. They’ve been told they need to leave soon to make way for another transgender person, with the plan to find a new flat with three other likeminded people. So far, they have had no success in finding a safe, affordable and secure flat to move into.

Nobody wants to rent to a bunch of visibly trans/queer disabled teenagers even if we weren’t fighting a housing market that’s totally against us at the moment? Forty people showing up to flat viewings, most of whom in suit and tie or with parents as guarantors (which, as queer babies most of us are estranged from ours, or they’re really poor) ….. I can’t hide how brown and neurodivergent I am, my girlfriend can’t really pass for a masculine cis dude any more as much as she tries… I’m scared. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Another interviewee who identifies as takataapui taahine and is identified by others as transgender, queer and Māori, says that homelessness is something they are “intimately acquainted with.” From crashing on sofas, staying in vans and squatting in old sheds and abandoned homes as a teenager, their housing stability as an adult started improving after becoming a sex worker, which helped clear their debt and provided an income that didn’t depend on seasonal opportunities. They state that:

Even now though, with my stable job working at an NGO, I am aware that my position is always precarious… I definitely see my expendability as intrinsically linked to being poor, brown, visibly not a heterosexual cis person. It’s indisputably also linked to disability, or directly because of discrimination against it…  My family have no money for me to fall back on. I’ve recently been kicked out of my house because my neighbor complained that my autistic son throws toys and fruit over the fence. I don’t imagine this situation unfolding in this way if I were a more wealthy, middle aged, white, cis, man or woman.

There are almost no safety nets for people who have intersecting battles and experiences, that don’t fit neatly into common ‘gay’ experience. While communities try hard to support each other, there are not many official options. In Wellington, there is already a shortage of temporary emergency accommodation and many of the services that do exist are run by faith-based organisations that have a chequered history with sexual and gender minorities. What is available for those that cannot viably utilise the Men’s Night Shelter or Women’s Boarding House due to their gender identity? How is the safety of LGBTIQ people guaranteed, particularly when they may be fleeing trauma, discrimination and violence in the first place?

Sandra Dickson, a longtime advocate for sexual violence prevention also notes that abusive domestic partnerships can become even more dangerous to those that do not have alternative housing options. Dickson says that the impact of ‘having no family of origin to return to because of homo/bi/transphobia and gender policing’ on people who experience intimate partner violence is under-discussed. Statistics from the UK show that same sex attracted people experience intimate partner violence at the same rate or higher than heterosexual people, bisexual women experience higher rates of sexual violence, and transgender people are most likely of all to experience any form of violence. Without the resources to quantify this information in Aotearoa, it’s difficult to piece together a formal picture on how domestic violence looks for LGBTIQ+ communities, let alone to begin to work on strategies for support and prevention.

He kokonga whare e kitea, he kokonga ngākau e kore e kitea”

The corners of a house can be seen, but not the corners of the heart.

Te Mahana, the Strategy to End Homelessness in Wellington, writes that “if the issue of homelessness is to be adequately addressed for Māori, it is vital that deeper needs such as spiritual, relationships and cultural connection must also be identified, considered and satisfied” and that the heart of the issue is “cultural dislocation and loss of cultural connection.” The link between colonisation, poverty and homelessness runs strong and is hard to address within a setting of profit driven capitalism and a collective historical amnesia regarding land theft and severe cultural grievances at the hands of colonisers.

The ability to find a safe and secure place to rest one’s head goes further than physical walls, it is about having a papakainga, turangawaewae and a place to physically and spiritually rest, settle and heal. Capitalism doesn’t, by nature, build us homes or papakainga. It doesn’t instinctively nurture us culturally, physically, emotionally, socially or spiritually – we have to fight to be seen as anything other than one-dimensional beings that must spend the majority of our time doing meaningless work to survive, rather than living, exploring, creating and re-generating ourselves, our families and our communities. Sara Fraser, Housing Research Assistant says that one of the things she has learnt whilst working in housing research is:

Providing people with good tenure of housing is a pathway to better health and this is as important in our queer communities as elsewhere. We are overrepresented in the suicide and mental health statistics; social housing is one avenue which provides secure tenure, but with the current government having a hands-off approach to housing, I don’t see how the statistics will drop.”

With the National Government’s plans to sell off state housing to NGOs, rather than focusing on building new homes, the housing crisis around Aotearoa doesn’t look set to ease in the near future. Creating safe, secure and stable housing for sexual and gender minorities isn’t compatible with a housing market that is highly competitive when non-normative bodies and existences are policed or discriminated against. A democratic, public housing solution must ensure both free universal access and specific kinds of support; ‘an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’. When asked what safe and secure housing would like to an interviewee, they replied:

I imagine housing security for me personally, looks like living in a community where people care about each others’ well being, where a homeless person doesn’t exist because resources are shared, and where circumstances are recognised and we don’t imagine that we all exist from a zero sum starting point.“

Let’s continue to create more room for possibilities and imaginings as this, where we dream and demand of more than the narrow, and damaging options that are currently given to us. Let’s question the economic conditions that prioritise profits over quality of life, and let’s continue in creating true papakainga for our communities.

* Thank you to those who shared their stories, thoughts and research as contribution to this article. Arohanui to those who live this, and to those who dedicate their lives to supporting others through this.

** This article is used in reference to, inspired and shaped by Te Whare Tapa Wha, the Māori health model developed by Professor Mason Durie.

If you are sex or gender diverse (intersex or transgender) and currently needing emergency accommodation in Wellington/Te Whanganui-a-Tara, feel free to contact the Temporary Emergency Accommodation Project at the 128 Radical Community Social Centre.

Queer Politics and the Election: What are “Our” issues?

Action in solidarity with queer worker mistreated by McDonalds during 2013 industrial dispute.

Action in solidarity with queer worker mistreated by McDonalds during 2013 industrial dispute.

By Nic Wood, reprinted from Ours.

I’m queer. My ideas about what it means to be and belong as a queer person have changed a lot since I ‘came out’ in my teenage years. It’s interesting for me to reflect on this in the context of an election, because the notion of ‘belonging’ is intensified and highly visible in lots of ways in the lead–up to voting day.

Belonging is a powerful force. When we belong, we can feel swept up by a kind of euphoria, or simply able to go about life with ease, without having our presence questioned. And when we don’t belong, the consequences are often borne out painfully: as exclusion and discrimination, or even as physical violence.

For queer people—that is, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans people, intersex people, and the multitude of others whose genders/sexualities appear to be at odds with what’s deemed ‘normal’—belonging holds a particular importance. Our early years are often marked by its absence or denial. This can manifest as the loneliness and fear of being ‘in the closet’, or the extremely noticeable difference of being ‘out’ (sometimes by our own choice, other times unavoidably).

I think it’s this sort of beginning which makes the search for and congregation in ‘community’ by queer people all the stronger. If you’ve ever been to a pride parade you may understand what I mean when I say that belonging can ‘sweep you up’; there’s a swell of emotion that comes from the togetherness at such events. I remember the first time I attended one in Wellington, I felt so at home, unlike I ever had around family and friends who’d not known, or liked, my sexuality. It was at once comforting and exhilarating.

Who gets to feel included in this euphoria, though? Not everyone. One of the things about belonging and inclusion is that to exist for some people, they rely on the exclusion of others. One could argue that it’s belonging which drives a nation to mobilise to vote, and underpins attempts to secure the vote of those who understand themselves as ‘kiwis’.

Belonging, already so important for many queers, is sharply in focus in public discourse at election time. Deciding how to vote, we might look at literal representation: how many ‘out’ queer–identified MPs or candidates are there in each political party? How about how many overtly homophobic and transphobic ones? If we’re concerned with the politics of inclusion—of ensuring that queer people have access to the same conditions as others who are included within the nation—we might consider candidates’ stances on explicitly ‘queer’ policies like marriage and adoption equality, or regulations around service in the military.

But you could say this focus on inclusion in what’s ‘normal’ shores up a narrow idea of what a queer person is. This tends to make the experiences of the very narrow selection of queers who benefit from these measures—generally wealthy, white, and more often than not male—appear as universal for everyone.

The longer I live openly as a queer person and meet others, the more I realise this is not true; the comfort and ‘at home’-ness I felt in my first pride parade was something many of my friends could enjoy in the same way. And the more my understanding of my sexual orientation matures, the more I question whether things like the right to marry would enable me to live freely, or actually restrict what I want to express. In my mind, the politics of representation and inclusion run the risk of erasing the very difference they purport to speak for. Although that difference can bring us much pain and hardship, it also makes us alive.

If we’re to be so wary of all of this, what might ‘our’ important election issues be? It’s hard to say. I do know that far more than we drink fancy cocktails or have lavish gay weddings, queer people—especially youth—are disproportionately affected by poverty. Maybe if we want to vote as queer people we should think about which policies for welfare, housing, access to education and healthcare will benefit those who are currently marginalised, and look into whether there are options which will see organisations who work to support queer and trans youth better supported.

While I’m not sure that voting or parliament hold all of the solutions for the complex structures of social power we need to undo to improve our lives, they do influence how much support organisations like the ones mentioned above get to do so within given frameworks. Perhaps instead of getting caught up in the fantasy of ‘gay rights’ which masks a certain kind of harm and exclusion, we might view voting as a pragmatic way to improve, however incrementally, the material conditions of the many queers who don’t get to be the faces of pride parades.

In 2012, Colin Craig tweeted that “it’s not intelligent to pretend that homosexual relationships are normal”. In the lead–up to the election, bytes like this have been dredged up by commentators; the ridicule of what many understand as laughably outdated homophobia has become a pretty typical part of political debate as voting day approaches.

While it’s important to call out homophobia, the response the statement begs also exemplifies up what I’m so wary about in the crossing-over of possibilities for belonging as queers, and the parliamentary election. In my personal experience voting is just one of many ways to make queer lives more liveable. Above all, we mustn’t settle for ‘normality’ as a goal.

There’s too much lost in that.

There’s pride in resistance, not apartheid

After the disruption of Israeli pinkwashing at Pride 2014, GayNZ asked activists involved to submit an article. This contribution comes from Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (Aotearoa), an online network including members of Fightback.

We are Arabs, Jews, Māori, Pākehā, Asians. We are queer. We value the work that LGBTI activists before us have done to improve the lives of queers in Aotearoa and the world over. We value Pride for creating a queer-positive space where our community can come together and celebrate who we are.

But we are not proud that queer struggles are hijacked by the state of Israel in order to ‘pinkwash’ its colonial violence towards Palestinians. We were not proud to see the Embassy of Israel included in Auckland Pride. This is why we had to take a stand, to protect queer spaces from being complicit in Israeli apartheid.

Pride_Israeli_Protest_2_-_John_Darroch.jpg

For many, our protest came as a surprise. The Israeli embassy, however, had anticipated the presence of protesters. In a press release just days before the event, the embassy was clear that their participation in Pride was motivated, not by a desire to support LGBTI rights, but as a PR exercise in response to Wellington protests against an Israeli Embassy-sponsored dance show.

The cynical use of queer rights as a publicity strategy to create a positive, humane image for Israel is not new, nor is it exclusive to New Zealand. In 2011 the Jewish lesbian writer Sarah Schulman published an op-ed in the New York Times criticising Israel’s ‘strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life’. Other prominent queer Jews have echoed Schulman’s criticism of pinkwashing, including Judith Butler and Aeyal Gross.

The pinkwashing narrative presents a familiar racist trope: Arab societies are conservative, gender normative and homophobic. Israel is the only Middle-Eastern country where gays have equal rights. Queer Palestinians escaping persecution in their own communities relocate to Israel for asylum.

Pride_Israeli_Protest_3_-_John_Darroch.jpg

A 2008 report on gay Palestinian asylum seekers in Israel, published by Tel Aviv University’s Public Interest Law Program, presents a very different picture. The report found that gay Palestinians who escape to Israel live in the country illegally—since Palestinians are barred from applying for refugee status in Israel. This means that they are in constant danger of being deported back to communities where they will be subject to homophobic violence. Israeli security services have been known to exploit this vulnerability, and blackmail Palestinian gays into becoming informants.

Even for Jewish-Israelis, the country is not a queer-loving utopia. Two months ago a trans woman was viciously attacked on the streets of Tel Aviv. A gang of 11 men assaulted her with pepper spray and tasers. Israeli police were quick to dismiss the attack as a ‘prank’ and denied that it was motivated by transmisogyny. Her attackers, it turns out, were off-duty officers in Israel’s Border Police.

It’s not surprising that the same young men who spends weekdays shooting and tear-gassing Palestinians also spend their weekends assaulting trans women. This is the intersection of militarism and homophobia in which Palestinian and Israeli queers exist.

Palestinian queer organisations like al-Qaws, Aswat and Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions have called on the global queer community to support their struggle against both Israeli apartheid and queerphobia. That call has been answered around the world, by groups like Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in Canada, No Pride in Israeli Apartheid in the UK, and Black Laundry in Israel.

Pride_Israeli_Protest_4_-_John_Darroch.jpg

It’s out of a desire to support Palestinian queers, and in the tradition of intersectional queer politics, that we decided to take a public stand against the Israeli Embassy’s float at Auckland Pride. We know that some of our fellow queers think that Pride is not the appropriate time or place to make a political statement about Middle East politics. The argument that we shouldn’t mix pride parades with global politics sounds an awful lot like the 1980s argument that anti-apartheid protesters shouldn’t mix rugby with politics. We were not the ones who chose to use Pride as a platform for discussing Israel. The Israeli Embassy are the ones who decided to hijack a gay pride event and exploit to uphold a progressive image of a state that subjects its Indigenous inhabitants to apartheid.

Our queer politics are rooted in the principle of ‘no one left behind’. We do not accept the advancement of gay men at the expense of lesbians, or of cis queers at the expense of trans people. We also cannot accept the advancement of any queers at the expense of Palestinians.

Pride_Israeli_Protest_5_-_John_Darroch.jpg

We recognise the link between colonisation of Palestine, and colonisation of Oceania and Aotearoa. Tagata Pasifika and tangata whenua gender and sexual diversity were violently displaced through the colonisation of this region. We celebrate the first ever Pasefika LGBT Youth float at Pride 2014. The hijacking of Pride to promote apartheid detracts from this celebration of diversity and solidarity.

We urge Auckland Pride—and all LGBT organisations in Aotearoa—to take a stand in solidarity with queer Palestinians and refuse to help Israel pinkwash its human rights abuses. There is no pride in being complicit with Israeli apartheid.

All pictures by John Darroch

Palestine: Queer liberation vs Pinkwashing

This talk by Ali Nissenbaum was originally delivered as part of Beyond, a conference organised by Queer Avengers. It is reprinted here from the Not Afraid of Ruins blog.

Note: for the purpose of this article I’m using ‘queer’ as a broad term to describe all of us who are marginalised because our gender or sexual identity isn’t normative. That includes trans, intersex, pansexual, lesbian and gay folks, among others. I know that ‘queer’ is a culturally specific label and that not all gender/sexually diverse people identify as such.

Let me start by explaining a few concepts that are useful for understanding the relationship between struggles for queer liberation and nationalism.

Homonormative: a normative way of being gay. The ‘proper’ gay person is someone who’s cisgendered, monogamous, White, middle-class, and definitely not disabled—because disabled people aren’t supposed to have a sexuality. The normative gay just wants to be allowed to serve in the military, to get a job, get married, have babies, and fit in to heteronormative society.

Homonationalism: means homonormative nationalism. This is about the way that the cause of GLBT rights—but more often than not just G and L rights—gets used to prop up nationalism and justify imperialism and militarism. One example is when people justify military attacks on Iran by arguing that it is a homophobic country. Another example is when people blame homophobia in New Zealand on Māori and Pacific Islander communities, who are portrayed as conservative and homophobic.

It’s worth thinking about the correlation between the social acceptance of some queers (normative ones) and racism, especially anti-Arab and Muslim racism. Identity is always formed in opposition to someone else, it’s ‘us’ and ‘them’. Normative gays are allowed entry into ‘proper society’ in order to emphasise the dichotomy between the White West (modern, progressive, liberal) and the Brown East: Arabs, Muslims, Southeast Asians and other populations who are constructed as conservative, patriarchal, homophobic, violent, backwards and terrorists.

Pinkwashing: a term used to describe the way that GLBT rights are used to whitewash over unethical behavior. We see this when corporations use gay-friendly marketing to distract from the terrible way they treat their workers. We see it when NZ Defence wins an award for being an equal opportunity employer, which is another way of saying that anyone, regardless of sexual or gender identity, can join in the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan.

For the purpose of this talk I’m going to focus on the state of Israel as an example of pinkwashing—partly because I’m an Israeli, or to put it more accurately, I’m a settler-colonist on Palestinian land. Israel is a state that consistently oppresses its Indigenous Palestinian population in order to maintain an ethnically-exclusive state. In other words, it’s an apartheid state. Maintaining an apartheid state requires a huge amount of PR work to convince the rest of the world that they should allow you to continue oppressing people. So the state of Israel has come up with a marketing campaign called ‘Brand Israel’.

Part of ‘Brand Israel’ is to promote Israel as a queer-friendly country. This is really a two-pronged approach: (1) situate Israel as a progressive, modern, pro-LGBT country and (2) construct Arabs and Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular as conservative, patriarchal, and violently homophobic.

Image shows two men being hanged on the left with the caption 'Palestine: when they find out you are gay they hang you'. On the right image shows two soldiers holding hands with the caption 'Israel: we love and admire gay men and women'.

What’s wrong with this picture?

First of all the image on the right is a bit misleading. The two soldiers in this photo aren’t lovers, and actually one of them is heterosexual. The photo was staged by the Israeli Defence Force Spokesperson’s Office and posted on its facebook page with the caption ‘It’s Pride Month. Did you know that the IDF treats all of its soldiers equally? Let’s see how many shares you can get for this photo.’

The image on the left is just plain incorrect. This photo isn’t from Palestine, it’s from Iran. The two boys in this photo were hanged—though their supposed crime is unclear. Originally Western media outlets were reporting they were hanged for having consensual sex with each other, but human rights NGOs haven’t found any evidence that corroborates this claim, it’s more likely that they had raped a younger boy. Either way, what happened to them is horrific and inexcusable—the death penalty is never ok, especially against children. But this is an example of how information about human rights abuses is manipulated to justify imperialist intentions, whether against Palestinians or against Iran.

Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau in Tel Aviv for their honeymoon.

Part of this ‘Brand Israel’ campaign has been to promote Israel as a gay tourism destination. These are Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau, the first gay French couple to get married after France legalised same-sex marriage. Hila Oren, the CEO of Tel Aviv Global & Tourism, came up with a great marketing idea. She invited this couple to come honeymoon in Tel Aviv during Tel Aviv pride week. According to Oren, ‘the meaning beneath is our mission, to broaden the conversation about Tel Aviv, for people to know that Tel Aviv is a place of tolerance, of business and tourism, a place beyond the conflict’. Vincent Autin told Israeli media that ‘for us it’s very important to be a bridge, especially here in the Middle East, so that what’s happened in France, and the way we are received and embraced here, can become an example for the rest of the Middle East.’ This is homonationalism—the idea that Westerners constitute ‘an example’ that the Middle East should follow.

This kind of pinkwashing has found its way into the queer community in New Zealand too. At Queer the Night 2011 someone showed up with a pro-Israel placard. Queer the Night was supposed to be about standing up against transphobia, homophobia and oppression. But somebody managed to derail it and use it as an opportunity to incite prejudice against Arab and Muslim people.

Pro-Israel placard at Queer the Night 2011 reads: 'Long live Israel, the only gay-friendly mid-east state'.

Sometimes pinkwashing is a lot subtler than that. I was pretty shocked when I read this article in the June issue of Express. The author was clearly impressed with the Gay Cultural Centre in Tel Aviv, and on the surface this seems pretty innocuous. But celebrating Tel Aviv as a queer-friendly city without acknowledging that it is a city built on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is pinkwashing racism—as the Jewish American lesbian writer Sarah Schulman puts it ‘Tel Aviv is a theater set, behind it is the reality of profound oppression and violation of human rights.’

Pinkwashing arguments are built on a false logic. Transphobia and homophobia aren’t limited to Arab and Muslim societies. Israel is also a homophobic and transphobic society. New Zealand has its own problems with anti-queer oppression. More than that, struggles against racism and colonisation and struggles against transphobia and homophobia can’t be fought separately. Homophobia, transphobia, racism and occupation are all intertwined; they are part of the matrix of violence and oppression in Palestine. This isn’t just an abstract idea, it has real consequences for people’s safety. For example, there’s a history of the Shabak, Israel’s General Security Services, blackmailing Palestinian queers into becoming informants—because they know that outing them could endanger their lives. The lack of freedom of movement for Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank means that queers living in transphobic or homophobic communities cannot easily leave.

This is why Palestinian queer groups like al-Qaws, Aswat and Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions all work to fight both anti-queer oppression, and the racism and colonialism of the Israeli state.

Palestinian queer groups endorse the Palestinian call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel. Palestinian civil society groups launched the BDS campaign in 2005, and part of the campaign is ‘queer BDS’ which is specifically about challenging Israel’s pinkwashing. Joining the BDS campaign is one way that we can be solid with all Palestinians—queer and straight.

Here in Aotearoa we’ve recently established the Aotearoa BDS Network, and our first campaign is focusing on G4S, a private security company that provides prisons and checkpoints for Israel. We’re inviting queer organisations to endorse the campaign by signing the letter we’re writing to Super Fund asking them to divest their shares in G4S. If you want to learn more, you should come along to our campaign launch on November 2 at Thistle Hall.

Further reading

al-Qaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society

Aswat (lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning & queer Palestinian women)

Palestinian Queers for Boycott Divestment & Sanctions

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid

Israeli Laundry

Palestinian BDS National Committee

Palestinian Campaign for Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel

Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Duke University Press: 2007)

Sarah Schulman, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International (Duke University Press: 2012)

Ali Abunimah, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli–Palestinian Impasse (Picador: 2007)

Ben White, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide (Pluto Press: 2009)

Omar Barghouti, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (Haymarket Books: 2011)

Love & Marriage: Queers, Capitalism and Equality

After a six-and-a-half month passage through Parliament, marriage was finally legalized for same-sex couples in New Zealand in April 2013. Among the questions raised among left-wing queer and trans activists was whether to support marriage equality as a democratic right, or to oppose marriage in general. In October 2013, the Beyond conference organised in Wellington by the Queer Avengers followed up on some of these issues. This piece by Bill Logan was originally delivered as part of Beyond, and is reprinted here from the International Bolshevik Tendency website.

Like most of us, I’m far more interested in love than marriage, but I want to consider the connections and antagonisms between love and marriage today. I don’t want to attempt a precise definition of love here, but I don’t merely mean deep caring for our fellow-humans, or close friendship, or filial affection, or warm companionship. All those are great things, and often in the world we live in today, they are our best sources of personal security. But what we are talking of here is passionate, spontaneous sexual love.

Now, in this sense love and marriage both have long histories in Western culture, going back thousands of years, but they are almost entirely separate histories. Love and marriage have quite simply had nothing to do with each other. Even the fiction that love and marriage should somehow be combined is rather recent, and rather unevenly applied. Marriage has always been about status and property. Even in the last two hundred years, when marriage has attempted to appropriate love for its own purposes, it is a debased, deformed kind of love that marriage has sought to incorporate – a love where the perfect match involves celebrity, power and money, and where your grandmother tells you it is as easy to fall in love with a rich woman as with a poor one. The ideal marriage requires you to love a millionaire, a film star, or preferably a prince – all of whom are probably pretty unlovable.

The Pet Shop Boys are not exactly right that love is a bourgeois construct – it would be more true to say that love is a feudal construct, because the modern ideology of love is primarily shaped in the ideals of the knightly chivalry of the Middle Ages. And of course love under chivalry was always outside marriage, and about either unfulfilled yearning, or unadulterated adultery. Marriage was about power and property, and love was counterposed to it.

If love penetrated the ruling classes during the age of chivalry, it had a pre-history, which is largely unwritten. Before chivalry, love was confined to the lower orders. Citizens of Athens and Rome did not love their wives, though they may have been infatuated with a slave-girl or a boyfriend. But servants and shepherd boys, whose lives went mostly unrecorded because they didn’t matter, were able to love each other, and love intensely. Although the record is sparse, traces are inevitably left in song and verse.

We live in a cynical age, and intelligent people are not supposed to believe in love. However, in hints and traces, and also in anthropological studies of pre-class societies, we can see that patches, incidents or explosions of love have formed in most of the different kinds of social arrangements our species has tried out. We can see that love is sometimes capable of great heroism against the predominating institutions of society. And we can see that love has been most widespread where power, status and property are weakest. Indeed, what I want to argue here is that love can appear in many environments, and has extraordinary potential for social disruption, but if love is to transcend the exceptional and episodic, and if there is to be a generalized freedom to love, then class society must be dismantled.

Of course the spontaneity and diverse forms of love – its passion and sheer joy – do not sit easily beside the authority and hierarchy necessary to run a class society. So marriage has become a tool for the organization of love. Love is a danger, and marriage is put into service for its moderation and debasement, and to render it uniform.

So heterosexual marriage is the standard, against which all other relationships are measured. Parental expectations, housing policy and architecture, family law, and popular music all tend to push toward a marriage-like form. To the extent that a relationship is in the nature of a marriage – a heterosexual marriage – it is judged successful.

And so we have the modern nuclear family under capitalism as an instrument for the mass organization of domestic tasks and reproduction, and for disciplined training of the workforce. The ideal wherein love and marriage are combined has a dual function – of bureaucratizing and routinizing love to render it socially harmless, and of spicing up marriage to make it acceptable.

This is not to say, of course, that there is no real love in the world today – indeed many get a taste of genuine love, and some get a full serving, but the commercial mass-media love industry and the attempts to tie love to the institution of marriage have profoundly misshapen it. The pursuit of love is combined with a pursuit of money, power and fame, and the experience of love is twisted by crass commercialism, showy weddings, and the legal and social controls that define marriage.

Nor is this to say that marriage at an individual level is necessarily a betrayal of love. Each of us must make their way as best they can in this broken world, and marriage helps many negotiate a path. But as a cultural institution, marriage is fundamentally conservative.

And so we come to the struggle for same-sex marriage rights, which has emerged with remarkable historical speed on a global basis very recently. When I was a younger man fighting for homosexual law reform in the 1985-86 campaign, gay marriage was not something we thought of as a possibility to be considered.

In the context of the way marriage is carried out, its social role and its debasement of love, it is frankly not surprising that radical queers looked on this movement with great suspicion. Why would we want to buy into the process whereby the creative, disruptive, passionate power of love was tamed to fit the conservative straightjacket of marriage?

But marriage will not be transcended by maintaining the limitations and constraints on it, but by opening it up, and by freeing it of the compulsions which surround it – compulsions which are ideological, legal and material.

So of course, most of us took a deep breath, and supported the marriage reform. We supported it quite simply because legal prohibition is not an instrument of liberation. Many of us don’t want to join the army or the police force, or to become a truck driver, or adopt children. But we want the same rights to do those things as anyone else. The point about the fight for the right to get married was not that we were advocating that all of us queer people should actually get married, but that we should be allowed to get married.

While there were some attractions in the argument that we want the right to be different, not merely to be the same as the majority, the truth is that the fight against oppression (whether sexual, religious, national or economic) is always a fight for equal rights, the right to be the same. Separate but equal, is not equal. Where Muslims or atheists do not have the same rights as Christians, they are pushed to make their beliefs about religion invisible. Where queers do not have the same rights as straights, they are pushed to make their queerness invisible. It is only through winning the right to be the same that we really gain the freedom to be different.

So we supported the campaign for equal marriage rights. But it was hardly an earth-shattering episode, and although our little victory in that campaign was quite satisfying, mostly because we don’t get to experience very many victories, it was not exactly a turning point in history. The campaign was an occasion for some highly reversible mass consciousness-raising, and possibly laid some groundwork for the more important struggle to protect queer kids from bullying in high-schools. But the objective and concrete achievement of this campaign was actually just a tiny logical extension of bourgeois democratic rights, which will have very little impact on our real lives. At the end of the day it was not a big deal.

When the celebrations died down queer and trans people still faced discrimination and oppression in families and schools and workplaces, as we always knew we would. In my counseling practice I still see heteronormativity pushing people to the brink of death. I see very high levels of stress and addiction among queers. I see the Independent Youth Benefit denied to adolescents who have nothing – no family, no accommodation, no job [though it is routinely given to youth who are not queer or trans who are cut off from financial support by family breakdown]. There are in fact extraordinary levels of unemployment among young queers right now. I still see health professionals refusing to take seriously the problem of queer and trans suicidality, and gay boys bullied at school, and trans teenagers kicked out of their homes.

It sometimes feels like we’re in a battleground, and in the context of the trauma that surrounds us, and the lesser but still urgent practical needs, our imaginings of a future utopia of polymorphous perversity seem a bit indulgent. We might want a world where the privileges of monogamy are dismantled, where there is a culture of celebrating diversity and a universal validation of relationships with many different shapes. But right now what we have to concern ourselves with is that almost all queer and trans kids grow up in fear of bullying at school, and a significant number want to kill themselves because they have been kicked out of home with no resources.

What I want to argue is that we should not separate, but rather we should link, the struggle for immediate needs and the struggle for a more profound liberation. Indeed it is only in the struggle to meet immediate needs that we can lay a path to profound change and a fundamentally better society.

To take the example of housing: it is clear that an abundance and a variety of subsidized housing would be an enormous step in meeting immediate needs – helping counter the effects of poverty and taking a lot of the sting out of family transphobia and homophobia. If even modest housing were immediately accessible it would take much of the stress and conflict out of adolescent coming out crises. There are depressions that would lift, and suicides that would not happen.

In fact, it’s not just queer and trans adolescents who need access to accommodation separate from their parents. Most families with adolescents at certain points need more housing options.

And as well as addressing the immediate needs of adolescents, good accommodation options would also address the needs of married people when their marriages were in trouble, or they were merely needing a little space. Whether it is a question of domestic violence, irritations about the relatives visiting, or a new sexual configuration disturbing the equilibrium of the household, access to housing would remove one of the most important constraints that too often turn a marriage into a prison.

When there are children, one of the compulsions that ties the couple together and makes it difficult to escape a marriage even though it has passed its use-by date is the expense of setting up accommodation that allows genuine co-parenting. People are forced to stay in the marital home in order to keep connected to their children or, in leaving the marriage, they also leave most of the parenting to one of the former partners, usually the mother. Decent accommodation options for families that are coming apart would remove another of the compulsions that shape marriage.

So while certainly it is true that family law, fairy tales and Hollywood are important forces shaping and maintaining the institution of marriage, actually it is too often simply the absence of an alternative place to live, or even to stay temporarily, that keeps a given marriage going, or determines its shape.

As with housing, so with decent free childcare, which is another thing we should be fighting for. It would remove another set of compulsions that keep in place the marriage system and gender inequality.

A program to remove those largely economic compulsions and see what people make of their lives without them seems a far more sensible way of approaching the world of the future, than to try to imagine in advance how it will look, because that is something we simply cannot know.

We cannot know the future of marriage, but we can fight for the removal of the constraints on domestic relationships. If there were true material security, which would of course include guaranteed access to well-paying jobs, the compulsions that today hold marriage and the currently prevailing family system in place would be removed. With material security can come enormous sexual freedom and diversity of domestic arrangements.

Of course we are told that the system simply cannot pay for full employment, easily accessible decent housing and childcare, and I guess that the people who say this to us know their system and that they are right. This system can’t pay for these things. So much the worse for the system. Throw it away.

And so the struggle for domestic freedom is indivisible from the struggle for socialism. The running costs of the capitalist system are simply too high.

There is an awful lot of corruption and freeloading involved in running capitalism, and also an awful lot of paperwork, all of which eats up human lives without giving anything back. And then there is the human effort wasted in financial shenanigans, and whole industries that add very little to the sum total of human happiness – banking and insurance and advertising. Capitalism is profoundly wasteful.

But the resources exist. There is a study on the basis of data for the year 2000 by the United Nations World Institute for Development Economic Research. It reports that the three richest individuals in the world possessed more financial assets than the lowest 48 nations combined. It reports that the richest one percent in the world owned 40 percent of global assets.

So the program for a world beyond marriage must be a program that addresses the obscene inefficiency and inequality of the capitalist system. Only a program of socialism can create the conditions for transcending marriage.

Exactly how will we live under socialism? We cannot know. We cannot know what will replace our current marriage and family arrangements. But we can suspect that when issues of material security are behind us, people’s personal preferences will trump any considerations of family pressure or popular prejudice. And we can expect that our domestic arrangements will be extremely diverse.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Chelsea Manning’s gender identity

article by Anne Russell, reprinted from Scoop.co.nz.

The Queer Avengers (Wellington) are holding a solidarity action with Chelsea Manning on 2pm Saturday the 7th of September, at the US Embassy [Facebook event]

For the most part, gender minorities operating in the public sphere are recognised by their gender first and the content of their work second. This is why Rolling Stone articles on“Women Who Rock” kettle together artists as musically and lyrically diverse as Taylor Swift, Missy Elliott and Sleater-Kinney, as though ‘woman’ is a subgenre of music. Even at comparatively progressive activist events, cisgender women and transgender people—particularly trans* women—rarely dominate the overall speaker line-up. Rather, they are given separate sessions to discuss sexism and/or transphobia, implying that these issues are only problems for the oppressed parties in question.

In contrast, issues like mass surveillance and military crimes are framed as issues that everyone should be concerned about, evidenced recently by the scale of controversy around the NSA leaks and the recently-passed GCSB Bill. This is not to say that they are not important or damaging problems, merely that they receive much more cultural attention than the routine struggles of oppressed gender minorities. While the soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning was hitherto widely considered a hero in radical movements, figures like radical activist and trans* woman Sylvia Rivera are not widely known outside the trans* rights movement itself. It is arguable that the activist world, like everywhere else, is still somewhat divided into gendered categories, at least on a surface level: the cis men examine military documents while the cis women and trans* folk talk about unequal access to healthcare, cultural invisibility and sexual harassment.

Private Manning’s recent announcement that she is a transgender woman—to be known as Chelsea Manning from here on—thus represents a stunning collision of different activist factions. Manning released a statement last week announcing that she identifies as female, and wishes to undergo hormone therapy as soon as possible. This is not entirely new or unexpected information, as Manning’s chatlogs with informant Adrian Lamo in May 2010 read: “I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me… plastered all over the world press… as a boy.” Moreover, her lawyers attempted to use gender identity disorder as a defence in her trial. However, many of Manning’s supporters felt uncomfortable referring to her as female without the explicit go-ahead from her.

That time has come, and yet many commentators remain confused orhostile(trigger warning: transphobia) to the announcement. Manning’s requests have been fairly straightforward—“I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun”—but many media outlets, particularly Fox News and CNN, continue to use her historical name and masculine pronouns. Since swathes of information about transgenderism are merely a Google search away, this misgendering demonstrates how heavily entrenched transphobia and the gender binary remain in public discourse. [Read more…]

Solidarity with Russian LGBT movement: Neither Washington nor Moscow but international queer liberation!

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by Ian Anderson, Fightback (Wellington).

Russia was arguably the first country to legalise homosexuality.

In the ferment between the revolution of 1905 and the revolution of 1917, liberal reformers argued that homosexuality should be decriminalised. A number of prominent men were open about their attraction to other men (as in most countries, lesbianism was never strictly illegal, although women attracted to each-other were forced to pursue their desires privately).

With the seizure of mass workers’ power in 1917, the entire Criminal Code was repealed. History was open to be written through popular struggle and debate. After the Civil War and the formation of a new defensive state, the new Criminal Code of 1922 removed the crime of muzhelozhstvo (‘men lying with men.’)

Drawing from medical and legal literature of the time, historian Dan Healey has documented this period in his work Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia. Healey argues that the removal of sodomy from the 1922 Criminal Code was no accident, but rather an attempt to “secularise” gender relations.

This was a period of debate. Medical persecution and anti-gay attitudes persisted, alongside struggles for gender liberation.

It wasn’t until 1933, with the consolidation of the Stalinist bureaucracy, that homosexuality was legally forbidden again. This was connected to a project of nation-building involving the reassertion of the nuclear family, prohibition of abortion and other gendered restrictions.

This history is necessary to understanding the current struggle over Russia’s anti-gay laws; it is not a clash of ‘Western’ and ‘Russian’ values, but rather a more complex historical struggle of oppression and liberation.

[Read more…]

Queer Avengers press release: Solidarity action with Russia’s LGBTI movement

Russia queer pride

Originally printed by the Queer Avengers (Wellington).

Neither Washington nor Moscow, but International Queer Liberation!

QA are standing in solidarity with Russian LGBTI communities currently under attack from the fellow countrymen.

“We want to make the Russian Embassy aware that what is happening is not acceptable, that all queers worldwide should be free from fear of attack, imprisonment and death” says Avenger Sara Fraser. “We want to send a message of Solidarity, let them know we know what is happening.”

Fraser contacted the Russian LGBT Network informing them of the solidarity action “they emailed back saying “It’s highly appreciated by us – do it and be noisy!”.

Ian Anderson, fellow Queer Avenger says “It is part of a global struggle against repression. Their struggle is our struggle.” He goes on to say “We need to be aware that while the Putin regime is particularly harsh in this current clampdown, that Russian queer communities are standing up for themselves and we are standing in solidarity.”

“People worldwide are angry and sending a clear message to Putin. This has to end and end now. The reported death of the teen who was tortured and beaten by a group of thugs is one death too many. We mourn for his loss.” Says Fraser.

Queer Avengers are holding a solidarity protest outside the Russian Embassy in Wellington on Friday from 4.30 p.m.

[Facebook event]

Wellington event: ‘Beyond’ (discussion and action on gender and sexual diversity)

beyond

‘Beyond’ is a weekend of discussion and action on gender and sexual diversity. Organised by the Queer Avengers, the conference will be held from the 11th-13th of October at Wellington High School.

In the wake of the parliamentary win for marriage rights, this conference aims to look beyond marriage towards an inclusive movement for gender and sexual liberation.

With a mixture of presentations, panels and workshops, the conference aims to address the lived experiences of queer/trans people in relation to identity, race, disability, the media, healthcare, parenting, education and imprisonment (among others).

Broadly, the Saturday will be focused on discussions of experience, identity and intersectionality, and the Sunday will be centred around skill sharing and campaign work. Throughout the weekend there will also be opportunities for networking, informal discussion and socialising.

Detailed schedule to come. Please see our website, beyond.org.nz, for more information.

[Registrations]
[Facebook event]