Issue February 25, 2014

Beyond marriage

The movement for marriage equality has had quite a few successes in the last few years, gaining an undeniable momentum here in the South after recent legal victories in Kentucky and Virginia declared gay marriage bans in those respective states as unconstitutional.

My best friend Tori and his husband Keith recently tied the knot in Maryland, one of the first gay couples to legally wed in the state last year. Another friend (and Fairness Campaign colleague), the Rev. Bojangles Blanchard, and his partner are leading the local fight for gay marriage, and their recent sit-in at the marriage license office made national news. Though I have personal ideological beef with the historically patriarchal and heteronormative values of marriage, I am happy for my friends that they have actually found men who don’t bore, bother or otherwise annoy them.

Don’t get me wrong, marriage equality is an important issue. Gay folks who want to get married and divorced should be able to. Still, gay rights leaders and organizations must recognize that there are many of us in the LGBT community for whom marriage is not an option, desire or priority. Marriage isn’t the only issue facing queer people. It isn’t even among the most important.

There is a stereotype of the typical gay person as being affluent, white and male. A quick look at the leadership of local and national LGBT advocacy organizations certainly supports such a perception. However, a 2012 Gallup report revealed information to the contrary. For starters, African-Americans and other people of color are more likely to be LGBT than white folks. This report is the largest demographic study of America’s queer population and reveals that 4.6 percent of African-Americans identify as LGBT, along with 4 percent of Latinos and 4.3 percent of Asian Americans. Among white folks, the figure is 3.2 percent.

The study also revealed other enlightening info, including that younger Americans are three times more likely to identify as LGBT than seniors and that a larger portion of lower-educated Americans identify as LGBT compared to those who have graduated college. It’s also noteworthy that LGBT women are just as likely as straight women to be raising children. From this report, it’s fair to say the LGBT community in America is younger, blacker and poorer than we’ve been led to believe. The so-called gay agenda must also mirror this reality. There must be a shifting of priorities of the mainstream gay rights movement.

This nation’s young black gay men are being disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. In 2009, gay and bisexual men accounted for 61 percent of all new HIV infections, even though they are only an estimated 2 percent of the population. In 2010, there were more new HIV infections occurring among young black gay men ages 13-24 than any other age or racial group. Just this month, HIV Plus magazine released an article demonstrating that the reasons behind such alarming rates are not because of irresponsible behavior but because of racism, poverty and social inequality. Prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS is on my gay agenda. It is why we must move beyond marriage.

Just two years ago, we had the fourth highest murder rate of queer people in history, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Transgender people (especially trans women) and people of color (particularly trans people) are the mostly likely in our community to be attacked or murdered. More than half of hate-crime homicides had black victims. Ending the epidemic of trans and queer murders and prosecuting our killers is on my gay agenda. It is why we must move beyond marriage.

There are tens of thousands of homeless gay youth across this country. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, LGBT young people represent between 20 and 40 percent of the estimated 600,000 homeless youth across the country. One needn’t think long or hard to imagine the horrors these youth must either overcome or succumb to in a life on the streets. Survival sex is sometimes the least horrific part of it. Protecting and providing for the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community is on my gay agenda. It is why we must move beyond marriage.

And so I propose a new gay agenda, a marriage to a new movement that seeks to wed the life-threatening issues of the younger, blacker, poorer members of our community to the financial power and political influence of our wealthy white elite. Let us move beyond marriage to a movement that truly promises to love, honor and protect us all.