If you want to see the pathologies plaguing the gay marriage movement in action, you need look no farther than this article penned by Jasmyne Cannick. Titled "Gays First, Then Illegals," Cannick's editorial spews the kind of xenophobic rhetoric now rarely heard outside of right-wing radio and white nativist circles – unless, of course, it's coming from the mainstream gay press. Pitting gay rights against immigrants' rights, Cannick – former "People of Color Media Manager for GLAAD" – considers it a "slap in the face to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people" for Congress to debate immigration reform when same-sex marriage remains unrecognized. For your pleasure or fury, here are some of her greatest hits:
"Immigration reform needs to get in line behind the LGBT civil rights movement, which has not yet realized all of its goals. Which is not to say that I don't recognize the plight of illegal immigrants. I do. But I didn't break the law to come into this country. This country broke the law by not recognizing and bestowing upon me my full rights as a citizen."
"America needs to take care of its own backyard before it debates on whether to take care of its neighbor's backyard. Lesbians and gays should not be second-class citizens. Our issues should not get bumped to the back of the line in favor of extending rights to people who have entered this country illegally. Bottom line."
And in my favorite passage, Cannick quotes Audre Lorde, child of immigrants, on the necessity of speaking difficult truths before concluding, "While I know no one wants to be viewed as a racist when it comes to immigration reform, as a lesbian I don't want to move to the back of the bus to accommodate those who broke the law to be here."
Honey, if you don't want to be viewed as a racist, then don't write like one!
As my friend Terry Boggis, Director of Center Kids at the NYC LGBT Center puts it, "As long as we're dragging poor Audre Lorde into the fray and misusing her wisdom to make a point utterly contrary to all she represented, we should be compelled to resurrect her tried-and-true 'There is no hierarchy of oppressions' line. It's hard to believe that in this nation of incomprehensible, dazzling, shameless abundance, we still get this kind of paranoid thinking that rights for some will mean fewer rights for others. Social justice isn't a zero-sum game."
Along with former Clinton apparatchik and media whore Keith Boykin, Cannick is on the board of the National Black Justice Coalition, an organization ostensibly dedicated to "fostering equality by fighting racism and homophobia," but which so far seems mostly devoted to persuading black churches and civil rights groups to support (or at least not block) the drive for same-sex marriage. If the other board members, some of whom I respect, take NBJC's mission seriously, they'd publicly denounce Cannick's editorial.
Sadly, Cannick's perspective may only be exceptional in its forthrightness. As public health activist Debanuj Dasgupta points out, "the 'gay rights movement' is largely dominated by an analysis that is rooted in the premises of citizenship and LGBT identity," without realizing how "citizenship status is a site of major oppression and social control." Moreover, from the enforcement of the Espionage and Sedition Acts to the McCarthy hearings, sexual dissidents and foreigners have historically been caught up in the same dragnets, and the regulation of marriage has long been a focus of racist U.S. immigration policy.
Next month Human Rights Watch's LGBT division will publish a report on binational couples in support of the Uniting American Families Act (formerly the Permanent Partners Immigration Act) which would add same-sex "permanent partners" to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Let's hope that debate starts a more generous, less invidious discussion about reforming both immigration and marriage.
By Richard Kim
Reprinted with permission from The Nation