The Official Website Of Urvashi Vaid


Be Transformative, Not Transfixed!

gay_movement_flag_ap_img(From The Nation.Com, June 27, 2013)  Read more: What’s Next for the LGBT Movement? | The Nation

The Lethe-soaked question of what comes after the marriage cases ignores the reality that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people’s lives are not yet free, equal or secure, even with the positive outcome of these Supreme Court decisions.

Here’s a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of the LGBT movement in the US; and from that, a possible blueprint for the work ahead.

Strengths: A compassionate and mobilized base of millions of LGBT people, their families and friends, most of whom vote progressive, some who volunteer, fewer who give and all who support equality and justice. Young people’s attitudes trend strongly for equality. Legal and social service groups are brilliant and innovative. A vibrant infrastructure of grassroots groups is active on issues regarding trans people, people of color (POC), youths, seniors, immigrants, criminal justice and HIV/AIDS.

Weaknesses: The queer movement is focused on formal legal gay/lesbian equality only and still does not address the economic, racial and gender-based inequities affecting low-income LGBT folks, transgender people, people of color (POC), women and others in queer communities. Large parts of the US (the South, Midwest and Southwest) are zones without rights. Very few people actually give time or money to queer organizations and LGBT advocacy groups; this over-weights the influence of a few funders. Mainstream parties “handle” rather than support us—the Democrats see us an ATM; the Republicans, as a punching bag. LBT women’s issues are absent from the mainstream movement’s agenda. The leadership of the queer movement is aging, and there’s still not enough investment in young leaders and POC leaders.

Opportunities: Twenty-nine states with no LGBT rights protections are exciting sites for new work. A global movement is active and creative on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. Investment in young queer leaders and emerging institutions presents exciting chances to build a politics that is not single issue. Immigrant rights and trans organizing provide solutions for how to address the interaction of sexuality, gender, race and poverty. Opportunity exists to solidify an electoral coalition of youth, women, Latinos, African-Americans, progressive men, labor, environmentalists and LGBT people into a progressive voting bloc for the next five decades. Faith-based organizing in every denomination creates great leaders, new frames and a base of support. Social media is a queer space of organizing and movement building.

Threats: The religious, cultural, economic and political right that targets LGBT people, women’s economic, reproductive and sexual freedom and is organized around a racialized notion of national culture. A religious liberty framework is being deployed to undermine all civil rights laws. Social policy retrenchment as economic conditions worsen hurts millions of our people, and requires stronger alliances to forestall. Like what happened with abortion rights, the demobilization of donors and volunteers post-marriage is a risk. Over-criminalization, the national security state and over-policing harm the lives of many in LGBT communities (trans, immigrant, POC, sex workers, youth, HIV+ people, urban-based).

So what should we do now? First, reframe the LGBT political and legal agenda to positively address the life chances and lived experience of every queer person. Second, build infrastructure, coalitions and political strategy to advance LGBT people’s interests in the Southern and Midwestern US. Third, create a political strategy with allies (labor, POC, women) to win and secure progressive outcomes in key states over the next two decades. Fourth, put massive amounts of funds into developing the leadership of young progressives—queer and straight. Fifth, create a specific anti-fascist infrastructure of social media, legal, research and watchdog groups to expose and defeat the right wing culturally and politically.

In sum, the work ahead for queers is to be transformative, not transfixed.



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  1. walter frank says:

    Dear Ms. Vaid,

    I had the good fortune to attend your talk at Princeton several months ago. Indeed, I asked the rather silly question whether you would select same sex marriage across the United States or passage of a federal ENDA if you could wave a magic wand to make one of them come to pass.

    There is much I agree with in your analysis for the Nation but I do believe that there is a dilemma not completely confronted. The simple fact is that the equality movement in the red and purple states will depend on persuading at least some people about gay rights who do not share progressive views. My sense at your talk was that you were willing to write these people off as a lost cause but in fact, while people like Senator Hatch are hardly progressive, they are vital, as the recent Senate vote on ENDA indicates, for good outcomes. Even in blue states, they can be necessary. Same sex marriage bills in both New York and Vermont were ultimately dependent on a few Republican votes. In Vermont, they were actually required to override the veto of a Republican Governor. Interestingly, in Maine, in 2012, even many districts that Romney carried also supported same sex marriage.

    I write this as a straight grandfather strongly supportive of many progressive ideas. Most importantly, as you have so eloquently described, civil rights and economic goals are as much a gay rights issue for millions of gay citizens as for everybody else for the simple reason that adequate health care, a good education and a job with a living wage are important for a full life. I see this as much more of a freedom than an equality agenda since, without these things, no one can truly fully realize their own potential and dreams.

    If you would like to continue this conversation, something I would very much welcome, my e mail address is

    I should add that I’m a great admirer of Virtual Equality which was both a strong argument for a distinct gay identity and still a most helpful work of history for someone who, at the time of reading it, was just beginning to focus on the history of the gay rights movement.


    Walter Frank

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