Anti-capitalism defines queer liberation, justice

Art+by+Vivian+Spear.

Art by Vivian Spear.

Julia Kim

Mainstream Pride, often associated with Pride Month, is one of many movements that pushes for the normalization of the LBGTQ+ community in society today. Some of the many participants of the mainstream movement include artists such as Taylor Swift with her hit song “You Need to Calm Down” and corporations like Macy’s and Doc Martens in their annual pride merchandise. The struggle for inclusion, however, continues to celebrate queer liberation at the surface level through the lens of commercialization, consumerism and the movement’s palatability toward cisgender, heterosexual audiences. 

Queer liberation is characterized by abolishing the systems of marginalization that force queer people who deviate from traditional standards of sexual orientation and gender identity to struggle daily in their private lives. This radical approach has unfortunately transformed into “Rainbow Capitalism,” which refers to corporations branding their products with LGBTQ+ imagery such as the use of rainbows during June. It is a performative show of acceptance that glosses over meaningful systemic action to actually improve the conditions under which LGBTQ+ people live.

The Obergefell v. Hodges decision that recognized lesbian and gay marriage rights was an essential step toward recognizing marriage equality and reducing legal discrimination, but it also paved a path of conformism that excludes queer people of color, transgender people and low income individuals who do not have a place in the curated image of what queer identities should be.

A piece from the Socialist Journal: Against the Current describes that rather than challenging the authority of the state over our lives, the Supreme Court decision has allowed parts of the queer community to settle for a place within a system of oppression that excludes people who do not fit the typical mold of a settled, married couple dedicated to increasing property values and raising children together. The vapid commodification of the LGBTQ+ community is a result of consumerism channeling freedom struggles into openings created by neoliberalism. Despite the potentially revolutionary nature of these struggles, there is a consistent effort by the ruling class to reduce the radical reorganization of society that is critical to queer liberation to mere reformist concessions that only work to further mask this oppression. 

Since the 1970s, neoliberalism has been a toxic ideology for the working-class and people of color. The core of neoliberalism is the use of state power to orient our lives around the market of social and economic capital. The neoliberalism model for change is the reason why a growing number of activists describe sexual freedom as interwoven with the fight against imperialism and capitalism. The queer liberation movement has its roots in the anti-capitalist cause because of the manner in which capitalism reproduces the oppression of marginalized groups to establish a reliable system of exploitation for increased profit. Homophobia is used as a means to divide, demoralize and discipline the working class, and it is one of many mechanisms used by capitalism to keep marginalized communities in line and continue to make the oppressors more powerful. According to the article “25 corporations marking Pride donated over $10M to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians study” by Edward Helmore, Walmart who features a “Pride & Joy” section on their website has donated at least $442,000 to 121 politicians who received zeroes from the Humans Right Campaign Corporate Equality Index. This demonstrates that corporations co-opt radical movements for social capital while actively funding homophobic legislators to secure profit over real structural change by the government behind their rainbow flags and shirts. Discussing identity oppression requires class consciousness in order for it to be effective. 

The queer movement emerged with massive momentum in the 1960s, particularly following the 1969 Stonewall Riots that marked a critical turning point in the fight for the social and political liberation of the LGBTQ+ community in the context of police brutality. The riots demonstrate how true representation of radical queer activists is built on the premise of challenging oppressive power rather than infiltrating and condoning it. Emily K. Hobson from the Organization of American Historians described Stonewall as “not just a spark but a fire, a sign of something already set ablaze” before the riots even began. It offered a push to situate sexual politics in relation to race, class and gender and consider how LGBTQ+ radicalism differs from the fight for rights.

According to The Forge News, capitalism continues to work and sustain itself through binaries, including the oppressive gender binary that strictly enforces the idea of only two genders, man and woman. Capitalism feeds off of and exists in binaries, exemplified by the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, rich and poor, Black and white, male or female. These binaries exist to perpetuate the idea that those on the “inferior” end of the spectrum are the greatest threat to their socioeconomic “superior,” and as such are subjected to hyper-exploitation because of this deeply entrenched social order. “Masculinity,” for example, is often protected through misogyny and violence against women, particularly queer women and femmes. Many queer people face systemic oppression within the intersection of these identities. 

Family rejection on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity has staggering results in terms of youth homelessness. According to youth.gov, LGBTQ+ youth currently represent as much as 40% of the homeless youth population. Queer adolescents who faced family rejection during adolescence are “8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse,” according to the Family Acceptance Project. The issues of poverty, crime, mental illness and homelessness with LGBTQ+  youth stem from the structural inequality maintained through capitalism. The economic system, above all, values profit and reducing production costs over social welfare and fair wages, prospering under the free market that does not care to limit the exploitation of the already exploited. Inequality directly targets marginalized communities that are the most vulnerable to these humanitarian crises.

LGBTQ+ people are also disproportionately represented at every stage of the criminal justice system, starting from juvenile detention to probation, parole, and incarceration in adulthood. They are arrested and subjected to community supervision at significantly higher rates than straight and/or cisgender people. This rings especially true for transgender people, queer people of color and queer women. In LGBTQ+ youth, the Prison Policy Initiative estimates that 20% of youth in the juvenile justice system identify as LGBTQ+, compared with 4-6% of youth in the general population. The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force stated one in five transgender people who had police contact reported they had been harassed by police, including 38% of Black transgender individuals. Incarceration and police systems fail to address structural issues and inequality and instead put the lives of LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color at risk and erase them from society. The prison-industrial complex that uses the prison population as a means for labor and profit demonstrates the continued ruthless exploitation of oppressed communities in the name of capitalism.

Queer liberation is at the forefront of the anti-capitalist cause, wherein oppressed people fight to be liberated from all forms of discrimination, bigotry and inequality. In being actively aware of how intersecting identities impact LGBTQ+ people and communities of color when seeing brands profit off of rainbow-capitalist imagery on social media as well as in retail, we can move forward with a queer liberation agenda that creates real structural change, starting with providing mutual aid and donations to those who are most impacted by this ongoing crisis. Capitalism can never be ethical for queer people when the very system is set on making the most profit that can be gained through using social inequality as the way to justify hyper-exploitation. As Mary Nardini Gang said in her book “Toward the Queerest Insurrection,” “Queer is the cohesion of everything in conflict with the heterosexual capitalist world. Queer is a total rejection of the regime of the Normal.”

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