Graphic by Zoë Collins (She/Her)
This article was originally published in our Winter 2022 Volume 1 zine “Queer Rage, Resistance, & Renaissance.“
We’re constantly told as queer people that representation matters. There is this pervasive narrative sold to us that seeing our faces in high places means progress towards equality for our community. That by being included in diverse organizations of power means we are closer to the political and social goals of queer activism. I worry that this leads us down an unsafe spiral. How powerful is this narrative of inclusion? What does it really mean for queer people when the people with our identities are in power?
The roots of this idea lie in identity politics, something that the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black feminists, defined as a belief that the most powerful, potent, and radical politics can come out of one’s own lived experiences and their identity. This radical sentiment extended from attitudes about race all the way to sexuality. Yet, like most radical, progressive ideas, the Democratic party has managed to co-opt it and defang it of its revolutionary potential in liberating us from our oppressors.
When I say defang, I mean that the power that radical queer leadership brings is removed when this process of inclusion begins. When queer people are elevated or elected to positions of power— all the way from mayorship to Congress and the executive branch— the inherent political systems that oppress queer people still serve as an impasse for meaningful change. Queer people can be just as oppressive in these positions if not more. They can come in with meaningful intentions, but the idea that they are magically exempt from enabling oppression is false. Representation does nothing for us in this regard.
Queer politicians can start off with great intentions. Take US Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who started out as a Green Party organizer and wrote in a 2002 Arizona Republic column before running for state house that “until the average American realizes that capitalism damages her livelihood while augmenting the livelihoods of the wealthy, the Almighty Dollar will continue to rule.” Yet over time, Sinema has shown that queer people’s radical politics can be dissolved by the American political machine as well. A striking moment highlighting this is when Sinema flippantly, and almost comically, gave her viral “thumbs down” vote to a $15 minimum wage. She shows us that queer politicans can easily stand against the working class.
“[T]he power that radical queer leadership brings is removed when this process of inclusion begins.”
She’s one of two LGBT Senators, both of whom oppose guaranteed healthcare measures like Medicare for All. She’s joined by Tammy Baldwin, who was the first openly LGBT woman elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate. Yet, these two both oppose something that could undoubtedly improve the lifespans of queer people when our access to healthcare is more important than ever.
My question is: what do all these firsts mean if they don’t actively work to help improve the conditions of queer people in this country? Election after election, Democrats prop up queer folks as electeds to sell their parties idea of progressivism, but we should question if they’re actually propping up queer ideas, or selling us a watered down notion of queerness.
Artist: Zoë Collins (She/Her)
Copy Editors: Brooke Borders (She/Her), Bella (She/They)