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BY CATE SIMPSON
Forty years after the Stonewall riots, Julie Bindel, writing in The Guardian earlier this week, claims that trans men and women haven’t earned the right to be recognized by an organization named for the movement they started. She claims that trans people have grown disillusioned with “heterosexual society, and asked to be included in our rainbow alliance.” I’ve got news for her: they were here first.
Stonewall, the UK queer rights organization Bindel criticizes takes its name from riots that broke out late one June night in 1969 outside the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. That night marked the symbolic beginning of the gay rights movement in America. A year later, the first gay pride marches took place in New York and LA.
Who was there that night in New York, fighting back against police who had beaten and harassed them for years in their place of sanctuary? Mostly transsexuals, transvestites, and sex workers.
This much would be obvious to Ms Bindel if she had so much as flipped through Martin Duberman’s Stonewall, or watched the film of same name. The definitive text on the Stonewall Riots, Duberman’s book follows several people closely involved in the events of that night, among them Sylvia Rivera, founder of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.
Unfortunately, this is not the end of Ms Bindel’s ignorance. “Queer” does not mean “into kinky sex”. “Queer” has never meant “into kinky sex”. Once used as a slur against gay people, “queer” refers to anybody who is not straight. Because LGBTQII is a mouthful, and because it still doesn’t encompass everybody, and because many of us believe that a wildly diverse group of people united behind a cause is not an “unholy alliance” but a force to be reckoned with.
As for Ms Bindel’s fear of being “lumped in” with other people’s “odd sexual practices”, the continued existence of Stonewall and every other gay rights organization stand as testament to the fact that plenty of people think being gay or lesbian is merely an “odd”, and distinctly unsavoury, sexual practice.
Gay rights aren’t about the right to sleep with men if you’re a man and the right to sleep with women if you’re a woman. They’re about keeping gay teenagers safe from harm; the right to full membership in society regardless of other people’s personal opinions of your relationships and sexual practices; they’re even about the right not to be likened with devil worshippers by members of your own purported community.
We can’t break down the queer community into factions defined by who we sleep with. As Ms Bindel herself points out, gay men couldn’t fight Section 28 on their own. This is why workers have trade unions, this is why we have gay-straight alliances, and this is why Stonewall Scotland has broken from Stonewall in England and Wales in including transsexuals.
Last week Proposition 8 passed in California, along with two other state bans on same-sex marriage, and gays still can’t call their unions marriage in the UK. We have so far to go. We won’t get there by declaring that we have just as much equality as we need and pulling the ladder up behind us. And we certainly won’t get there by embracing the bigotry of our oppressors and complaining that there are too many “odd” people on our side.
Cate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.