Sidelined by Those on the Sidelines
“The discarded and rejected are the raw material of a nation’s future. The stone the builders reject becomes the cornerstone of a new world. A nation without dregs and malcontents is orderly, decent, peaceful and pleasant, but perhaps without the seed of things to come. It was not the irony of history that the undesired in the countries of Europe should have crossed an ocean to build a new world on this continent. Only they could do it.”
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) is the most recent of the discarded and rejected of society. They search for rights they are refused. They have little support and only a few sympathizers and without a collective of people there can be no social or political change. This is of course common sense, but there are movements within our society that lack the needed collective and therefore the movements are dead on arrival. The most pressing of these movements are the rights of the LGBT community. They naturally receive the basic human rights that are given to American citizens. They have all the rights given by the United States Constitution but they lack the rights given to members of our culture and society. They lack the right to marry and to reap the benefits of such a contract, they lack the respect of others in our society, they are physically and mentally abused, but most of all, they lack a cohesive group bound together by a common identity that can give them the social and political capital to bring about the desired change.
Because they lack these rights, because they lack what others receive unquestionably, there has been a noted rise in cases of bullying, both physical and mental, which has leached over into the new world of the technological, or cyber-world, and there has been an increase in LGBT suicides within recent years. Bullying naturally happens in a society, it is a group’s or an individual’s method to establish dominance over another group or individual. Bullying is something that may never be stopped, and it could be argued that it shouldn’t be stopped as it creates a needed stratification within society. However, bulling on the basis of one’s sexuality or perceived sexuality is inherently wrong, no different than discrimination on the basis or religion, sex, gender or race, classifications that have been protected under a plethora of laws and the 15th and 19th Amendments of the US Constitution. While change is slow, these laws allowed people that had been previously deemed less than human to have equal footing within the United States. Yet a person’s sexual orientation strips a person of their constitutional and societal rights and once again demeans them to a point that is considered to be less than human and therefore undeserving of rights. This stripping allows for LGBTs to be abused, discriminated, and oppressed without any ramifications for the oppressor, in fact, they are allowed to act by the silence of authorities, a silence that is not only regarded as permission but is in fact unspoken permission.
Michelle Foucault stated in his essay “The History of Sexuality” that three mechanisms regulated sexual practices: the Christian pastoral, canonical and civil law. These mechanisms are still in place even if they remain largely quiet, which they don’t. Each of these mechanisms rears its head at the mention of rights for the LGBT community. These mechanisms restrict those that may be allied with the LGBT community to remain on the sidelines, costing the LGBT movement its needed membership to earn social and political capital. One of the first tenets of a movement as stated by social philosopher Eric Hoffer is the desire for change. Yet very few of the socially accepted desire change in regards to the LGBT community because there is no need for change, their status within the society is secure. Even if they are not threatened by the LGBT community they have no need to support their cause.
We can all agree that the LGBT community is entitled to these rights. We don’t, but we could. Yet it wouldn’t matter. There are no groups with which LGBTs could align and create a movement. All the movements that came before them converted the minorities into members of the majority. But the movements that came before them had one major difference that LGBTs lack: a central unifying identity. LGBTs are not identified by race, language, nationality, sex, religion or class. They are all of these identities. Yet each of these identities was the unifying factor in social and political change. Women, unified by sex earned the right to vote, African Americans were able to unite for civil rights. The right to practice one’s personal religion was a deciding factor in the creation of the Declaration of Independence. It goes on and on. And for each movement another group saw the benefits of the rights each of these groups searched for and they were able to create a movement that extended beyond the group that searched for them. It is safe to say that nobody is searching for the right for which LGBTs search, they already have them.
Another defining factor in the absence of a movement for the rights of LGBTs is simply in the definition. Even on a collegiate level it can’t be decided if they are called GLBT, LGBT or LGBTQ. We can’t decide if they are gay, homosexual, trans-sexual or transgender. It can’t be agreed upon if lesbians are gay, or if gay is a separate label for male homosexuals. Transsexuals aren’t necessarily gay, they can be both but it’s not definitive. Considering transgenders, is it safe to say they are gay or straight, if they see themselves as a woman and they like women does that constitute homosexuality? All of these are separate identities yet the entire movement potentially hinges on their cohesiveness.
Each of the letters of LGBT constitutes a different identity in search of a common goal. And despite the rights they seek their identity is not always personally chosen. In regards to bullying and abuse in schools across America many students are victims because of perceived differences. A tomboy or a feminine male can be abused because others attribute those traits to members of the LGBT community. A boy who doesn’t like sports or a girl that doesn’t like to be a cheerleader can be perceived as being not straight. A youth may not even yet align themselves as LGBT until they reach middle age or they may do so at a young age. Yet society doesn’t give them a chance to choose nor explore their sexuality. It is through mechanisms such as Foucault mentioned that they remain oppressed, but it is also through social mores and taboos that try to maintain a society that remain split roughly 50/50 male-female and 100 percent heterosexual, for even the word straight implies correctness, as if being LGBT is akin to being bent or broken, and it is through bullying and intimidation that alternative sexualities are forced to conform against their will, or to at least to blend into the perceived normalcy of sexuality.
But what is to be done? We can spend every day and night defining the problem, debating the issues and alleviating guilt by agreeing that LGBTs are entitled to rights and then washing our hands or claiming they are tied because of laws. The truth of the matter is that there is little or no benefit for a member of the majority of society to act in the interest of LGBTs, because as stated earlier, the majority member already has the rights LGBTs seek. What majority members must do is to quit acting out of self interest. The rights of LGBTs will not benefit the majority. The majority must act on the higher principle of equality. That what one already has should be accessible to another. This has been done in regards to education; every member of our society has a right and the resources to education in order to transcend social class. There are organizations that support first generation college students and for students that have not historically been given a chance at higher education. The paths may be difficult but the support is there. LGBTs have very few organizations acting in their interest and for the organizations that are in place it is taboo for a majority member of the society to be a member of those organizations. Members of the social majority should seek rights for the LGBT community because they already have those rights.
If those the LGBTs need to create movement must act out of self interest, then they can act because it will make the United States a better nation. A nation that embodies the ideologies it espouses. A nation where everyone is equal despite race, gender, color, religion, national origin and sexual identity, a nation in which the only thing restricting a person from their goals is their motivation, that the only thing required for success is ambition and a goal. A nation that is a place where United means everyone is equal and not merely said to be equal. An America where there are not substandard people, only people. The America we all believe exists but that we all know does not.