Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual LIBERATION in the 2000’s
1. How We See It
The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO) is a liberation-based group. We recognize and support the seeking of equality as a means toward gaining liberation. It was a major and constructive part of our work toward getting into the Ontario Human Rights Code, which makes it easier for people to come out and helps to create a level playing field for other work to be done. For us, seeking equality is a means to an end, not the end itself. Once the issue of same-sex marriage is resolved in our favour, it seems that in Canada we have accomplished as much as we can by using this strategy. It is necessary to look at what the next steps toward liberation will be.
Many lesbians, gays, and bisexuals (maybe even the majority) see acquiring equality as a sufficient end in itself. They feel they will be satisfied being able to assimilate into the general society as it currently exists. We call this “assimilation- seeking,” as opposed to “liberation-seeking.” Society in general would feel less threatened by lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who want to be like everybody else than by lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who want to change society.
Changing the existing laws to make us equal will not change the attitude of society in general toward us, although it can be argued that, over a period of coexistence, attitudes will evolve. Laws and other rules of society are set up on basic assumptions which also need to be changed if liberation is to be accomplished. For that reason we adopted the tactic of seeking equality first but, instead of settling for assimilation, moved on toward making other changes.
The concepts of power and control underlie the laws, rules, and assumptions used to regulate society and create social norms. Liberation challenges the authority of social norms and socialization. Those who have power and control (heterosexual, white, middleclass, male) want to keep it and use institutions (churches, schools, governments) to enforce their position. Challenging the way things are (the status quo) threatens the privilege of those who have power and control and is bound to be met with resistance.
Those who have power and control fear that giving power to others will weaken their control over them, undermine privilege, and may even result in them becoming controlled themselves. It can be assumed that, once lesbians, gays, and bisexuals achieve equality, they will be divided into good lesbians, gays, and bisexuals and bad lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, the “good” ones assimilating into the status quo and joining in the resistance against the “bad” ones seeking liberation through change. Looking at those next steps toward change and liberation is the purpose of this document.
2. Who Do You Think You Are?
Labels are used to classify people and put them into categories. These categories can then be given a position in a hierarchy and used as a means of control. The labels also tend to be internalized by people and used for self-oppression. There is a danger of the labelled groups becoming scapegoats.
When lesbians, gays and bisexuals secure equal rights and become assimilated they cease to exist as lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. They lose their identity and the labels put on them. People often value their identity and should be free to choose the identity they want without discrimination, but they should not have to choose an identity or have an identity forced upon them. Self-esteem, wholeness, and health only come if we are at one with ourselves and not strait-jacketed by a label.
The individual should be recognized as the basic unit in society. The minute the individual is lumped into a family, a racial group, a sexual group, a religious group (and the lists go on), they have labels attached to them and are subject to being put into categories to be controlled.
People need to believe that we have some control over our own lives, not that we are controlled by others. We need to believe that our actions affect our lives and to act accordingly. This gives us the ability to determine our own identity and the power to resist coercion. Labels are valuable when they reflect the reality we define for ourselves but not if they become straitjackets or tell us how to behave.
To exercise influence over our environment, we need to see groups as a potential source of power and control which we can use to supplement our internal resources, rather than as something to which we must give up our personal resources.
Laws should be in place to protect the individual from being controlled by others who are more powerful. They should not be there to force individuals to conform to some arbitrary rules set up by those who are more powerful.
3. What Do We Want?
One main project of liberation is to identify and change the laws and social rules that focus on controlling people rather than giving control to the individual.
For example, the current laws about marriage should be changed so that it is the individual (rather than the state) that determines the nature of the personal relationships we enter.
This would create a good transition point between the old strategy of equality (which would simply assimilate partners of the same sex into the same structured, hierarchal, marital system of heterosexuals) and liberation, where people would be free to define for themselves the nature of their relationships.
Some other areas where rules need to be reviewed and changed are:
- the education system at all levels of education (including the need and right of students to be aware of the choices available to them and their right to make their own informed choices);
- the health system (including anti-homophobia training for staff, research on the needs of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals that are different from those of heterosexual);
- the welfare system: this should include a guaranteed basic income which does not label, punish or stigmatize individuals, and provides them with security to take chances;
- policing (law officers need to understand the differences in our lives and our communities we live in, especially where straight and gay behaviours differ;
- oppressive laws to do with sex (bawdy house laws, porn laws, censorship laws);
- employment laws and practices (employment equity, ending discrimination in the workplace, people from all classes have a chance at income and promotion); people should not be seen as part of an assembly line;
- protecting the interests and rights of those who are in a minority or, as in the case of women, in a less privileged position; building the confidence of the underprivileged and their impact on society;
- separation of church and state so that laws and morals are not driven by the beliefs of religious communities (even on those occasions when they agree!).
When equal treatment is applied across the board, it does not affect people equally (“differential impact”) – unless the people are all the same.
So we need to find out exactly what is needed by those who are not in positions of power in society. Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals must be able to speak out and “tell it like it is.”
For this to happen, we need an end to prejudice so that we do not suffer for telling our stories. Then we need to be heard and encouraged to participate in shaping the structures of society that affect us.
You can help! Look critically at what you’re told is normal. Think whether it makes sense to you. Look at laws, rules, and conventions to see who they benefit. Speak out when you hear prejudice and discrimination. Listen to what people tell you about the lives they live – and tell them about yours!
Pamphlet prepared by CLGRO, November 2004