I recently had an amicable and fruitful debate about the necessity of LGBT+ marches. My interlocutor was arguing that there is a contradiction between the aims and the results of marches: the aim is generally equality and acceptance, but the result, they thought, is the opposite, because the act of marching under a specific pretext alienates us from the ‘straight community’.
The argument is an easy one to understand. Why not have ‘humanity marches’, in which people march in advocacy of greater and less specific principles? Equality for all, love and respect for all, dignity for all, regardless of sexuality and gender. Of course, if humanity were truly to adhere to the consequences of such marches, then besides the suspicious odour of utopianism, one would be hard-pressed in finding an objection.
However, the notion than LGBT marches are unnecessary – or, at least, once were necessary and are no longer – is dangerous. Firstly, it dilutes a political and moral issue that must be treated in a concentrated fashion. It muddies the waters. It treats a very real and very pertinent and very specific issue as if it could reasonably be subsumed under a more general and vague rubric of rights, dignities and respects. Yes, LGBT rights are human rights – or should be. But the fact of the matter is that some people are by their very nature either favoured or hindered in them. In treating an important issue in its own right as if it were something ready for more universal colours, people, too, are conflated. Some people value (preach?) love and dignity. The same people may conceivably be homophobic. Clearly the issue deserves and requires specificity.
Furthermore, the aforementioned notion is implicitly asking why people need to ‘flaunt’ their sexuality; why aren’t there straight marches? (This last question is depressingly stupid and insulting.) I suppose there are two answers to this. The first is to deny that marches are acts of flaunting, because when, for example, a straight couple express affection in public they are – with the exception of prissy, tiresome and irritable neurotics – accepted. Thankfully, LGBT people in the same position are, in the context of history, accepted too. But nowhere near to the same extent. The second answer is, I think, prouder and preferable: Yes, we are flaunting, and not only are we proud of it, but we have damn good reasons.
Because for hundreds if not thousands of years we have been treated as morally evil and deserving of repression, hate, violence, torture, isolation and death. Because we have been and still are, in tragic and increasingly more unacceptable cases, beaten; tied to trees and tortured for hours; thrown off rooftops; condemned to hellfire; condemned by the largest religious institutions and demographics on earth; raped with glass bottles in first world countries; ambushed in cosmopolitan pubs and bars; vilified for diseases; banished from home; stereotyped, shot, stabbed, denied public services and healthcare, and psychologically tormented to the nth degree.
At the time of writing, Stonewall reports that, in the UK, one in six LGBT people report homophobic violence or abuse. Two thirds do not report it to anyone. Half of incidents go recorded without conviction or justice. A quarter feels it necessary to alter their personalities to fit in (disappear). Twenty-five percent of all homeless youths are LGBT. The U.S. Supreme Court abolished all remaining sodomy laws in 2003.
Perhaps it’s enough to end with an analogy. When Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington in 1963, the time for vague invocations had passed. Black people were institutionalized inferiors – 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The sight of 250,000 African Americans and their causal allies gathered outside the Lincoln memorial was a sight with no confused message: black rights. Now.
In a world still so full of injustices towards LGBT people – both institutionalized and spontaneous – is it truly difficult to see the continued necessity of marches? and, moreover, just why participants are, and have a right to be, proud, to flaunt, and to fight?