A couple of weeks back, the CEO of Mozilla Firefox, Brendan Eich, stepped down over his 2008 support for a California initiative attempting to ban same-sex marriage. As someone who identifies as bisexual and queer (while admittedly benefiting from heteronormativity seeing as I have a partner who happens to be a woman) I was quite happy to see this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for free speech, in fact believe in it quite steadfastly and will defend even the most vile bigot’s right to free speech. Mr. Eich has every right to say and support whatever he wants. But that doesn’t mean that he can support initiatives that are clearly discriminatory and not expect backlash when basic human rights are trampled upon by such initiatives. Furthermore, the reason why this particular incident is a little heartwarming is because of the umbrage it caused within Mozilla Firefox, apart from creative forms of protest, like the one launched by the dating website OKCupid which had a message to people who visited the site using Firefox that went something like, “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples…OkCupid is for creating love. Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.” The message also suggests that users access the site with alternate browsers (the CEOS of which were apparently more careful and refrained from taking publicly homophobic stances).
This is not some random event, but part of a generational shift. A Washington News/ABC News poll in March 2014 found nearly 60% of Americans across the board supporting same-sex marriage, while around the same time a Pew Research Poll found that 61% of Republican-leaning voters in the 18-29 age group felt the same way, while for Democrats the numbers range from 75-90%. The Eich story, supported by these poll numbers, is yet another example of the slowly-but-surely growing acceptance, at times even celebration, of a particular segment of the LGBTQ+ community by white America, middle-class America, and capitalist America (and to that we can add Canada as well). Yes, white, middle-class, capitalist, and for the most part, almost singularly focused on same-sex marriage, and particularly skewed towards an acceptance of white, middle-class gay men. That’s the framework of acceptance towards the LGBTQ+ community. It has come to the point where it’s not profitable anymore to take bigoted stances against same-sex marriage.
As it should be.
But for many others it’s a different story. Transphobia is scarily accepted by society across the board. And the segment of the LGBTQ+ community that has been accepted by mainstream society is just as capable of displaying the same racist and xenophobic tendencies of the society it has won hard fought integration into. The socioeconomic numbers for LGBTQ+ people of color in general, and the trans community in particular, are nothing short of abysmal whether it be in meeting their basic needs like getting a job and finding housing, or being able to go a day without getting harassed. Rates of suicide, poverty, hate crimes, and health continue to remain at dangerous levels.
Support for same-sex marriage, which is currently in the majority in both the US and Canada, has decidedly not translated into any immediate benefits to the trans community, which continues to battle vile forms of transphobia across multiple levels of society. I wonder when we will see trans people in positions of importance and power such as CEOs and movie producers. I wonder when we will see the kind of collectively angry backlash against various forms of transphobia, akin to what we witness when public figures oppose same-sex marriage. I wonder when we will see trans folk and LGBTQ+ people of color in gorgeous movies like Brokeback Mountain, or crappy sitcoms like Will and Grace.
(Seriously, think about all the queer characters portrayed in mainstream hit movies and television over the last couple of decades. How many of them are not white, middle-class, gay men? And even among the existing characters of women, trans folk, and people of color, how many of them go beyond crass, obscene stereotypes? This utter lack of good, complex, healthy representations of LGBTQ+ people of color has made me realize why Omar Little, the gay, black gangster who robs drug-dealers and lives by an all-important humanist code on The Wire is one of my all-time favorite TV characters. He is a scintillating exception to a very bigoted norm that has LGBTQ+ characters portrayed for no other reason other than demeaning, low-brow humor.)
And what of the immigrant community, both documented and undocumented? This is not a random aside, but something deeply personal. I mentioned a few lines earlier that, as a queer man, I was happy to see the kind of clout generated by a particular segment of the LGBTQ+ community. As an immigrant, I dream of the day when such a collectively angry response is generated if some random CEO were to support legislation like the proto-fascist SB 1070 in Arizona or HB 56 in Alabama, where anyone who looks like an immigrant (which evidently protects white immigrants I guess) can be arrested by law enforcement. I hope that there will come a time when mainstream society (including the white, middle-class gay community) can look beyond national borders and insular chest-thumping to accept and fight for those who might not have the same documents affording settler privileges that they do. I sometimes wonder if there will come a point when the majority of people in our society will realize just how much they owe the undocumented immigrant community for the gargantuan economic load they carry in exchange for xenophobic legislation and bigoted attacks. I wait in tumescent anticipation for the day that the term “illegal”, that vile slur I refer to as the “I-word”, is seen with the same lens of righteously offended sensibilities as the term “fag” is. Sadly, I fear we have a long way to go still when I see polls like a recent Rasmussen one showing a whopping 60% or more people in America feeling like their government is too soft in deporting undocumented immigrants.
I often conduct a weirdly self-involved exercise when examining some of these polls, especially ones that I feel impact me in a particularly acute way (not surprising considering that I have this rather self-involved weekly blog). I speculate about these polls from the standpoint of acceptance that I might have within my extended American family, as a result of my afore mentioned life partnership with my soul mate, Susanne. It is a family that I have often felt very welcomed and loved by, and to be sure, they have opened their arms to me with much affection. But I sometimes step out of the personal and speculate on our extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins, etc – as an “average” American family and wonder what those polls might say about them, leaving aside their own personal feelings for me and just going by the strict numbers shown in the stats. I am heartened to know that the polls say I am likely to have a majority of family members that would have supported either my or her right to marry a member of the same sex. However, simultaneously I am fearful that if I were to somehow lose my immigration status and become undocumented, the polls say I am likely to have a majority of family members support my deportation, or at least feel like the US government is not doing enough to deport the undocumented me.
It is a sobering thought to say the least.
So yes, it is a moment of small celebration when the CEO of one of the largest IT companies in the world is forced to resign, no doubt with a sizeable severance package, for his opposition to same-sex marriage. Just know that there are many other communities at whom he could have directed his bigotry against, and safely continued in his job without nary a whiff of condemnation from mainstream society.
Links to references:
BBC News. (April 4, 2014). Mozilla boss Brendan Eich resigns after gay marriage storm: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-26868536