Mozilla Firefox CEO resignation and the white, middle-class queer community America has chosen to accept

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https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/81/Same_Sex_Marriage-02.jpg

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_opinion_of_same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_States

https://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/discrimination-against-transgender-people

http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/current_events/immigration/december_2013/60_think_u_s_not_aggressive_enough_in_deporting_illegal_immigrants

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2011/12/15/10759/the-publics-view-of-immigration/

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Bal Narendra and Captain Israel: when fascism turns into (even more dangerous) farce

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Bal Narendra

A couple of days back, my cousin forwarded me a link that had me rolling on the ground laughing, while simultaneously injecting my soul with a chilling fear. The source of this scatter-brained experience was a link to this children’s picture book entitled Bal Narendra.

You see, “Bal” means “boy” in Hindi, while “Narendra” is the first name of Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist who was proven to be guilty of crimes against humanity for his role in the pogrom that killed over two thousand Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, and who is very likely going to be the next Indian Prime Minister (see my previous post regarding that here or here). As you might have guessed, the book is a picture book meant for children, not too dissimilar than the ones you and I read as children, probably about anthropomorphized animals and vague, black-and-white moral endings. Only this one is about the pristine boyhood of Narendra Modi.

In it the book goes on to show the glorious piety of Narendra Modi. Pious, because in India, like in many other parts of the world, a corrupted idea of moral purity is needed for the image of any aspiring demagogue. Glorious, because in India, like in many other parts of the world, a distilled version of authoritarian power is needed for the image of any aspiring messiah. The book goes on to explain how the beatific Bal Narendra always ensured his shirt had its creases removed on account of him keeping it folded under his pillow every morning, what a fastidious student he was, how he rescued a drowning boy and resisted school bullies, the manner in which he removed an old razor blade from a bird’s legs, and how (as a boy, mind you) he never allowed Indian Army soldiers “to go unreplenished.” A picture of a smiling Bal Narendra providing tea to grateful Indian Army soldiers leaves us wondering how one of the most powerful and brutal militaries in the world needed this saintly young ‘un, still in his khaki school shorts as he attended Hindu nationalist schooling, to provide replenishment to its soldiers in the form of tea, but I digress.

This book is possibly going to be in the house of many an English-speaking, middle-class, Hindu nationalist out there who wishes that one day their fresh-faced bal (and it’s always a bal) will also go on to become the lionhearted murderer of innocents and lead the world’s largest democracy into violent nihilism and the purity of the free market (Bal Narendra when he grew out of balhood really did fall in love with private capital, a love that might just outstrip his simmering hatred for religious minorities). Here’s a link to a major portion of the book if you desire a brief foray into the surreal world of religious nationalism for children in India: Bal Narendra

Now, I am reminded of yet another farcical book, this one a comic book, published a couple of years back by a Jewish nationalist group called Stand With Us (“us” presumably being Zionists and Israel, the state that the Hindu nationalists salivate over as the model of demagoguery to follow). This comic book is called Captain Israel. Yes indeed, Captain Israel, check out the picture above – a well drawn, muscular super-hero, possessing much virile vascularity. In one hand he possesses a magnificent shield modeled after Captain America (only the shield is a giant star of David – can’t have people getting confused here), and in the other hand a giant menorah, yes a menorah, lit candles and all, wielded as a weapon. He screams “For Israel!” with all the other accoutrements of Israeli occupation, including soldiers and fighter jets, revolving around him. His main cause? To kill the “barbaric destroyer snake” that is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, quite literally drawn as a venomous serpent, and a movement that tries to (non-violently, if anyone is asking) resist Israeli oppression of the Palestinians by advocating for the boycott of the Israeli state until the oppression stops. Not unlike the South African anti-apartheid boycott movement, in fact deeply inspired by it.

So what can Bal Narendra and Captain Israel teach us? For one thing, it tells me that fascism can so very easily devolve into farce. I’m willing to wager no small amount of money that many of the Hindu nationalists who would vote for Modi en masse, and many of the Jewish nationalists who act as shrill apologists for Israel’s brutal human rights violations, would in fact laugh at Bal Narendra and Captain Israel respectively (or even simultaneously, maybe at a joint fundraising event in Washington DC).

But lurking just beneath that farce is real danger, even more sinister than what the farce tries to hide. It’s the reason why my own reaction of mirth was followed by a feeling of dread when I saw these examples of farce. Because religious nationalists like the Hindutva brigade, or the right-wing Zionists, or for that matter the Christian and Islamic fundamentalists, are not jokes. They are very real and ominous threats to humanity. We then see that the farce only provides temporary laughter, because it is nothing more than facade. Their images were reduced to jokes, but the danger to humanity never was.

Bal Narendra and Captain Israel: from fascism to farce and back again.