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Nice Try, GOP, But LGBT People are Not Your Excuse for Islamophobia

The Republican platform is out and oh, it’s a doozy. I have never even used the word “doozy” before. Among such charming items as rejecting public preschool (because it’s “godless”), encouraging the teaching of the (Christian) Bible in public schools “as literature,” and calling pornography “a public menace,” the platform includes some choice homophobia: 

We believe that marriage, the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage, and promote through laws governing marriage.

Republicans! You mischievous dogs! Did no one tell you America has called this bullshit?

Well, someone tried to — but the results are mixed. Rachel Hoff, the first openly-gay Republican party Platform Committee Member, led an initiative to include room for debate on the marriage issue within the Republican platform. She also suggested, by way of acknowledgement of the marginalization of LGBT people, language explicitly stating that LGBT people were targeted by ISIS:

Radical Islamic terrorism poses an existential threat to personal freedom and peace around the world and it particularly victimizes women, religious adherents of many faiths, LGBT individuals, and others. The Republican Party stands united with all victims of terrorism and will fight at home and abroad to destroy terrorist organizations and protect the lives and fundamental liberty of all people.

The language was rejected by a majority of the committee, who opted to include the hetero-marriage-best-marriage clause instead.

Now, in one one sense, Hoff’s suggestion — and the fact that a minority of other Republicans supported her — is progressive. A queer community reeling from the Pulse shooting might rightfully welcome acknowledgement. 

But this is very, very complicated. In a post-Orlando climate, when we have seen an increasing attempt on behalf of lawmakers to paint ISIS as the threat to LGBT rights globally  — and simultaneously disavow their own responsibility for anti-LGBT violence — we should be careful to think through any rhetoric about LGBT rights that puts the bulk of the blame on Islam. Because too often in the United States “anti-ISIS” means “anti-Muslim.”  And this is a supremely enraging irony considering the fact that many of the same people supposedly championing LGBT Americans against ISIS have done approximately squat for LGBT people at home. Many, in fact, have tried their utmost to make our lives miserable. 

Many Muslim queers have been working on overdrive since Orlando to remind the country of their existence and rights, and they have long been telling their own stories and struggles. It’s the job of non-Muslim, and particularly white and non-immigrant LGBT people, whose legitimacy as Americans is not questioned in the same way, to listen to what they’re saying. It is not our job to tell anyone how to navigate sexuality and faith or what their political stances should be. It is our job as privileged queer people to fight hate propagated in our name.

Because by painting “Islam” as the sworn enemy of LGBT rights, politicians capitalize on queer struggle to perpetuate the surveillance, profiling, and policing of Muslim Americans; to boost anti-immigrant and refugee sentiment; and to justify American violence against Muslims abroad. Lawmakers who have systematically oppressed the LGBT community evade accountability for their own actions. And if not accountable for our own hand in this, the mainstream LGBT movement will continue to be led by and center whiteness, maleness, and normative ideas of gender and Americanness and will erase the experiences of the many queer people who are Muslim.

Last week, I wrote about the history of racist violence against men of color for the “protection” of white women. We also touched on how our discourse of sexual assault has been shaped by racism, and particularly anti-black racism. 

This doesn’t just apply to racism at home, but in the historical justification of colonialism and of contemporary military intervention abroad. This logic often centers around Islam and Muslims, and around a false and long-held binary that pits Christianity against Islam, “reason” against “superstition,” “liberalism” against “fanaticism,” (are you getting the point of the scare quotes?) and white against brown. European and American powers have often justified colonial and imperial violence by painting brown, and particularly Muslim, men as perversely sexual threats to both white and brown women, while they have have painted brown and Muslim women as eternal victims — a move Gayatri Spivak famously called “white men saving brown women from brown men.”

This logic isn’t dead — it’s inherent in a lot of the rhetoric we hear around contemporary American militarism abroad, and around the surveilling of Muslims at home.

It is also a logic Western feminists and LGBT activists have been complicit in. Take, for example, Laura Bush’s famous post-invasion radio address, in which she talks about the liberation of Afghani women as one of the goals of military occupation — an agenda organizations like The Feminist Majority supported to the protests of a number of Afghani feminists. 

Now, I am not an Afghani woman, I am not a Muslim or Middle Eastern woman, and I don’t pretend to speak for them. But considering all the ridiculous generalizations we constantly hear about Muslim people and Muslim-majority countries, it bears repeating that Muslim women and women living in the Middle East and South Asia have diverse experiences in diverse patriarchies. And just as not all people in Christian-majority societies subscribe to the same oppressive notions of gender and sexuality as Todd Akin (but, uh, some definitely do), not all Muslims think the same way about gender and sexuality. I can’t believe I even have to write that.

When we reduce complex cultural and political situations into a dichotomy between the liberal West and the regressive world of Islam, we seriously distort reality. We justify truly horrific American military violence . We also let a lot of American sexist and homophobic bullshit off the hook. The American right has helped introduce 231 abortion restrictions between 2008-2015. It has fought like hell to restrict American women’s access to contraception. It has justified, excused, and explained away rape. If the Bushes honestly endorsed military invasion as a way to secure women’s rights, they would have invaded Texas.

We can see a similar pattern relating to LGBT people.

We can use the idea of “homonationalism” to understand this. The idea was theorized by Jasbir Puar, a gender studies professor at Rutgers, and is basically this: Nowadays, political factors like the War on Terror and the normalization of some queer people have combined to change how we think of citizenship. Whereas historically LGBT people have been considered the Perverted Arch Villains of America (think about the intense fear, neglect, and disgust during the height of the American AIDs epidemic), nowadays LGBT people who fulfill certain criteria can be considered good Americans, and LGBT rights can be considered a marker of a progressive society. At the same time, there remain Perverted Arch Villains of America — those people whose racial or gender identity or expression are stigmatized or seen as dangerous, including the stereotype of the fanatic male Muslim terrorist. It’s in this climate that certain Republican politicians can claim to defend “good LGBT Americans” against the “threat of Islam” — while practicing precisely zero self-reflection.

Of course, this is all a serious distortion of reality. Again, understandings and treatment of LGBT people differ across Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Muslim-majority countries, and religion is one among many factors. It’s true that there have been horrific reports of ISIS’s violence against LGBT people and that there are numerous Muslim-majority countries that penalize homosexuality.

But again, the global LGBT-rights situation is much more complicated than “Islam versus the liberated West.” For example, if we look at Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka — two Muslim-majority countries, one Hindu-majority, and one Buddhist-majority— we find that all four of them have very similar anti-sodomy laws on the books — a legacy not of Islamic despotism but of British colonialism. And in Christian-majority Uganda, anti-gay sentiment and legislation has been actively stoked not by the international tentacles of ISIS — but of American Evangelicals.

So: If anyone thinks that racial profiling, surveillance, and the declaration of war against an entire religion is the way to secure the rights of LGBT people, they can invite the TSA to begin stopping all white Christians.

Meanwhile, us queers who are not Muslim, and especially those of us who are white — those of us suddenly so useful to politicians — have a job to do. It is our job to hold accountable those who would commit violence in our names. And it is our job to hold ourselves accountable to make our movements for LGBT rights actually inclusive. If America is willing to offer only some of us a seat at the table, it’s our job to remain standing until all of us can sit down.

Or knock the table over and sit in a fun circle on the floor. You know, liberation.

Photo Wikimedia commons

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing a masters degree in Indian cinema, theater, and visual art at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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