Montreal-based radical queer Ryan Conrad is not pleased with the state of debate in the gay and lesbian community.
His provocatively titled group Against Equality has been challenging conventional gay and lesbian thinking in North America since its formation in 2009 in response to the gay marriage campaign then being waged in the US state of Maine.
Conrad has been in Australia this month speaking at La Trobe University’s After Homosexual conference to persuade his Australian peers to challenge some of the conventional wisdoms around the same-sex marriage debate.
“In the States in particular it’s pretty nuts how much money is spent [pushing for gay marriage],” Conrad told the Star Observer.
“Some people don’t necessarily have a critique of marriage, but do have a critique of the prioritisation of marriage and the amount of money, time and energy going into those campaigns that might be better put elsewhere.
“Discrimination is wrong, none of us are advocating for discrimination, we’re asking people to look at the issue on a broader level and suggesting everybody [should have the] right to form whatever sort of family structures they want, instead of championing monogamous couples as the only type of formal relationship worth protecting.”
In 2010, Conrad edited an anthology of essays, Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage, and later published Against Equality: Don’t Ask to Fight Their Wars, throwing down a challenge to those supporting the end of the US military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy.
Through a number of dissident writers, the latter anthology contends that the LGBTI community should look at “DADT within a larger critique of US militarism” and that “the LGBTQ community has historically been anti-war, with good reason”, pushing for queers not only to oppose DADT, but the military entirely.
“Why should we champion the civil rights of LGBTIQ at the cost of human rights on a global scale?” Conrad asked.
Conrad has received death threats from within the LGBTI community for his efforts.
“What’s the point in equality when the only way it’s being framed means simply fitting yourself into narrowly defined relationship structures and killing people all over the globe to defend the monetary interests of the corporate elite?” Conrad said.
“If that’s equality, then fuck equality. I prefer a future that is paved with social, economic, and racial justice as its foundation.”
On the other side of the coin, Conrad said he’s also received much support for offering an alternative view on queer issues.
“What we’re essentially arguing is a broadbased economic and social justice movement from the perspective of queer people.
“I think that really resonates with people because queer people aren’t just queer, but also have ethnic, racial and economic identities, so we’re creating connections across different singular identity politics … It’s like arguing to move away from identity politics and to a broader coalition of building social justice.”
Conrad said one of his biggest concerns with gay marriage group-think is that it highlights an increasingly conservative shift in gay and lesbian politics.
“I think the emotional trauma from the AIDS crisis paired with the violently homophobic and serophobic backlash from the religious right set the stage for a much more conservative and assimilationist gay and lesbian politic,” he said.
“We went from demanding the transformation of our society in the ’60s and ’70s to demanding our community fit into the social structures, legal frameworks and cultural traditions of society.
“This conservative turn is quite troubling and I believe having a sense of this history [of] the radical roots of gay liberation is integral to addressing the rather pathetic state of queer and trans politics in the United States and surely a number of other nations.”