The last couple of weeks have seen a large campaign to save the Rainbow Crossing at Taylor Square in Sydney. The campaign has been spearheaded by Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, and has spawned petitions, tweets and widespread media coverage. As it has gathered momentum however, I have to ask: Is this really the best the queer movement can do?
Looking past the rainbow crossing campaign, it’s hard to ignore the issues currently facing the queer community, and those who live near in the area.
Of course, we know many of the issues queer people face; queer youth still have extremely high suicide rates, trans people face systematic economic disadvantage, queer bashings are still prevalent, and the government still thinks it’s okay for religious organisations to discriminate based on sexuality. Issues around Kings Cross, one of the busiest locations near the crossing, are really important too. Research has shown growing levels of youth homelessness, continued issues with drug abuse, high-levels of street violence, and issues related to police violence, such as that at Mardi Gras, or the shootings of two indigenous youth last year.
Yet, with all of these issues – poverty, violence, suicide, homelessness, drug abuse and systematic discrimination – all our momentum seems to fall behind a fight about the colour of a street crossing. In fact, worse than that, mainstream queer organisations largely ignore these issues.
This is symptomatic of something wrong with the mainstream queer movement that I’ve touched on a bit in this column. Whether it’s the rainbow crossing or same-sex marriage (which will in fact have very little material impact on people’s lives) the movement seems to have become all about symbols of acceptance, rather than issues that have a real impact on people’s lives. This is the shift to a largely wealthy middle-class mainstream movement; a movement of people who already have comfortable lives, don’t face major economic issues, and are now striving solely for symbols of acceptance in mainstream society.
Of course, acceptance is important and the Rainbow Crossing is a nice symbol of this. But our movement should be about a lot more than this. Built on the basis of justice and liberation for queer people, it is, in fact, about justice for all, whether that be fighting legal discrimination, or economic issues that face queer and straight people alike. But we’re now ignoring these issues. Our energy is put into a symbol that whilst may make us middle-class folk feel good, doesn’t help people who are really struggling.
There are major economic and societal issues facing queer and straight folk alike. As we campaign for the rainbow crossing, maybe we could put some energy into those too?