At the Scholar & Feminist Conference 41: Sustainabilities conference, I attended a panel entitled “Queer Survival Economies: Invisible Lives, Targeted Bodies.” BCRW Senior Activist Fellow Amber Hollibaugh was joined by Kate D’Adamo, Hamid Khan, and Ola Osaze to discuss issues impacting low-income and immigrant LGBTQ people and their experiences with ongoing changes in the neoliberal global market.
From Hollibaugh, I learned about the concept of gay affluence propagated by mainstream media. Hollibaugh urged us to reframe mainstream efforts in reforms for “equality,” and instead look to dismantle systems that leave queer people at the margins of the economy. Many panelists suggested similar structures for conceptualizing the economic intersections in queer identities. I have been conditioned to visualize liberation as “equality,” visibility, and assimilation. This panel has helped me understand alternatives to the dominant framework that has been pushed by mainstream media and mainstream LGBTQ organizations. I am now delving deeper into feminist theory concerning the importance of anti-assimilation organizational efforts, and I was excited to see the theories I read put into practice by activists.
The fluctuating global market and its impacts on LGBTQ people are some of the issues that Hollibaugh addresses with her new initiative Queer Survival Economies, created after the closure of the organization Queers for Economic Justice and currently hosted by the Barnard Center for Research on Women. On speaking about her Queer Survival Economies project, Hollibaugh has expressed the need for a new framework, stating, “liberation has to reemerge as how we see change.”
Queer Survival Economies “gives traction to an economic justice perspective that is queer.”
Hollibaugh criticized the dangerous myth of gay affluence, a political strategy that frames LGBTQ people as wealthy consumers with large disposable incomes. Yet the majority of LGBTQ people are poor or working class. The media portrayals of queer people as mostly white, wealthy gays and lesbians exclude the majority of the LGBTQ population. The myth of gay affluence ignores the economic hardships that LGBTQ people experience, particularly people of color and people with disabilities, which cause and reinforce barriers to employment, housing, and healthcare.
Moreover, when the media does address LGBTQ poverty it portrays it as a youth issue, largely ignoring the economic struggles of LGBTQ elders. Hollibaugh stated, as “you [get] older you are blamed for your poverty.” Queer movements that promote assimilation, mainstream visibility, and political reform ignore the nuances of class, ability and gender in the LGBTQ community. By doing so, people of color, poor, working class, and disabled individuals are erased in the narrative of who constitutes queerness.
Ola Osaze, an activist for queer and trans communities as well as African immigrant communities, spoke about the intersections of immigration, economics and criminalization. As an immigrant from Nigeria, Osaze discussed how “being black in America came with a huge amount of signifiers” and that “criminalization often intersected with immigration.” As a result, Osaze explained, African immigrants face high rates of deportation.
Like Hollibaugh, Osaze believes that reform is not the end goal, as it would not undo the racism and white supremacy that shapes immigration rhetoric and systems in the U.S. Instead, Ozase posed the question: “What if transformation and liberation were [our] framework instead of reform?”
Pakistani immigrant organizer Hamid Khan, leader of Stop LAPD Spying echoed these ideas. Khan discussed how American society is built upon histories of surveillance and counter intelligence, and how these histories of surveillance are permeated in every aspect of our lives. The origins of policing in American society can be traced back to slavery. Therefore, we must be conscious and critical of the ways in which we conceptualize history and its connectivity to contemporary issues and our organizing efforts must reflect this.
Kate D’Adamo of the Sex Workers Project, a legal service organization that works directly with sex workers, talked about different forms of formal and informal labor. For countless individuals, informal labor is a mechanism of survival. Therefore, informal labor for queer people is vital and must be decriminalized. D’Adamo stressed the importance and urgency of the Fight for 15 Movement, which would raise standards in employment nationwide. The Fight for 15, in D’Adamo’s opinion, is a queer issue. She stated statistics that said that roughly 40% of runaway youth are LGBTQ, and that although it is important to bring queer elders into the spotlight, numerous queer youth are struggling economically. D’Adamo stated “[Queer people] rely on each other to survive…why are we criminalizing the ways that marginalized communities are surviving?”
Although I thought that the speakers were very clear in portraying their goal of refusal in lieu of reform, I left with a number of unanswered questions. My questions were specifically related to the ideologies of visibility, equality, and liberation. As a community, we must think through what these ideas and concepts mean to us. How do we imagine our future (where do we go from here and how do we plan to get there)? How do we resolve mainstream narratives of our goals, and how should we go about, if at all, resolving the lack of consensus within our own communities? I do not have specific answers to these questions, and do not expect to formulate simple and straightforward answers, yet I hope to be able to discuss these issues and ideas with others.
Watch the video below: