Gay men’s issues have become watered down in the alphabet soup of the queer community — even though we’re the largest community. We need to turn that around.
Jessica Freedman, interim chair of the queer community centre project, said recently to Capital Xtra that gay men and lesbians in greater Ottawa’s community are already “well served” by services (Issue 165, Feb 1). And she also seemed to argue that “middle-aged middle-class white gay men” should pay for a proposed centre for “underserved” trans and bisexual people, while conceding that will be a challenge.
As a middle-class white gay male, I have to ask: is this fair?
While gay men may have been the first ones out of the gate in terms of the struggle for sexual equality, and while we have come a long way towards gaining acceptance, we still have a long way to go. We mustn’t kid ourselves — unlike gay US columnist Andrew Sullivan’s assertions, same-sex marriage is not the end of the road. It’s barely a signpost along the way. True, maybe we’ve emerged as the most visible group, at least if you judge by media exposure. And that’s helped us win progress like same-sex marriage. But there are many still unaddressed freedom and equality issues along with social issues within the gay men’s community that need work.
Freedman says that gay men were “overrepresented” on the survey that asked what the community wanted out its centre. With all due respect, we are a numerically larger proportion of the queer community — of course we’re going to hand in more responses. After asserting that we’re already well served, she cites an example of how there are full-time dedicated social workers for gay men. She is mistaken on that count — there are no dedicated social workers, period. There are a few front-line workers and program developers working on AIDS and HIV issues, where gay men are the largest at-risk group. Our many other issues aren’t being taken seriously.
The overall picture of “wellness” in the gay men’s community is far from rosy. We face higher rates of alcoholism and drug abuse, depression, and social isolation. And the AIDS funding is clearly warranted: two gay men every week become infected with HIV in this city, and the social determinants of our health are barely being looked at for all of the safer-sex messages we’re exposed to. When you consider that we have no services that really look at these social determinants of our health, I’m not seeing the evidence that we’re already “well served.”
Does that mean that the more financially healthy gay men shouldn’t help with issues affecting other marginalised groups? No, of course not. But we also shouldn’t kid ourselves that as the “privileged” — or perhaps least marginalised — of the sexual minorities, that we should also be expected to do all of the heavy lifting. Remember that the big rainbow umbrella is an artificial construct. Just because G and L and B have some things in common, it doesn’t mean that we automatically owe allegiance to every single facet of the “TTQQI* and sometimes A,” when we still have our own battles to fight.
Yes, we still need to reach out to our fellow communities, but at the same time, gay men’s issues have become watered down in the alphabet soup of the queer community — even though we’re the largest component. We’re still a marginalised group and we still don’t have actual equality — no matter what the fantasy of Will & Grace might tell you. We still face stigma to this day in areas that concern us, from sexual freedom laws, for example, and the way that AIDS was de-gayed to maintain federal funding (which then bit us in the ass as the rate of transmission among gay men rapidly rose again). In fact, at the 2006 World AIDS Conference in Toronto, there was not one single panel devoted to gay programming.
Yet, Freedman says that we’re “well served.”
I’m not going to deny that part of the reason our issues have become invisible in the artificial morass of the alphabet soup is because we white middle-class gay men have abdicated our responsibility to ourselves and each other. We got wrapped up in appearing politically correct in the eyes of other progressives and by the other related movements around gender — and in the subsequent counter-productive squabbling over who was most marginalised — but we also got lazy. A lot of us decided that we just wanted a party, and we would show up and drop our admission fee at the door and that was as much as we got involved. Clearly, the problems on the queer community centre board demonstrate that we gay men need to change our attitude.
Our issues are going to get even more invisible, and we’re not going to get the services that we still need, if we don’t speak out, or better yet, step up to the plate. And unless we reclaim our voices, then people like the very dedicated Jessica Freedman will determine our place in the community for us. That place is apparently to bankroll the other minority groups at the expense of our own issues.
It’s time to find our voices again and take action for ourselves. No one is going to do it for us.