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GOP Is Not Just Problem for Queers

Guest Column by Kristen K. Nummerdor

I was contacted as a member of GAMIT to comment on the proposed GOP "celebrity" visits to MIT for The Tech's story ["Gingrich, Other GOP Leaders to Speak for College Republicans," April 25]. In response, I stated my disagreement with the Republican party line- not simply because of their frequent attacks on queers, but also because of the nature of their attacks on welfare, immigrants, and affirmative action, among other things.

Unfortunately, only my comments about queers were included in the final article. Furthermore, because my comments about Republican anti-queer sentiment were the only dissenting political opinion featured in the article, it had the effect of characterizing this conflict as being solely about "gay issues."

Queer concerns are far from the only concerns about the Republican agenda, and one it would a mistake to categorize current anger and discomfort over the proposed GOP visits as "GAMIT versus the College Republicans." There is far too much at stake for us to believe it is that simple. I, and many other people, oppose the Republican party line on a stockpile of issues, especially with regard to how the Republican party tends to deal with marginalized and exploited groups, including the poor, people of color, immigrants, and queers.

The Republican party has been in the business of protecting the concerns of the upper class and big business for years. Thus, it is not surprising that the Republican party line has recently forged an all-out attack on welfare mothers and immigrants, who are not the people they are in the business of helping. If they weren't so busy serving privileged groups, the Republican agenda could have a substantially different focus: Their war on drugs could battle the elite few who really clean up on the traffic in substances, rather than cracking down on the petty pusher; they could clamp down on wealthy tax fraud kings' who are abusing the loophole system, rather than demonizing the welfare recipient; their war on crime could be a war on white-collar criminals and shady politicians, rather than focusing on the street gang member; and they could crack down on corporations who routinely violate human rights in the course of maximizing their profits, rather than punishing the immigrant who is routinely exploited by those corporations.

The Republicans claim they want to improve the state of the economy, but we must ask: For whom are they making the economy work? Whom does their brand of capitalism benefit? What racial demons are they manipulating in their attacks on immigration, affirmative action, and welfare? This is not to say that change in the government as we know it is bad - there is certainly room for improvement - but we must interrogate what is at stake, who will benefit, and who will lose out from the changes that any political party attempts to enact.

Take the example of the attack on "illegal" immigrants which is currently sweeping the nation. Measures that are similar to California's Proposition 187, which seeks to deny health care, schooling, and other public services from "illegal" immigrants, are now being considered on both state and Federal levels. In fact, legislation has recently been proposed which attacks "legal" as well as "illegal" immigrants. Of course, these measures are directed at only a certain set of immigrants - namely, immigrants of color, especially people from places like Mexico, Southeast Asia, Cuba, or Haiti.

The so-called logic behind anti-immigrant measures is that (non-white) immigrants are supposedly sapping the U.S. economy, and that "legitimate" citizens should not have to pay for services for non-citizens. What this knee-jerk rationalization fails to account for is how much immigrants contribute to the economy in ways that corporate giants could not live without. Without immigrant labor, how would big agribusiness function in California and other states? How would the garment industry giants survive without their sweatshops?

Anti-immigrant measures are sold using racist and distorted images of immigrants as parasites who don't contribute to the U.S. economy and who "don't belong here." But in reality, immigrants often pay taxes on their wages and are contributing to the U.S. economy by both consuming and producing products here, plus they usually do so at wages that are far below minimum wage, in working conditions that are suboptimal, to say the least. And the portrayal of non-white immigrants as "people who don't belong here," belies the fact that many of us, either by choice or by force, are "immigrants" to this land - by what measure can we determine how much any of us "belongs here?"

So again, we must ask, whom do these proposed anti-immigrant laws benefit? Who will continue to reap the benefits of immigrant labor, and who will benefit from denying those same immigrants access to public services? What negative and racist images are used to justify anti-immigrant sentiment? And is this kind of exploitation acceptable in the name of "balancing the budget?" (It is important to note that such measures are now garnering support from Republicans and Democrats alike. Obviously, no one political party can claim ownership over exploitative policy; we must always be vigilant and critical of our government and its processes).

As I said in Tuesday's Tech, the Republican party's anti-queer "family values" focus is also an example of bad policy. The catch phrase these days for the Republicans on the subject of queers is "gay rights equals special rights." This slogan is simply an attractive facade which allows people to continue to deny queers equal treatment under the law on the grounds that queers are supposedly asking for too much, or that we are asking for more rights than straights are allowed. But proposed "civil rights" ordinances are usually worded in a manner that states that equal protection under the law shall not be denied on the basis of sexual orientation (i.e.: no person should be discriminated against on the basis of who they sleep with). This is hardly an example of uneven or special treatment.

In their focus on "special rights," the Republicans ignore the fact that it is straights who currently have special rights. Non-discrimination laws would simply work to level the playing field as it currently exists. For example, people may legally marry heterosexually, and can thus obtain tax breaks and spousal benefits, while queers are not allowed access to such benefits with their same sex partners. There are six states which have sodomy laws which specifically prohibit same sex sexual acts.

Adoption agencies will gladly allow straight couples to adopt children; they usually will not allow the same privilege to queers. It is not uncommon for queers to have their own children taken from them by the courts specifically because they are queer (queerness in these cases is argued to make for unfit parenthood); how many times have you heard of a straight couple who was denied custody of their own child simply because of their straightness? And when is the last time you heard someone was evicted from their rental unit because they were straight? Straights don't tend to be fired from jobs, or denied public accommodations, or denied health care because they are straight. They don't tend to be shot at or beaten to death because they are straight! And who has special rights?

You have to wonder, then, why so many people in the Republican party subscribe to the notion of "gay rights equals special rights?" What do they have invested in promoting an ideology that maintains inequality between straights and gays?

I have touched on only a few examples of how certain Republican party-line stances are suspect; by no means is my critique exhaustive, nor does it cover the multitude of other concerns which are being voiced about the GOP agenda.

Finally, there is the issue of "everyone having a voice." When I spoke to Egozcue recently, he assured me of his good intentions about the College Republican's events. He wanted me and other queers to speak at the events in order to let the Republican participants know and respond to our concerns. While I agree with Egozcue that we should all engage in dialogue, I have to point out that these issues are not all new, that the things that I and many other queers, people of color, or women would stand up and tell Newt Gingrich and his supporters have been said many times before.

Egozcue and the MIT Republicans are highlighting the fact that they want to hear everyone, but their conspicuous focus on urging us to speak belies the fact that we have been speaking all along, and that the Republican party has not responded well to the concerns of marginalized people. Talk is cheap; making real and positive change is what we are asking for, and we have been asking for it for a long time. The marginalized and exploited members of our society continue to ask for justice. How many times do we have to graciously accept invitations to voice our concerns' before we are taken seriously?