Words by Ethan Penglase
American liberals and self-proclaimed progressives aren’t well known for their tact. Last June, the rusted-on #Resisters of the decaying Cult of Clinton lauded Queen Elizabeth for “throwing shade” during her state visit meeting with President Trump. The tiara she wore, apparently, wards off evil and illnesses. The implication here being that the colonial plunderer-in-chief was totally owning Trump by suggesting he was some kind of bad omen.
Resistance to Trump and everything he stands for — racism, unchecked corporate power, militarism, et cetera, et cetera — is so easy, anything counts as resistance! Well, apparently not.
In the spirit of Pride Month, Democratic presidential candidate-hopeful Bernie Sanders took to twitter to challenge the authenticity of corporate America’s support for the gays.
“LGBTQ people face unacceptable workplace discrimination and abuse. I say to the huge corporations rainbow-branding themselves for #PrideMonth:
Pay your employees fairly.
Let them unionize.
Support their right to health care.
Do not cheapen the struggle for dignity and freedom.”
Now, this is the kind of moment where I would readily accept a “slay queen” or two. Unfortunately, I seemed alone in my endorsement of Sanders’ attack on performative marketing departments everywhere.
“He doesn’t even bother to mention the LGTBQ community *specifically* on his list of demands. Multiple states pass laws against them but Bernie is like UNIONIZE AND YOU WILL BE FINE THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” writes Anita.
“Right wing hate groups and Bernie are often on the same page. Christian hate groups are attacking these same companies for bravely sponsoring Gay Pride events. Now Bernie joins them from the Left” tweets John Smith.
And, perhaps my favourite, from Candice: “Do not cheapen the struggle for dignity and freedom.” Take your own advice. This isn’t your opportunity to push your cis straight white male focused agenda.”
This bizarre mode of thinking — if we can even call it that — isn’t confined to the US, but it is most prominent there. The fact that the attempt by Sanders to include general demands of the broader working class into pro-LGBT rhetoric can be met with such backlash in a country where roughly 15% of people live in poverty and almost one-third are in near-poverty is troubling.
Amazon urged the US Supreme Court to make same-sex marriage legal. Wonderful! But thousands of Amazon workers are wearing diapers and peeing in bottles because Amazon doesn’t give them enough time for toilet breaks. In one survey, 55% of Amazon employees said they had suffered depression since beginning work at Amazon. Goldman Sachs has marched in many pride parades and yet, it also has a habit of purchasing privatised rent-controlled housing, raising rent and thereby forcing people out of their homes.
This issues of workers’ rights and housing may seem completely distinct from LGBT rights, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. We know that LGBT people face an increased risk of depression and homelessness, so it’s difficult to see how the corporate world’s supposed support for LGBT rights is in any way legitimate when it is largely the source of mental illness, homelessness and poverty — the material consequences of homophobia and transphobia.
By understanding the inherent intersection of the interests of labour and of LGBT people, it is obvious why the gay rights movement cannot be captained by the captains of industry, but by ordinary working people. The struggle for LGBT rights is a struggle for equality, and equality is at the heart of the union movement.
In Australia, it was unions that fought to protect LGBT people in the workplace by incorporating protections against discrimination into workplace agreements. It was unions that fought for Medicare for all Australians which now covers much of the cost of gender confirmation surgery. And it is unions that continue to fight for and improve the rights of LGBT people and all workers.
To my fellow gays, I say this: Join your union, because rights aren’t handed down by glib capitalists, but through unity, solidarity and building independent, working-class power. While ANZ’s bedazzled GayTMs are aesthetically appreciable, what’s really impressive is the union movement’s longstanding and materially genuine support for LGBT people, and not just a conspicuous support conveniently timed for when gay men started earning more than straight men on average.
So the next time you see Scott Morrison and the other lackeys of big business in the Liberal Party attacking trade unions, remember this: they are not just attacking the organisations that fight for fair wages and safe working conditions, they are attempting to undermine the solidarity, love and unity that holds working class and all marginalised groups together and which has won us the rights and liberties we enjoy today.
Be loud. Be proud. And never vote Liberal.