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Identity Politics In The Age Of Trump

I was recently watching a documentary about the Trump Presidency and saw a highly disturbing interview with a man representing an organisation called ‘Gays for Trump’. I was shocked that a gay man, someone who has presumably experienced a level of discrimination himself, could support a candidate who so clearly fans the flames of hatred and division.

Unfortunately, of course, this isn’t really that unusual. Right-wing political parties in Australia have LGBTQ members and many LGBTQ people continue to support parties that actively stymie progress on our human rights. Voters weigh up a variety of factors before casting their ballots and LGBTQ people, like all other members of the community, wear a number of different hats. We are workers, bosses, parents, brothers, sisters, partners — all of these identities colour the way in which we see ourselves and the political world.

Donald Trump’s shock ascension has sparked a renewed focus on economic inequality and some commentators have sought to dismiss the value of identity-based organising entirely. So where do LGBTQ politics fit in the age of Trump and how do we continue to campaign against discrimination on the basis of identity?

Fundamental to LGBTQ politics is the sense of shared experience. I remember that sense of relief I felt as a young gay man in my early twenties when I finally began to meet other gay men who shared my own struggles and anxieties. Today, with increased visibility of LGBTQ people in the media and politics, discussion about difference is becoming less taboo. Social networking and online dating open up opportunities to connect with people outside traditional ‘queer spaces’ like the gay bar and the sense of identity is becoming more fluid.

In many ways, sexuality or gender identity is no longer seen as a defining aspect of the self. This opens up exciting opportunities to move beyond some of the discrimination of the past. But it also represents challenges in terms of the organising and rallying around a shared experience that is required if we are to overcome the discrimination that still exists.

Marriage equality offers a powerful example. As the focus of the campaign has shifted towards building a broad parliamentary consensus, conservative individuals and institutions have also joined the cause. Marriage equality has been positioned as a single-issue campaign. In this context, supporting marriage equality yet opposing other advancements in human rights is not seen as a contradiction.

Of course support for marriage equality from a broad cross-section of the community is welcome, but the fact that many fail to see the nexus between this and other campaigns is troubling.

Marriage equality isn’t a single-issue campaign. LGBTQ rights can’t be seen in isolation. After all, the ideology that says it’s acceptable to deny women their reproductive rights, or to demonise asylum seekers, or to denigrate people on the basis of their race, or to punish people on social welfare, is the same ideology that says LGBTQ people don’t have a right to marry.

As Martin Luther King once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” To truly overcome discrimination and prejudice, LGBTQ politics must be part of the broader struggle for justice and human rights.

This is critically important at a time when conservative commentators and politicians are seeking to cast the LGBTQ community as the new elite, out of touch with real life concerns. This is a familiar device that has been used throughout history to delegitimise the struggles of oppressed groups and position them as scapegoats. Working in partnership with other groups facing oppression and discrimination is the best way to challenge this. After all, those who seek to depict LGBTQ rights as luxury opt-in items that distract from ‘bread and butter issues’ such as the economy and rising income inequality, fail to recognise that these things are all intertwined.

Rather than the elites caricatured in popular culture, we know that LGBTQ people continue to experience higher levels of social disadvantage. Discrimination and prejudice can create insecurity in employment and place you at risk of poverty. Many young people live in fear of coming out, concerned that they will lose support from family and friends. Far too many members of our community are unable to escape situations where they are being victimised on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity, because they do not have the financial support to do so. LGBTQ people are also more likely to experience poor mental health.

We will never make progress on these issues and meaningfully advance LGBTQ rights unless we take on the systems and structures that continue to perpetuate inequality. These systems and structures disproportionately impact on LGBTQ people and to overcome them we need to work with other marginalised and oppressed groups.

Rather than representing the death knell of identity politics, the repugnant Trump Presidency is a reminder of the need for LGBTQ politics to be strongly anchored within the broader fight for equality. It’s through this collective approach that we will achieve a future without discrimination and prejudice and ensure that leaders like Trump are finally consigned to the history books.

This was first published on June 14, 2017, as ‘It’s Unfair to Label LGBTI People as Out of Touch Elites’ on the Huffington Post Blog.