kathleenzielinski’s “gay rights movement”

So, over on Pharyngula kathleenzielinski has been having a bit of a say. I will likely go into other things said by kathleenzielinski (and issues that they raise or raised) later. But for now, I want to talk about the Great kathleenzielinski Gay Rights Movement, which, she would like you to know, is much, much better than that icky trans rights movement to which she would like to compare her GRM:

I will say this: The gay rights movement moved as quickly as it did because we took the time to win over our opposition using their own language. Conservative arguments were made in favor of gay marriage and legal equality. Some of us even quoted the Bible. We didn’t demonize people whose real fault was that they didn’t understand us. We won them over.

The trans rights movement is, if we are to believe kathleenzielinski, both moving much more slowly than her cherished GRM and is also much less friendly and compassionate to the bigots who oppose trans rights than the gays were to the bigots who opposed gay rights.

I don’t know what movement kathleenzielinski participated in, but when I was fighting for queer rights at the end of the 80s and throughout the 90s there was a hell of a lot of language that trashed the hypocrites and bigots of the right. We outed the fuckers who were queer themselves but using conservative politics to camouflage their Christian sins with secular evils. We conducted die ins and accused them of genocide. Hell, we even fought each other. Viciously.

Arguments in favor of queer marriage didn’t even exist as part of any gay rights effort when I joined the movement, much less conservative ones. Marriage was only implicated in discussions around health benefits and how straight couples could marry and allow the job related health benefits to cover their family, while gay men were denied that option in the midst of the HIV crisis. Health insurance was the issue, not marriage, and we were scrambling to find ways to gain access to those benefits despite not being married. In fact civil unions came into being because queers advanced the very radical idea that government should get out of the business of marriage altogether. And that’s all from 1988/89 and later. I’m not even talking about fucking Stonewall, which, I am told, did not rely on conservative arguments and reaching across the aisle for its emotional power.

The queer rights movement involved incrementalist conservatism to be sure, but that wasn’t its driving force and it certainly wasn’t responsible for the rapidity of the social gains once the Daughters of Bilitis were formed in the 1950s. Oh, no. Wait a sec. There were jack shit for national gains from when the Daughters of Bilitis were formed until Stonewall. The DoB, the gay men’s Mattachine Society and other small groups built the radical networks that made change possible, but they couldn’t create large social gains themselves. They needed an army. They didn’t get one quickly. The incrementalist conservative gay and lesbians entirely ignored issues of queer rights until such issues were forced upon them.

Many lesbian (and bi and queer and trans) feminists worked quietly in the background of the feminist movement in the early 70s… until the queers started organizing “Gay Liberation” marches commemorating Stonewall and demanding action to guarantee to queer people the rights guaranteed to straight folks. Straight feminists were terrified that the so-called Second Wave movement would lose its momentum and power if conservatives were able to portray organizations such as NOW as too sympathetic to lesbians. The straight feminists labeled the queers and the nascent FtM folks a “Lavender Menace” (the capitals probably came later) and proposed a purge, supporting women by jettisoning women from the movement. That’s when many of the incrementalist, conservative (on queer issues, probably fairly radical on feminism writ more narrowly) feminists became visible. When it became clear just how many people they would lose, the straight leaders reversed course. But let’s be clear: they only thought a purge was a viable option because so many lesbian and queer women had been silent in the first place, and the movement only became accepting of queer women and lesbians and their issues because radical action forced the issues into visibility.

There were further struggles throughout the 70s and 80s, though not so famously or on such a national scale. And in every case the issues did not get raised by conservative incrementalists. They got raised by radicals creating a fuss.

I have said many times that we need both outside radicals and inside educators and negotiators to create positive, lasting change. I don’t rag on Biden, for instance, because he’s drastically less radical than I would like (indeed than I believe the USA needs). I could, but I don’t. We need incrementalists who will push forward progressive policies from within. If I could get a true progressive elected POTUS, I sure as hell would, but that’s not going to happen. That said, I sure as hell am not willing to give Biden credit for being the one who made climate action a rapid reality, because,

  1. It’s not a rapid reality. We’ve been worrying about this since the 70s, screaming about it since the 90s, and have known about the potential for millions of deaths and massive refugee crises around the globe, with food and water crises both spurring and exacerbated by mass human migrations. The scientists at IPCC have been telling us what we need to do for decades. We’ve had plans for transforming electrical grids and generation priorities that entire time. Biden doesn’t get lauded for doing what is necessary 5 decades too late merely because it’s not yet 8 decades too late. And
  2. He’s only doing this because other people did the work of making climate action necessary.

The conservative incrementalists are always, ALWAYS acting within a context of necessary change. When an incrementalist patiently explains to someone about how lesbians aren’t eating aborted babies for breakfast, it’s not because they’re going out of their way to make the world better. Nope. The world is changing anyway, and they worry that the changes could be better or worse for themselves, and they choose better.

In the case of queer rights, the incrementalist, patient types were often not even the queers. Remember PFLAG? When ACT-UP was conducting die-ins and screaming that Ronald Reagan was literally the Antichrist, Queer Nation was throwing up provocative stickers and graffiti calling straight people murderers for working at insurance companies that wouldn’t cover antiretroviral medications and yelling at me for holding the hand of my best friend who didn’t want to have to march in the queer pride parade on her own…because they thought we were a straight couple. That was the action on the street when parents who were desperately afraid of their beloved child getting gay bashed, even martyred, for that a street activism formed or joined a local PFLAG and started speaking gently to their neighbors. They would never have had an awkward conversation about queers with their neighbors before, but in the emerging world where their children were refusing to be silent, they knew that they either had to have uncomfortable conversations or take the risk that their kids would be killed by a society that had no tolerance for them.

Conservative incrementalist lesbians existed during this period as well. I’m sure that they did brave, brave work explaining how they should not lose their jobs for being lesbian. And that’s fine. It was necessary work. The work is even praiseworthy. But let’s not forget that this was work which would never have been necessary without street pressure.

kathleenzielinski’s Gay Rights Movement is a sanitized one, one that dispenses with the memories of ugly conflict to savor the delights of victory. The victories were hard earned and deserve celebration. I don’t begrudge that party to kathleenzielinski or to anyone else. But this idea that the GRM never used insults or anger or street pressure to promote change is laughable bullshit, and to the extent that kathleenzielinski (or someone else) might come along to clarify that it’s not that they literally deny those things exist, it’s just that those things slowed down positive change while quiet, polite conversation accelerated change, well, that’s every bit as untrue.

kathleenzielinski’s argument is that trans people shouldn’t be angry, or at least shouldn’t show anger, because we will turn away allies and fail to make the positive change possible with just a few nice words here or there.

Let me be clear: this is trans hating crap. This is the same bullshit that Martin Luther King, Jr. described in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Dr. King focused that letter on the moderates, who said that they were allies to Black people in the US but decried angry or forceful tactics. And today FOX news portrays Dr. King over and over as gentle. As not angry. As all loving, all sacrificing. They portray this as the only legitimate model of creating change.

Make no mistake, kathleenzielinski has adopted that model whole, the FOX news model of social change in which anger and intemperate words are not allowed, and when they appear, they are used as justification to slow down the rate at which communities and governments act to protect the human rights of trans persons. When kathleenzielinski asserts that rapid change is only possible when trans people are gentle and quiet and kind, never using name calling or “demonization”, this is only the airbrushed vision of a threat not to respect rights if trans people don’t treat others with gentle, quiet kindness.

Make no mistake: I advocate gentle, quiet kindness. I want a world filled with generosity and love. But rights are not rights if they can be withheld the moment one person calls another person an asshole or a bigot or a racist or a transphobe. I will not submit to the FOX news formulation that the public policy question of when and how Black persons’ rights are to be respected and protected as soon as one Black activist calls Nixon a “white devil”. The questions of when and how trans persons and their rights are to be respected and protected should not change as soon as one (or seventy!) trans advocates or activists call one non trans person “transphobic” (or even “cis scum”).

kathleenzielinski advocates for gentleness and kindness, which I can respect, but at the very, very best she fails to understand lesbian and queer histories and movements and at the worst she is implying a threat to withhold respect for the persons and rights of an entire group based on the actions of some individual members within that group. She holds up a false image of gay & lesbian activism to surround her arguments with undeserved authority.

She is wrong, and however much she might wish to be an ally to trans people (assuming she wishes it at all), being an ally is a question of fact. Either one does or does not fight for one’s allies, and a soldier who aims a mortar behind their own lines is no ally at all.

The Gay Rights Movement of kathleenzielinski, the one with no name calling and only gentle, loving pressure, that movement never existed. The trans rights movement is in the image of the abolitionist movement which featured impassioned, intelligent writing and persuasion and also John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. It is in the image of the anti colonial movement which included truly inspiring rhetoric by Mohandas Ghandi and also vicious infighting between Hindu and Muslim. It is in the image of the feminist movement which included back room lobbyists like Patricia Ireland as well as firebrands like Pat Parker and the lesbian hatred of those who would have purged any woman who wasn’t straight. And it’s sure as hell in the image of the Gay Rights Movement that actually existed in this world, the one with Barney Frank and Gail Shibley as well as Queer Nation folks harassing me and my bi BFF and ACT-UP activists who ridiculed Nancy Reagan and her feckless husband.

kathleenzielinski would judge trans people against a fantasy and find us lacking, while judging herself and her friends against that same fantasy and finding cis lesbians heroic, angelic. This is only possible because kathleenzielinski never knew the Gay Rights Movement at all.






  1. Allison says

    I was once shown a PBS (USA public television network) program on the Stonewall riots. It covered an awful lot about the times back then when the riots happened, and one film clip from back then showed a gay man testifying, before some committee or other, saying, “oh, no, gays don’t want marriage or children…” FSM forbid that they might want the same things “respectable” people take for granted.

    Respectability politics has always been pushed by some part of the LGBT+ community or other. And the respectable folks have always wanted to push the less “respectable” segments of the community off the boat. Cf. the expulsion of many of the founders of the Gay Liberation movement from the organizations that they created.

  2. Allison says

    is it time to gas up the “down with cis” bus again?

    I always liked “down with the CIStem!”

  3. says

    Respectability politics has always been pushed by some part of the LGBT+ community or other.

    It is literally and precisely my experience with fucked up respectability politics that led me to name this blog “Pervert Justice”. If we don’t have justice for the perverts, if we don’t have justice for the people that we DO NOT respect, then we don’t have justice. It’s as simple as that.

  4. John Morales says


    CD @5, I like the wordplay.

    I mean, ‘pervert’ reads differently if taken as a verb rather than a noun.

    (and ‘justice’ can mean an attitude, a system or an individual)

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    Martin Luther King, Jr, would never have won “respectability” if not for Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and thousands of rioters.

    Even George Washington Carver would have had no white friends without, e.g., W. E. B. DuBois taking ideological leadership.

    (And DuBois in turn needed Marcus Garvey, and lost some traction when Garvey flamed out so prematurely.)

    The “moderate” leaders desperately need the “radicals” – otherwise they themselves would occupy the extreme position.

  6. says

    @John Morales:

    I’m glad you do, because that, also, was intended from the beginning. I was struck, going to law school, how many famous cases in Canadian law were decried as “perversions of justice” or “perverting the course of justice” at the time they were being litigated. The famous “Persons” case was one, where women were asserting rights granted to “persons” and men argued that the provisions did not include women, effectively that women were not “persons” under at least some laws. Their inability to construct a logical argument for when to include women as “persons” (for instance are women barred from killing others under the murder statutes?) and when women should not be included was a large part of the public case for treating women as persons throughout the whole of the law. But this public debate, parallel to the legal case’s journey through Canadian courts and to the UK for final appeal, brought out a great many people (on both sides of the “always inclusive” divide) who insisted that one determination or another would “pervert justice”.

    It occurred to me then (although it should have many years earlier, say when I was still a teenager in the US and reading about Bowers v. Hardwick) that every advancement in human rights is seen by some as a perversion of justice, because there is always a rationale why some people deserve different treatment under law. Some of this we consider just (duly convicted felons may be imprisoned, others may be jailed – which is different from imprisoned – while awaiting trial or after conviction for a misdemeanor, and persons neither convicted nor indicted cannot be held in jail or prison) while others we consider unjust (the sentence for a husband who rapes a wife is still different in a number of states than the sentence for a rapist unmarried to the victim even when all other relevant sentencing circumstances are identical). I’m not going to argue that we should always treat everyone the same way under the law, but I’m pretty hard core about limiting distinctions that are not based on voluntary behavior to the bare, bare minimum (distinctions based on age and disability, for instance, and religious observance to some extent as well can be justified but these would be exceptions to the principle and require that justification to be maintained).

    By using “pervert justice” as an imperative, I can acknowledge that we have not yet reached a state where there are no more “Persons Case” revolutions in law to come and encourage others to find those revolutions and support them.

  7. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    It was a fractally silly point. Some of it could be excused by a revisionist history-level of ignorance about her community (I spend enough time with former hippies to know how easy that it is to come together!), but nowhere near all of it. Like, for example, she could object to the Dr. King comparison by saying King was still outflanked by the Panthers and X or something. But it’s just comprehensively silly.

    First, Kathleen just assumed, near-circularly, that LGB issues are the same as T issues. Sometimes, different contexts require different tactics. Kathleen could have all the experience in the world in one environment and one set of demands, and her experience could map poorly to the new one. This is why it’s pretty well-accepted among veteran activists to have some mutual respect: People from an outside context are listened to for ideas and inspiration, but they are similarly expected to listen to the people in the environment they’re in.

    Second, while there is *some truth* to the idea that queer movements got some success by eventually choosing some individual talking points that put them into centrist society (e.g. mirroring mainstream marriage instead of challenging it), those requests were *still* viewed as radical *by conservatives*. And still are. Kathleen isn’t capable of differentiating between what is objectively a radical proposal and what just scares people. And sometimes, the gap between the most and least radical proposal in terms of irrational fear being provoked is non-existent.

    Third, *what trans folks are asking for is in fact comparable to the middle of the line requests she claims to be comparing to*. Kathleen’s viewpoint is just too benighted to see it. Even *in that thread*, she was being told that people just wanted to be treated with some basic equality. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard trans activists center their concerns on issues like non-discrimination, fair housing, health care, etc. The trans movement seems to be in fact in a *very similar* place to the pre-Civil Rights Act civil rights movement: Demanding some exceedingly basic shit, like not allowing de jure discrimination. The kind of de jure discrimination that Kathleen was defending.

    Fourth, Kathleen’s hypocrisy was showing. She claims not to be a TERF, but putting on my HJ Hornbeck hat for a second: If she was at all interested in building any credibility, one thing she could have done is criticize any relevant TERF talking points. So what’s the third word in TERF? Why, radical! TERF mythology claims that they are the real feminists because trans folks foolishly don’t want to destroy gender and have everyone be pod people or whatever their ideal world is supposed to look like. So… apparently some kinds of radical claims she is sensitive to. Some she will swallow.

    One can go on. She raised a ton of hypothetically interesting topics that she made wildly false claims on that would need someone as talented as you to examine fully, but it was fairly clearly motivated reasoning: Say the thing that might play well as an argument for a view in the immediate future.

  8. jenorafeuer says

    If one were to look at the arguments in that thread uncharitably, one might note that the two big arguments seemed to pretty much be:
    – I thought you were supposed to be nice/tolerant
    – I thought you were supposed to be on the side of sexual assault survivors
    both of which are essentially using a surface understanding of ‘the (monolithic) left’ in an attempt to either get people to back off or admit hypocrisy, and which of course entirely failed when people who knew what they were talking about approached the arguments with an understanding of nuance.

    If one were to be really uncharitable, one might even consider that arguments like these are often brought up as deliberate distractions rather than anything even approaching good faith.

  9. Allison says


    … The gay rights movement moved as quickly as it did because we took the time to win over our opposition using their own language….

    News to me. The gay rights movement started with riots, the Stonewall riots being only the most famous one. The Gay Liberation Front — the very name was confrontational — grew out of those riots. Ultimately, the former gay leaders were forced to become more confrontational to not be left behind.

    Did Kathleenzielinski notice that homosexuality is no longer listed as a disorder in the DSM? That was because for several years in a row, in the early 1970’s, gay activists disrupted the APA conferences where the contents of the DSM were being decided. It was obvious to everyone that if they hadn’t, nobody in the APA would have supported such a controversial step as removing it.

    Does Kathleenzielinski remember the AIDS crisis? Does she remember how, at the beginning, the establishment — the US government, most politicians, etc. — wanted to just ignore it and watch people die? Does she remember ACT-UP and “silence = death”? Their confrontational actions were responsible for getting the US government to take AIDS seriously and for countering the worst misinformation about it.

    As Frederick Douglass famously said:
    “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

    And “demands” will never be seen as nice and polite by those who are being demanded of.

  10. seachange says


    I find it useful to describe the point at which ‘nothing nice/polite/tolerant’ is happening here, out loud. Democracy has always been a full-contact sport. Because of this the conversation can continue. However, it turns out that some folks like her don’t want to engage, they just wanna whine. Something not-nice, something that they will never say, which you and no other interlocutors present had anything to do with. It happened to her/them. Her/Them!

    Oooh icky!

  11. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @12: Thanks to Matt Baume, I just learned about the sieges of television studios gay activists engaged in to try to get some positive gay representation on TV… back *before Reagan*.

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