The Rebel Girl: A Victory, But Only Just

Against the Current, No. 54, January/February 1995

Catherine Sameh

IN THE WAKE of the elections, queer activists find ourselves toasting to victory. But our drink is bittersweet: Ballot Measure 13, Oregon’s anti-gay initiative, went down to defeat by 52-48%, a margin too slim to give much comfort. Queer activists and their supporters find ourselves propelled backwards to 1992, when Measure 9 went down by an equally appalling mere percentage points.

Perhaps it has become enough to simply keep the Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA) at bay, to defeat them time and again by whatever means necessary. But two years after Measure 9 it has become more, not less difficult to convince ourselves that we have been truly victorious.

On the other hand, lesbians and gays may be the only group under attack this election that didn’t lose. Oregon public employees will take a huge pay cut, prison inmates will be penalized further, and the most disenfranchised in California will suffer the hideous effects of Proposition 187.

In the context of an overall post-election victory for the right wing in this country, there does remain a degree of support for lesbians and gays, and some commitment to seeing through the right’s scapegoat tactics.

But what can we anticipate for the future of queer rights organizing, and how can we shift the political landscape so that we are not constantly fighting a defensive battle? The OCA has been very clear, since the 1980s, that their strategy is long-term, that their commitment is to changing hearts and minds about the legitimacy of being queer in the world.

They will continue their tireless efforts to reach working people in Oregon and any other state where they can get a toehold, to convince people that their hard<->ships and fears are a direct result of lesbians and gays demanding and taking more than our share.

Queer activists must begin to develop our own long-term strategy. We must move beyond simply arguing for equal rights, and begin to take on the world view that guides the OCA and the right in this country. We cannot afford to be single-issue in our organizing, because the right never is.

It is little comfort to have a gay Republican or a neoliberal lesbian Democrat, who supports cuts in government services, fighting our “own side.” We should cast our net wider, to those who feel just as marginalized as queers, those who face incredible insecurities and attacks on a daily basis.

If we don’t defend the rights of workers, welfare mothers, parents, people of color, any group that is under attack in society today, and see their struggle as our own, and ours as theirs, then our common enemy will be victorious no matter what the outcome of any single initiative.

ATC 54, January-February 1995