The Rebel Girl: Come Out Against the War

Against the Current, No. 103, March/April 2003

Catherine Sameh

THE NATIONAL GAY and Lesbian Task Force recently came out against the war, after months of refusing to take a stand.

In October 2002, the NGLTF held its annual Creating Change Conference, drawing hundreds of activists from all over the country. When NGLTF refused to take a stand against the war, conference participants mobilized to pressure NGLTF to change its position. That it finally did is a victory for radical queer activists who have been making links between the struggle for queer liberation and antiwar activism.

By participating in the antiwar movement, radical queer activists are pushing the queer community to move beyond single issue politics and stand in solidarity with oppressed and marginalized people all over the world.

As historic and contemporary victims of scapegoating, queers oppose racial, ethnic and gender profiling and attacks on civil liberties that have increased since 9/11. We oppose the nationwide cuts in social services that help marginalized queers, and we oppose the use of tax dollars to fund the war.

As activists who look at gender and sexuality, we feel that militarism reinforces a false and limited version of gender and destroys people’s freedom to express their full gender and sex identities.

Pretext for Intervention

As radical queer activists, we must vigilantly oppose the ways in which feminist and queer liberation rhetoric has been used as a rationale for military intervention in the Middle East.

In Afghanistan, Bush appropriated feminist language as a tool to defend intervention. The rhetoric of helpless Muslim women being liberated from their fundamentalist fathers, husbands and governments by U.S. military men reproduced colonialist narratives of the 19th century.

Similarly, some writers from the left like Christopher Hitchens and Dan Savage have been arguing in favor of war in Iraq on the grounds that the Iraqi regime and fundamentalist Islam are, among other things, deeply homophobic.

There is no question that fundamentalist Islam, like fundamentalist versions of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion, is deeply sexist and homophobic. But if we care about women’s liberation and sexual freedom, we would be better off focusing our activism on ending imperialism and neocolonialism, thereby making it possible for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and elsewhere to freely overthrow repressive governments on their own terms and to create democratic and sexually liberatory societies.

Solidarity, Not Colonialism

To be sure, as a movement we have something to say about the oppression of women and queers in other countries. But an imperialist version of “liberating” women and queers from their oppressors in the Middle East is not only deeply racist and steeped in neocolonialism; it erases the real movement building that women and queers in the Middle East have been doing, and silences their voices.

Our job is to stand in solidarity with these movements, to support and link up with them. As activists, we want women and queers all over the world to live lives free from individual and state repression and violence; but as anti-imperialists we understand that U.S. geopolitical hegemony has squelched secular resistance movements that offer the most promise of taking up feminist and queer liberation.

Like other radical activists, radical queers are enlivening an antiwar movement that is growing in participation and political scope.

By continuing to draw the links between queer liberation and antiwar activism, radical queers make an important contribution to the struggle around that prized vision of the global justice movement: “Another world is possible.”

ATC 103, March-April 2003