Beware the wrath of the LGBTQ+ activist
Can we prevent the fragmentation of the global movement?
Social justice campaigning warrants some level of megalomania. Telling society: “you are wrong, and we are right” requires an ego.
Unfortunately, sometimes it also means that the LGBTQ+ movement can be unforgiving, self-righteous, and quick to “cancel” including when it comes to its own. Social media has of course decupled this tendency — not only because it provides some level of distance with the object of one’s anger but also because peddling in outrage is immensely rewarded.
The way we deal with Western issues such as police representation or private sector representation at Pride, the no-platforming of leaders such as Peter Tatchell and the countless calls for boycott illustrate intransigence with differences and missteps within the movement. Disputes turn quickly into insults, which in turn lead to irreparable divisions.
Of course, these public controversies are only the tip of the iceberg. Within the associative world, respectful and consensual dialogue has also become frayed: French LGBTQ+ magazine this month features a piece titled “French associations in burnout” (les assos LGBTQ+ en burn out). This year I was part of a discussion in which a trans person misgendered another trans person because of difficulties in English — the immediate reaction’s virulence baffled me. It raises the question of: who is the real enemy we are fighting?
They also spillover in the way we deal with society-at-large. I still remember the damaging way a French activist introduced the country in 2018 to the concept of non-binarity. Our leaders, when they sound dismissive and angry can at times become the worst spokespersons for our community.
It is not a coincidence that these internal polemics are taking place in the most tolerant places in the World, the ones where being LGBTQ+ has become easier. Freud described it as the narcissism of small differences (German: der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen) the idea that “communities with adjoining territories and close relationships are especially likely to engage in feuds and mutual ridicule because of hypersensitivity to details of differentiation”.
On the other hand, LGBTQ+ communities that are facing hostile environments — still the vast majority in the world — tend to have preoccupations which require global unity: safety, food security or access to basic economic opportunities.
Unfortunately, the risk is that by weakening the movement in the West — at a time when the politization of homophobia runs high globally — well-meaning activists are frustrating the pace of global social change for our embattled brothers and sisters (read Graeme Reid’s article this week: Political Homophobia Ramps Up).
The solution might be to better communicate the overarching goals of our movement, build representative and legitimate international LGBTQ+ institutions but also remember that without a somewhat unified community we would have never known the progress we have met so far.