Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lola vs. Powerman And The Moneygoround: Lessons In Classism

“If you happen to be rich and you feel like a night's entertainment
you can pay for a gay escapade.
If you happen to be rich, and alone, and you need a companion,
you can ring tingaling for the maid.” — Money, Money, Money by Joel Grey & Liza Minellli in Cabaret

Typically I don’t get much time to read blogs. Maybe I should try to make some time to. One came across the wire that hit the nail on the head last night. Becky Juro wrote “Money Changes (Almost) Everything [] in a recent post to Bilerico’s blog detailing the true culprit behind the current GLB(tqi et. al.) movement: classism.

Surely it’s not a new subject. When My Husband’s Helen Boyd asked me five questions in 2005, the answer I gave to what was the biggest challenge to the trans community was the same: classism. Yet I got this in a gale force storm known as Sylvia Rivera when I showed up at Transy House’s doorstep the night before the 2001 Amanda Milan vigil. Sylvia unceremoniously dressed my ass down and schooled me on it in her own take-no-prisoners streetwise style.

Even a couple years before that, we had Chelsea Goodwin and Rusty Mae Moore forcing these issues to light at the very inception of NTAC, as well as Jessica Xavier trying to shine the harsh light on it earlier still. No, it’s nothing new – just kicked out of eyesight, mostly.

Nonetheless, Becky does a great job of noting how it’s not the province of only those born into privilege, but tends to be more an aversion to personal discomfort and apathy (or laziness) that are its lifeblood. Becky does an excellent job of pointing how it not only affects the GLBT environment, most precisely personified by HRC, but also ties it to the same feigned concern but inactivity by so-called concerned America on an issue as begging as Darfur.

Juro connects the loose ends that HRC and their ilk leave:

One of the most common assertions, one I believe has been repeatedly proven conclusively accurate over the last several months, is that HRC's leadership not only simply doesn't get it, but they really show little or no interest in getting it in the future.

…. When you consider that in order to be a part of the organization's leadership, to have decision-making and agenda-setting power at HRC, one must raise or donate fifty thousand dollars a year, the answer is as simple as it is obvious: The problem is money.

Think about how much personal wealth one must have in order to generate this level of donation to HRC. Can someone with that kind of cash in the bank possibly understand what it is to have to live on a budget, to have to make economically-dictated decisions between what one wants, what one needs, and what one can afford? Can someone who can simply write a donation check for more than twice as much as many of us make in a year really understand what is to have to pay the bills working a low-paying job at a local retailer or the impact that losing such a job because of bigotry has on those who depend on such relatively meager incomes to survive?

The answer, of course, is yes. Not everyone with money is born into it, and many wealthy people proactively educate themselves and use their financial clout to help make things better for others not so fortunate. The real question, however, is not if it's possible that someone so wealthy can possibly understand the reality of the lives of the vast majority of Americans who don't enjoy that level of wealth, but rather if it's likely, and the answer to that question is clearly a resounding "No!"

Indeed, this was a sentiment Donna Rose expounded on in her blog: “The Cost of Activism” []:

One of the huge barriers for me as a trans-activist who participates on national boards is money. It gets to a point where I can’t afford to be involved any more. I mean really. I just don’t have the cash to do it.

I’m not talking about the typical give or get financial obligation that many boards have of their board members (for HRC is was $50K/yr, for GLAAD it is $20K/yr). That’s a whole other discussion. What I’m talking about here are simpy the expenses involved to attend a single board meeting. …

Donna noted she wasn’t seeking pity, and how she had a job that paid decently – and was quite fortunate. But she also pointed out the wide disparities even between her “fortunate” position and the typical expectation of gay and lesbian board members.

The only reason I could afford to come to Washington to attend events at HRC was because I know people in the area there who were nice enough to allow me to sleep on their couch. It’s not fancy, it’s often inconvenient, but that’s what has to happen to be able to attend. One year a friend who was staying at the Mayflower invited Elizabeth and I to change in their room before the National Dinner. It’s hard having to rely on the kindness of others all the time…

“If you happen to be rich and you find you are left by your lover
though you moan and you groan quite a lot;
you can take it on the chin, call a cab, and begin
to recover on your fourteen carat yacht.” — Money, Money, Money by Joel Grey & Liza Minellli in Cabaret

It’s something that I, and in fact, every leader in NTAC not only could relate to, but predominantly relied upon. It would probably freak my friends out and certainly not give a romantic appeal for folks to know I’ve spent a few nights on my road trips sleeping in my car. How many of HRC or even GLAAD’s board members or staff can say they’ve washed their hair in gas station bathrooms or traveled over 1200 miles each way for the price of gas, two gallons of water and two boxes of Triscuits?

It’s not simply just an HRC issue. Many are the times I’ve gotten the impression that leaders in the gay and lesbian community simply don’t have a clue about our lives – we don’t even show up on their radar. The distance between our communities’ realities is galactic.

Our economic situations are at diametric ends of the spectrum. Unlike their status in society, we have no political power or even elected representation. We have no ability seek redress, as even our voice on our own issues has been co-opted by these very same self-presumptive de facto representatives. They have the power, the agenda firmly in their grasp and will do all in their power to control it through their own fulfillment of their wish-list and then later as a cottage industry for themselves afterwards in the role of gatekeeper and trans community kingmaker.

Becky’s blog generally concurred, and even echoed almost verbatim the sentiments of at least the board chair of NCTE, Meredith Bacon:

HRC is, simply put, an organization run by rich gays for the benefit of rich gays. Period. End of story. It's an organization so arrogant and so completely out of touch with the pulse of what's really going on in the 99% of LGBT America that can't write fifty thousand dollar yearly checks to the organization just to have a voice in its administration, that they can't even get their own people to take the time to fully understand what they claim to be fighting for.

Even worse, HRC's leadership thinks we're all morons.

Funny … I don’t feel like a moron. Regardless of what they think, at least I can look myself in the mirror without flinching. Money can buy a lot of things. But money can’t buy integrity.

"Money makes the world go round,
Of that we both are sure
(On being poor).
Money, money, money, money …..” — Money, Money, Money by Joel Grey & Liza Minellli in Cabaret

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