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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Getting Past the Gay Marriage Issue to What Really Matters

By Brandon Lacy Campos

June 1, 2012

This entry has been cross-posted from Brandon's Blogspot blog, My Feet Only Walk Forward, which is home to Brandon's general musings on life, the world and other matters.

In 2006, I was at the Creating Change Conference, the nation's largest LGBTQ conference, in Oakland, CA. At the time, I had met and eventually dated Pedro Julio Serrano. At the time, he was working for Evan Wolfson at Freedom to Marry.

Freedom to Marry held a workshop on marriage, and at one point, they panel was taking questions and comments from the audience. I walked up to the microphone, and I told the panel exactly why I was not on and would never join the marriage "movement." Since 1996, quite literally tens of millions of dollars have been spent on the gay marriage battle front by the LGBTQ community. At the same time, we saw a drastic decline in giving to any and all other fronts of the LGBTQ agenda except Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal.

Then, as now, I said that this massive diversion of resources was having a killer impact on people living with HIV, undocumented queer immigrants, anti-war efforts, poverty and class issues in the queer community, and a whole host of other more pressing and more life endangering issues than marriage.

Later, Pedro Julio told me that Evan Wolfson had gone to him and told him that, "your boyfriend better fall in line and get on the marriage bandwagon."

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Excuse the FUCK out of me? I am now collegial with Evan, but that right there at that time cemented my opposition to the marriage movement. You don't tell me anything let alone what to think and feel politically. No m'am.

From that day to this, my feelings related to the massive resources diverted to marriage and fighting amendments and fighting to get the legal right to marry while not fighting for working class and poor queer and trans people of color and the issues that MOST impact our lives hasn't changed one damn iota.

Let's be clear. I am not opposed to gay marriage. I support the right of all folks to enter into the benefit laden institution of marriage in the way that best suits and represents their lives and life structures. It's the resource issue that drives me bonkers. I myself fully anticipate, one day, being married. Let's see who has the bad luck to shack up with me ;-).

Despite my political feelings related to the gay marriage movement, I have to say that yesterday I watched two friends openly declare their love for each other and have that love sanctioned by the state of New York. Don't get me started on the role of civil government in marriage, but nonetheless I was very happy that Yuri and Stephen could share a brilliant day with friend and family and have their relationship stand on equal footing with straight folks in New York.

It is an interesting and contradictory place to sit. I have deep gratitude to all those that made gay marriage possible in New York, yet I am livid over the resourcing they receive and continue to receive while QEJ, the organization where I am co-executive director, and an organization that has done more for working class, poor and adult homeless queers than any marriage organization has ever done for anyone, struggles to make ends meet. (You can help us with that by making a tax deductible donation to QEJ at www.q4ej.org).

I am happy that President Obama and the NAACP have come out in favor of gay marriage, now come out in favor of jobs and job protection for trans and gender non conforming individuals. Come out to end homelessness for everyone and LGBTQ folks in particular. Come out for HIV/AIDS, the pandemic is so not over, but since it now impacts people of color and women in a way that it didn't, it is less important in the eyes of power. Or as a friend once said, once rich white men got their anti-retrovirals, they and their money left HIV. Come out end injustice in its deep and ugly and insidious forms. And put your money behind all of these excursions out of the closet.

It's time to get Beyond Marriage as a movement. If we are truly about justice, then we will center those most impacted and most marginalized first. And I can guarantee you that a homeless black lesbian mother would give you a prioritized list of needs and the right to marry wouldn't be one of them.

Marriage should be the right of all consenting adults, but let's keep the resources in line with the impacts and needs. Let's celebrate love and the victory of love but let's also remember and center the needs of those that are often voiceless and penniless and thus unable to articulate what really matters to them and their lives. Before you can marry, you need a house, a job, healthcare, safety, and dignity. Let's start there...the rest will follow and actually mean so much more. Justice first, human needs first, survival first.

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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Brandon Lacy Campos (New York, NY) Thu., Jun. 28, 2012 at 9:23 am EDT
Friends, thank you all for your comments (even the dissenting ones). I think I was clear that I am not opposed to folks that want to work on marriage, I am opposed to the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the marriage fight basically vacating other priorities in order to do so.

Thank you all for being engaged. xoxoxo.
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Comment by: Ted (Louisville) Sat., Jun. 9, 2012 at 2:04 am EDT
We can't do more than one thing at a time? There are many in the LGBT community who aren't poz, and they donate to LGBT organizations to do many things, but also for their right to marry. How can we dictate that all their focus should exclusively be on our needs? And, I understand those people in need you talk about feel more attention needs to be paid to their needs and injustices. We have many hungry and sick people here in the U.S. Should the government stop all aid to other countries, until we solve all the problems here? We've given a lot of money to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa. Should we stop that until all our needs are met here?

Marriage is important for many poz, gay men. Having marriage equality is believed to have the effect of reducing infections. When you're married, you get tax benefits. We have more money to give to organizations and charities. When I ended up sick in the hospital and learned my HIV status, I did not have insurance. If my partner and I were allowed to marry, I would have been on his insurance. Instead, I ended up with a mountain of bills--many I couldn't pay, so I was a burden on the system. I did get some help from a charity. I took money away from others, when it didn't have to be that way. Those funds could have gone to someone else, who didn't have insurance and didn't have a spouse with insurance. I guess I'm just not understanding why there has to be one or the other.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Rick (North Carolina) Tue., Oct. 23, 2012 at 7:15 pm EDT
You are absolutely right about the importance of marriage. There are over 1100 benefits that come with marriage and one of the most important ones involves sharing insurance benefits and social security benefits. The marriage issue is not just about a ceremony. It is about having equal legal benefits like sharing medical coverage.


Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Fri., Jun. 8, 2012 at 4:07 pm EDT
Excellent post, Brandon. I'd echo the comments of John-Manuel Andriote on how our national LGBT organizations have largely abandoned the fight against the continuing threat of HIV so that they can focus on other issues, like marriage equality. I wrote about this problem last year in this post:

http://www.thebody.com/content/62555/a-question-of-priorities.html

I don't wish to denigrate the importance of marriage equality as an issue. Statutes and constitutional provisions prohibiting same-sex marriage constitute de jure discrimination against gays and lesbians. They are also powerfully stigmatizing to all gays and lesbians, as they are essentially societal pronouncements that we are somehow inferior. And that kind of stigma has even been shown to play a role in fostering HIV transmission. So I think the fight for marriage equality is a worthy one, and I see it as one linked to other issues affecting LGBTs, including HIV.

Like you, however, I question our community's allocation of its scarce resources. With so many other issues to contend with, we need to ask whether pouring time and money into the fight for marriage equality is the best use of our limited capacity. As I said last year, I don't believe it is. I can only hope that your post helps spark a discussion about where we should focus our energies. To quote my post, this is "a question of priorities."
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Comment by: John-Manuel Andriote (Norwich, CT) Thu., Jun. 7, 2012 at 10:34 pm EDT
I agree with you 100%, and have written about exactly what you say so wonderfully and so passionately.

Thank you pointing out the fact that as soon as gay white middle-class/urban men could get effective HIV meds from their private doctors, they stopped supporting HIV/AIDS service organizations. They stopped caring so much about HIV at all, other than to the extent it affects them personally.

And HRC and NGLTF have showed their true colors--and how homogeneously white, college-educated and more affluent than not they really are, and that their priorities are to look out for the interests of those who fit that demographic. If you are working-class or of color, they aren't interested because you probably aren't on their list of major donors.

This is why we can't look to the national LGBT political groups to represent the needs of gay/bi men (of all races) living with or at risk for HIV (and pretty much all gay/bi men who aren't HIV- and in a monogamous relationship with an HIV- guy are at FAR greater risk than non-gay men just because there is more HIV in our community).

I also realized some time ago that my own commitment to social justice is bigger than just equal rights for LGBT people, though that is certainly part of it. I've had the sickening feeling, more than once, that at the end of the day a lot of LGBT activists are only about their own interests. When Roseanne Barr a few years ago criticized gay activists as not being out there on behalf of working-class people, and only ever seeming to care about what benefits themselves, she was blasted by gay activists--and backed down. But I thought she spoke real truth.

Here's a link to my own HuffPost blog in which I talk about HRC/NGLTF's privileged agenda that gives lip service to HIV but is, as you say, obsessed with marriage equality: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
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Comment by: Jerry (Saint Petersburg , FL) Thu., Jun. 7, 2012 at 10:13 pm EDT
I think it is about time someone sees that we have other issues that could use your money besides someone wanting marriage rights. We need not to forget that Aids is making more and more long time survivors get side stepped diseases that AIDS and the Aids meds are now giving us long timers get horrible diseases that are not seeming to be of any consequence to people anymore.I just got news about four or more months ago that I have Kidney disease. This is what I am going to try to tell people that just want marriage rights which we should have but if we die in the midst of fighting dry issues this country isn't ready for like gay marriage we need not forget the sick and dying AIDS patients.
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Comment by: Peter C. (Chicago) Thu., Jun. 7, 2012 at 5:51 pm EDT
This is the closest I've come to reading an essay that mirrors my own point of view. Thank you.
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Brandon Lacy Campos

Brandon Lacy Campos

Brandon Lacy Campos is a 32-year-old queer, poz, African-American, Afro-Puerto Rican, Ojibwe and Euro (smorgasbord) poet, playwright, blogger, journalist and novelist (that last one is slowly coming along). In 2009, MyLatinoVoice.com named him the #2 queer, Latino blogger to watch. In 2006, the Star Tribune named him a young policy wonk for his political shenanigans. His writing and poetry have appeared in numerous anthologies including, most recently, Mariposas, edited by Emanuel Xavier and published by Floricanto Press. This fall, his work will appear in the academic text Queer Twin Cities, published by the University of Minnesota Press. And, one of these days, Summerfolk Press will be publishing his first solo book of poetry: It Ain't Truth If It Doesn't Hurt. Brandon is hard at work on his first novel, Eden Lost, and he lives in New York City with his partner, artist David Berube, and his boss, Mimzy Lacy Berube de Campos (their dog).

It's with heavy hearts that we share that Brandon passed away unexpectedly on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012. He was 35 years old. Read memorials by Brandon's friends and colleagues.


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