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  1. First, I think it’s fantastic that you’re asking this question. This is exactly the kind of complex and uncomfortable issue that often goes unacknowledged during history months, because people want to cling to the “101”-type histories that never expose the complexities of the historically-marginalized communities being celebrated.

    Second, I think it’s absolutely imperative to incorporate the history of empire within LGBT history month. Most obviously, because we don’t always get to choose with whom to share these identities. The fun thing about history is that it isn’t always convenient, but it gives us perspective.

    In the US, for example, there’s been an historic push toward marriage equality. Progress toward this goal has been incredibly swift, and its national reality seems now almost a formality rather than a question. But this effort is not without its detractors within the queer community. In particular, queer activists of color have characterized this as a goal which serves to bolster capitalism and militarism, and really disproportionately benefits white, male, and cis-gendered gay men. These Q(PoC) activists argue that the focus on marriage has distracted from other goals, such as immigration reform, HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, and the struggle against trans* phobia and transmisogyny. They also point to the struggle for marriage equality as an example of a politics of respectability, and lament it as the death of radical queer politics.

    I bring this up to highlight the profound and fundamental differences within the LGBTQ community *just in the US.* The idea, in fact, that there is a single LGBTQ community is almost laughable in the face of these critiques. Many of these queer activists are PoC, poor, disabled, immigrants, and other marginalized intersectional identities. And, in looking at the “official gay” reactions to these (from places like the Human Rights Campaign, and other groups affiliated with the Democratic Party), for instance), it is easy to see that there is just as much ignorance of intersectional privilege among LGBTQ folk as there is within the wider population.

    It is important to talk about Empire during LGBT history month for exactly this reason. It is an excellent lesson in intersectionality. Too often, there is an assumption, especially outside of academia, that a shared identity automatically means a common political agenda. That has simply never been the case. Whereas the Empire was a place of increased sexual freedom for many of these white Britons (and other European men as well), they did not use their power to help other same-sex-loving people in the colonies. Rather, they abused that authority not only to exploit entire populations, but in particular to criminalize and stigmatize same-sex-loving behaviors and relationships, which in many places had been at least tolerated, if not celebrated. In these cases (as in many others, frankly, if we really pay attention), whiteness and economic privilege speak louder than sexual identity.

    We must acknowledge this, as historians, because it suggests work yet to do. It offers helpful parallels for our own time, especially since we can see how detrimental racism and imperialism have been specifically within LGBT communities (clearly those things are detrimental to everybody, but in these cases, they have incredibly destructive effects specifically for LGBT-identified and same-sex-loving people). As the saying goes, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

  2. Pingback: What will .GAY stand for? | Notches: (re)marks on the history of sexuality

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