As I write this, the snow is slowly melting: the residue of the blizzard that brought 2010 to a close (and ground the East Coast to an almost complete halt). The stillness of the air outside fosters a kind of meditativeness, although it’s hard to get a firm grasp on the events of the past few weeks. After what seemed like an endless parade of false starts, Congress finally overturned Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a policy that came into being at the same time as our newest crop of undergraduates. And at almost the same moment, the DREAM Act, legislation that would reward tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants for their commitment to education, was defeated.
While the ending of DADT was certainly a civil rights victory, and a hard-fought victory at that, the proximity of these two events brought to my mind Urvashi Vaid’s Kessler Lecture this past November. Vaid eloquently argued for the necessity of LGBT advocacy organizations to put issues of race at the core of our work. The success of the campaign against DADT and the failure of the coalitions that formed to support the DREAM Act underscores how incompletely LGBT politics have achieved this goal. It’s hard not to see this historical moment as filled with ambiguity for those of us who identify with progressive (let alone radical) politics: just as Congress makes one kind of social mobility available to openly queer people, it decisively shut down another kind of mobility to an interrelated group. As the work that CLAGS has highlighted over the past years shows, “queer” and “undocumented” are hardly mutually exclusive groups: the scholarship of former CLAGS board chair Carlos Decena and current board member Gayatri Gopinath, for example, focuses on how unevenly diasporic sexual subjects fare in the United States. Much of the discussion at the recent inaugural meeting of IRN/North America in Toronto dwelt on the interconnections of LGBT politics and immigration policy.
As activists and scholars, as queer, trans, and/or anti-homophobic people, we find ourselves at a strange historical juncture. As the possibilities for the lives of some of us expand beyond what we even though imaginable, the options for the lives of many others of us stagnate or shrink. CLAGS has long been dedicated to unpacking paradoxes like these, and as we approach our 20th year, we recommit ourselves to that crucial intellectual and political work.
Sarah E. Chinn
Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies