The mainstream LGBTQ movement has lost sight of its founders’ liberation ideology, according to author and activist Urvashi Vaid in a discussion of the political, local, national and global histories of the community Wednesday as a part of LGBTQ History Month.
Speaking at the event “Reading Our Many Pasts,” organized by the LGBTQ Resource Center, Vaid called for a thorough reassessment of the LGBTQ movement’s motives, means and aims.
Vaid said she was initially inspired to join the LGBTQ movement to help create a more equal society.
“As a 17-year-old college student in the United States in 1975, I was an idealist. I believed not only that utopia could be possible, but that it could be realized in my lifetime,” Vaid said. “I defined utopia as the spread of social prosperity to benefit all people. I believed in social movements and rushed to join them.”
Vaid said that in spite of the work of the movement’s founders and initial proponents, present-day
LGBTQ activism lacks commitment to and understanding of the implications of liberation.
“[It] came to be interpreted as synonymous with equality,” Vaid said.
Vaid said having equality as an end goal is ultimately limiting.
“It does not deliver justice. It does not transform family or culture nor expand freedom for all. It does not touch, much less end, structural racism or the enforcement of the gender binary,” Vaid said. “It does not end familial homophobia or deliver women’s equality. It has nothing to offer about ending mass incarceration and the systematic employment of state violence against black and brown communities.”
Vaid said the movement must instead focus on fighting for justice.
“The only way we are going to win the fight [for liberation] is for the LGBTQ movement to commit to win the larger struggle for social, racial and economic justice.”
For Vaid, one of the movement’s biggest contemporary challenges is defining the issues it is fighting for, including who is involved in the struggle, for whom it is getting involved and what it is fighting against.
Vaid praised the community for its willingness to engage with society at large through social, political and economic endeavors but said there are areas where significant progress is yet to be made, including defending communities of color.
Vaid said while the securing of equal marriage rights was a significant step forward, the existence of state laws that allow public officials to deny adoption requests and engage in other discriminating acts, which the community is unable to repeal due to a lack of local political power, shows there is still work to be done.
Vaid urged students to pursue social justice in their everyday lives.
“Social justice activism is the most rewarding journey you can make and you can imagine,” Vaid said. “And it is one I wish on every one of you.”
Assistant Director of the LGBTQ Resource Center Julian Haas said Vaid’s views mirror the mission of the LGBTQ Resource Center.
“When it comes to honoring many complexities that make up who people are, all of our work — all of the work that comes out of the LGBTQ Resource Center at Georgetown University — is intersectional by nature,” Haas said. “We give folks the language and framework to seek deeper understanding and visibility in themselves and then also to carry that forward in all the things they do in their community.”
Abhinab Katineni (SFS ’20) said Vaid handled the topic effectively.
“I think it’s really powerful because a lot of the issues aren’t common to discuss, such as the intersection of race and economics,” Katineni said. “I think she did a good job shedding light to those issues and explaining their role in the struggle as a whole.”
Kennedy Foles (SFS ’20) said the address changed many of her opinions of the LGBTQ issues.
“Her discussion of LGBT issues was very transformational, and I think that it really made an impact on everybody who was listening,” Foles said.