Standing amidst a crowd of newly-found friends under the Mardi Gras night sky, I could not feel more at home. I marched with the No Pride in Detention collective, armed with blaring music,“Homos against Scomo” shirts, and signs naming Australian atrocities against queer and trans refugees. As floats passed by ours, we erupted in cheers and the occasional boo, understandably aimed at the Liberal Party’s entry — but surprisingly to me, Labor’s float as well.
As an international student living in suburban America, where performative “wokeness” and a corporate, centrist Democratic party are idealized, I at first dismissed such vocal criticisms of a left-leaning party as counterproductive. However, I joined in on their criticism after learning of Labor’s frequent pivots on important issues, including their unwavering support for the coal and gas industries. And now — quarantined back in the US and shocked to learn that RuPaul leases water and mineral rights on her Wyoming land to oil companies — I decided to apply that same energy to the intersection of queer and environmental politics in my home country.
It’s no secret that radical centrism has been at the heart of leading queer institutions in the US for generations: the banger Human Rights Champagne Fund should get you caught up to speed. However, what’s often lost on our community is the effect this phenomenon has on modern climate and environmental movements. It’s one thing to preach intersectionality on a college campus, and it’s another to stand idly by while authorities are instructed to stop two-spirit activists opposing Obama’s Keystone XL pipeline “by any means.” The environmental implications of being queer are huge, and much more all-encompassing than praising paltry corporate sustainability efforts and posting a shirtless photo on Earth Day to top it off.
Queer and trans people have always been disproportionately affected by climate and environmental disasters, and the gap will continue to widen as financial, social, and legal institutions with histories of discrimination are stretched to their breaking point. Traditionally, American cities regarded as queer-friendly, safe spaces are located near significant bodies of water, leaving them vulnerable to increasing flooding events and natural disasters. As climate change spawns increasing numbers of climate refugees, those most harmed by displacement are people whom structural inequalities have already rendered vulnerable. These differences divide our queer community along lines of race, class, and gender identity, harming those who are less likely to avoid incarceration, less likely to receive adequate healthcare, and less likely to find housing.
The case of Sharli’e Vicks exemplifies how climate disasters and queer and transphobia are interlinked with one another. Sharli’e Vicks, a black, transgender woman living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, was forced to swim for her life when a levee broke, traveling 1.5 miles to reach higher ground. After spending multiple days on an overpass, she and her two cousins — one of whom were trans — were transported to Lubbock, Texas. However, when Sharli’e and her cousin went to women’s showers after talking to a volunteer, they were arrested for criminal trespassing and sent to the Brazos County Jail. Sharli’e’s story served as a wake up call to LGBTQ+ Americans of the trans community’s unique vulnerability to discrimination during climate disasters. As a result, the Houston trans community now compiles a list of households that would be willing to take in a trans refugee every hurricane season.
Horrific as it is to hear how unjust institutions such as the police and prison system upended the life of a trans climate refugee, not much has changed since 2005. Increased rates of homelessness, urbanisation, and exposure to pollution among LGBTQ+ people sound the alarm for disproportionate rates of environmental injustice within our community. With increasing rates of climate-related disasters, instances of queerphobia against those most vulnerable in our communities, particularly those of color, will rise accordingly. Climate activism must be intersectional, and we must prioritize the queer and trans voices that have been resisting the worst of our materialistic, capitalistic society for generations.
Our mission is to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ+ people battling inferior health conditions, environmental racism and labour exploitation caused by unethical corporations and perpetuated by political machines, both Republican and Democratic. However, this solidarity of community is often trumped by a solidarity of class through poor identity politics. The 2020 Democratic primaries are an excellent example of how this directly affects both climate and environmental policies.
The entrance of Pete Buttigieg, a young, gay progressive from the US heartland, electricified the Democratic primaries, and his steady demeanour and outsider status earned him many supporters from more leftist members of the party. However, as the race narrowed, it became clear that Buttigeig’s politics stood in direct opposition of many who shared his queer identity- he sought to become the defining moderate in the race through weak attacks on leftist policy points, such as Sanders’ Medicare for All. Additionally, climate-related issues revealed the flaws in his progressive facade; his $1.5-2 trillion climate plan and 2050 net-zero emissions goals paled in comparison to other competing goals, most notably Sanders’ $16.2 trillion plan and 2030 goal to decarbonize power generation and transportation. Though Buttigieg performed well in the first two states (both predominantly white), he drew criticisms for falsifying support from black voters, and for his anti-black, pro-cop mayorship of South Bend. His subsequent failure to gain support from voters of colour prematurely ended his campaign. However, the greatest environmental crime Buttigieg committed was by endorsing the Democratic stalwart Joe Biden for the nomination, and symbolically abandoning all of his former altruistic goals in favor of toeing the party line.
This decision, along with that of Amy Klobuchar, reinvigorated a zombie-like Biden campaign to unify the centrist side of the party, which until then had been delivered a solid beating from Sanders, who proved that the message of a Green New Deal can lead to electoral success in any state. With this thorough rebuke of any sort of leftist climate policy, Buttigieg chose to side with fellow political elites rather than the most marginalised members of the queer community. Once again, hopes for a publicly-owned 100% renewable energy grid, nationwide fracking bans (and eventually the end of all fossil fuel extraction), and increased public transportation investment were all dashed with Buttigieg’s shift of support. Buttigieg’s ability to hide behind his identity while directly betraying his own queer community mirrors the actions of many high profile LGBTQ+ figures, including Ellen DeGeneres, who befriended Republican and war criminal George Bush, venture capitalist Peter Theil’s unwavering support of Donald Trump, and yes, Miss RuPaul’s fracking farm.
Neither the pushback against the corporatization of Pride, which conflicts with its history of anti-government riots and protests, nor “pinkwashing — a marketing technique created to depict a corporation or political organization as LGBTQ+ friendly and by extension, inherently ethical — is new. Numerous organisations, most notably the Reclaim Pride Coalition in New York City, have attempted to re-politicise Pride events by rejecting corporate influence. However, little has been done to eradicate oil and fracked gas influence in corporatised Prides, which give these companies a sense of approval and moral standing from our community where it does not exist.
A successful student-led movement that can be used as a model to push back against oil and gas corporate involvement in queer spaces can be found in the UK’s 2015 National Student Pride. When it was known that oil and gas giant BP was slated to be a sponsor of the event, student activists organized to form No Pride in BP. Throughout 2015-16, the group wrote letters to the NSP board, educated the general public on BP’s actions against the queer community (including contributions to queerphobic politicians and investing in decidedly anti-LGBTQ+ regimes), and participated in public demonstrations, where they pretended to wash other members in pink soap to highlight how BP uses LGBTQ+ support to cover up their environmental crimes.
Though it took time for No Pride In BP to lay the groundwork for their campaign and educate the general queer community about National Student Pride’s decision, the group was rewarded in 2017 when the board dropped the polluter as a sponsor of its annual Pride.
In a year of postponed Pride events, I look forward to a 2021 in which the Queer community organises together to finally resist an enemy which divides us along matters of race and class and destroys us through the “business as usual” nature of capitalism.