A New Queer Umbrella in the Trump Era

By Leo Hochberg (Queer Student)

Several weeks ago, I read an article entitled “Trump’s Despicable Plan to Turn LGBTs Against Muslims”. I will admit that the title is perhaps a bit clunky and poorly worded, and the use of the term ‘LGBTs’ as opposed to ‘LGBT people’ is not something that I approve of, but I shared the article anyway because it spoke to something that I have been thinking about for a long time. This quote from the article does justice to an underlying reach for intersectionality that I think is sorely needed in such desperate times:

While Muslims currently remain the target of the administration’s ire, no marginalized group is safe. During the Republican convention last year, then-candidate Trump claimed in typically hyperbolic language that “as your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” But what about a hateful domestic ideology?... Trump and his band of advisers are using a playbook that originated during his campaign and is now a part of his governing strategy: target one marginalized group and pit other marginalized groups against it so no one can band together. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly stated that he would be a friend to LGBT people by protecting them from “a hateful foreign ideology.” This statement alone presumes a number of demonstrably false ideas. First, that Islam itself is a “hateful foreign ideology.”

So what do I think of Trump’s promises to ‘protect’ LGBTQ+ people? Well, the poorly veiled abuse of Omar Mateen’s shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando to establish Islam as a threat to queer people is, first and foremost, not the president’s right. Orlando was undeniably a tragedy, but to use it for the political end of Otherizing Islam in America makes a mockery of the necessary intersectional relationships that all queer people need right now to protect ourselves from certain political figures (looking at you, Mike Pence). Now is not the time for any minority community to become insular; to do so is to cut itself off from a massive support network of activism and crosscutting solidarity the bridges ethnic, racial, sexual, gender-based, religious, and linguistic barriers. The revolution must be every color or none at all.

Furthermore, expanding networks of solidarity will demand some radical changes in how the queer community thinks of itself. I have heard talk recently of doing away with the term ‘queer umbrella’ because the inclusive shared experience that it implies is no longer applicable; being trans, for example, is too different from being gay for them to be lumped under an ‘umbrella’. Thus, even ‘queer community’ is too much a blanket term, and we should focus instead on uplifting individual experiences. And while I love this ideology of individualization, I also think that dissolving the queer community internally is both harmful and dangerous, as it may come at the expense of destroying solidarity between the diverse minorities that currently fall under the umbrella.

Rather than approach this with a drive to dissolve intersectional ties, I propose that the queer umbrella must be transformed and expanded. I agree that rigid barriers are outdated, and indeed, the very concept of lumping a specific group of sexual and gender-based minorities together can often wash out the differences that define them. The article mentioned above inspired me to begin thinking of the ‘umbrella’ instead as a much more porous entity, in which even groups such as Muslims may be included under certain circumstances.

Keep in mind that the umbrella as it stands is still a fundamentally queer term that may never be divorced from the community that it currently defines. However, it is also true that, if the goal is to promote solidarity as much as possible, then we must uplift the shared experiences of all minority communities as they connect and interact with the sexual and gender-based minority experience. If we are to base the formation of the queer umbrella on the correlative experiences that define its myriad parts, then can we not include, for example, Muslims, who certainly understand the experience of having their body and clothing expression policed by society? This, of course, bares different cultural and historical connotations than the way in which trans people experience this kind of policing. But that does not disqualify a completely valid correlation between minority identities. So rather than view the queer umbrella as something that must be done away with, let us start viewing it as a porous, inclusive structure that promotes solidarity with and beyond LGBTQ+ people.

As a queer student, I believe in using the queer umbrella for the good of all. This kind of inclusive, cross cutting solidarity must be employed to stop Trump’s ‘despicable plan’ to divide and conquer. It is the job of the queer community, as undefined and individual as it is, to support other oppressed identities because, in doing so, we strengthen the great net stretching between ourselves and others. This protects us as much as others. Let’s do away with these notions of ‘harmful foreign ideologies’. The only ‘harmful foreign ideology’ present is that which seeks to divide us. I look to the future, and I see many more attempts to dissolve the ground that we have gained. I see motions to remove protections for trans students. I see immigration bans, attacks on the current healthcare system, and increased deportations. But I also see a revolution in blinding color; one that brings minority communities together because it is more than essential. For me, this begins with redefining the queer umbrella and reaching out from there. What does it mean for you?

If you don’t know where to start, try stepping out of the political/activist circle that you are already a part of! Begin by educating yourself on experiences beyond your own. Hear minority stories. Seek to find connections and between the systems that you use/are used by and those that others use/are used by.

If you don’t know much about LGBTQ+ experiences, a great place to start is with GLAAD, an organization dedicated to sharing queer stories.

If you don’t know much about modern institutions of racism, check out the BlackLivesMatter Movement.

If you want to learn about the experience of Muslim Americans, one of my favorite sources is the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

These are barely the beginning, and there are thousands of other experiences to focus on. Nobody can ever hope to understand them all, but even becoming familiar with a few can help to break down the barriers that divide us. Do your part, and stay educated.

*Here's how author Leo Hochberg suggests you can get involved: Become an ACLU Member

Take Action Now: LGBTQ+, Muslim American, Racial Justice, Civil Liberties