Recently, I read a piece on The Feminist Wire website which included this quote by Audre Lorde:
I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the front upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.
I love Audre Lorde somthin’ fierce and this quote, part of her essay “There is no hierarchy of oppressions,” has been rumbling around my brain and I can’t quite understand why.
Certainly it’s got to do with the myriad of oppressions people face which cannot be untangled one from the other. Being discriminated against because I am female is a lesbian issue because myself, and a number of women I know, are lesbians. Being discriminated because I’m a lesbian is a female issue, because I am female. Both of those are entangled with the issues I face as working/middle class, as a Northerner in the South, as someone who is sometimes seen as “quitting” the military in protest over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, as a person in a same-gender relationship who belongs to a denomination that will not formally recognize my impending marriage.
All oppression is layered, but one type cannot be singled out from another – there is no hierarchy of oppressions.
Currently, the UMC worldwide is meeting for an every-four-year General Conference. The conferences, as I understand them, are the time and place that any changes to our Book of Discipline will be made. This time, as in 2008, a group of pastors and laypeople are submitting a resolution to take out the language in the BOD that will not allow same-gender marriages to happen in the UMC.
No one is expecting any positive resolution.
According to a news article on the UMC’s website, there’s been a lot of noise made but not much real change since 2000. Because we’re a worldwide denomination, we’ve got consider where folks in places outside America are on the subject of homosexuality.
For example, the first-ever female Liberian president, who many hold in very high regard as she has been instrumental in maintaining peace in the region after years of civil war, said she would uphold Liberian laws criminalizing homosexuality.
(Ellen) Johnson Sirleaf, who addressed the 2008 United Methodist General Conference and last year was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, stood by her country’s law of up to a year’s imprisonment for “voluntary sodomy.” She also endorsed two new laws that would make sexual advances toward a person of the same sex punishable by up to five years imprisonment and gay marriage punishable by up to 10 years.
I use Johnson Sirleaf’s quote, although there were others in the article, because it brings me back to the tangle of oppressions myself, and others like me, live in. I first heard of Johnson Sirleaf at the Commission on the Status of Women meetings when I was learning about the Liberian revolution that happened. Women the world over seemed so excited that there was woman president in Liberia after a number of years of rule by a crazy mass murdering dictator, so when I learned of her stance on homosexuality I’ll admit I was a little taken aback.
It’s great we have a woman in power (because the general thinking is that the more women we have in positions of authority, the more equal the world will become) but if she’s all for criminalizing the very thing that I am, then do I really want her to rule over others like me (gays and lesbians) in her country?
This all goes back to Audre Lorde and her refusal to create a hierarchy of oppressions. Instead of trying to undo one oppression at a time, it becomes necessary to understand how they all work together to inform and explain each other in order to dismantle any of them. It does no good for the UMC to remove the ban on same-gender unions if in some places around the world (and in America) people are being killed for being out.
I certainly believe that a removal of the UMC’s ban is a good thing and it would certainly be easier for Marianne and I to plan our wedding/ceremony/thing, I just think it needs to be tied in with working toward the removal of other oppressions as well.
Editor’s note: I just spent 734 words to say what Lorde says in 17:
“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”