Towards A Queer Socialism

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed the transphobic HB2 on March 23rd 2016 

By Nick Conder

The response to North Carolina's House Bill 2 - the recently passed legislation mandating that people use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate - has been very negative in the business community. Corporations like Facebook and American Airlines have leapt to the defense of queer people, lobbying against a law which nullifies local non-discrimination laws and forcibly prevents trans people from using the public restroom of their choice. The queer community sometimes benefits from the social mores of corporate elites, but this should not distract from the fact that the capitalist system does far more harm than good. Whether or not these corporations are particularly friendly to queerness is less important than the fact that capital itself is not fundamentally so. Capital can manipulate queerness for its own good when necessary, but also punishes queer people on both a personal and systematic basis.


Queer people find ourselves fighting an uphill battle from the minute we enter the employment market, often forced to “tone down” our queerness when it’s bad for business. Capitalism gives power to the prejudices of individuals, and reinforces those prejudices when profitable. The construct of the nuclear family, with antiquated gender norms about a husband and wife who reproduce for the good of the economy, is a lynchpin of American capitalism. An agender pansexual who dresses provocatively and refuses to marry would find themselves far less welcome in the boardroom than a gay man who conforms to gender norms, enters the capitalist system of marriage, and argues that they are, as gay conservative Andrew Sullivan once put it, “virtually normal.”

Corporations are fine with exhibiting symbolically pro-queer behavior—perhaps sponsoring a gay pride festival or lobbying the Governor of North Carolina—but only when it’s marketable. Allowing queer expression that goes against social norms is less welcome, because it might offend a large section of straight America—and hurt business in the process. Corporations are not dumb, they know about the anti-queer positions of Republicans like Pat McCrory when they bankroll their campaigns. This has driven the rise of neoliberalism within the Democratic Party, as corporations seek to maintain a progressive façade through support of LGBT rights, while still lobbying Democrats for the same pro-corporate economic policies offered by the Republicans.

Opposition to HB2’s passage from the Human Rights Campaign proved largely ineffective. The HRC mostly exists to solicit donations from the wealthy, which is why they have marshaled the support of capital to lobby politicians on both sides of the aisle all over the country. This tactic leaves the HRC at the mercy of capitalism, unable to represent queer people in a way that clashes with the interests of political and business elites. The version of equality won by the HRC represents the most sanitized version of queer rights imaginable, free from challenges to the systems of oppression that harm queer people the most. 

Once HB2 is gone, obstacles will remain for most queer people. Similar laws in Mississippi and other states show just how difficult the battle is for queer people. By then, the media attention, corporate money, and political capital will have moved on to something else. Queer people must develop a constant resistance to oppression, and this must include resistance to capitalism. Growing economic inequality has put marginalized groups like queer people at a great risk. This is exacerbated within capitalism by personal prejudices within the workplace, the lack of government support for the working class, and the evisceration of labor movements that can protect employees from discrimination.

Organized labor has been a forceful advocate for queer people. In cases where queer workers find themselves fighting discrimination or for more inclusive benefits, labor unions have been better allies to have than corporations. This goes beyond recognizing the similar needs of working people and queer people, but involves understanding that those two groups are not mutually exclusive. Queers tend to be worse off economically than straight people, and trans people are among the most economically disadvantaged groups in America. Fighting capitalism is not just a matter of dismantling prejudice, it is an economic necessity for all but the most affluent members of the LGBT elite.

The health risks of poverty, along with increased risks of mental illness, drug addiction, and sexually-transmitted diseases, are constant problems in queer communities. Policies to redistribute wealth towards the economically disadvantaged, and to widen healthcare opportunities for all Americans, are opposed by “gay-friendly” corporations. The economic well-being of queer people is materially harmed by capitalism, regardless of corporate attempts to pinkwash this with their public gestures of support. Attaching the rights of queer people to capitalism limits the possibilities of what queer people can achieve, and ultimately reinforces harmful policies that cause queers to suffer. 

Dustin Guastella pointed out in 2014 that queer politics has a long history of radicalism, undermined by the mainstream community’s complicity in capitalist power structures. Queer socialism is crippled by the collusion between LGBT elites and capital. Finding ourselves dependent upon capital to fight for survival and basic rights, queer people are forced to defer to corporations at the risk of losing support for stepping out of line. Losing such a powerful friend, or even worse, making a powerful enemy, makes queer people fearful to oppose corporate power. The remedy is to build an authentic left movement that rejects capitalism, racism, cissexism, and heteronomativity. Building upon the queer-friendly attitudes of organized labor is a good start, but we must also critique existing power structures in the LGBT community which reinforce capitalism. 

The rights of queer people do not depend upon the whims of capital. A broad coalition of the left can fight against the advances of the religious right. We must reject organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, who are funded by and work closely with capital to preserve the capitalist status quo. In doing so, queer people must build alternative organizations that fight for our rights from the perspective of the working class. Only by combating capitalism, and continuing to build a socialism infused with queer radicalism, will queer people dismantle the oppressive structures which harm us.

Nick Conder is a graduate student in Urban and Public Affairs at the University of Louisville.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
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DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.


Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
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Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

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May 02, 2017
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Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

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May 06, 2017
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Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
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Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.