Justice

Why We Should Be Careful About the #LoveWins Hashtag

Last Friday, the United States Supreme Court extended the right to marry to same-sex couples. Landmarks all over the country were awash in rainbow hues, as countless couples in America achieved peace of mind knowing that they can be, as my godmother’s wife declared on her Facebook page, “married everywhere.” For many, Friday was a great day.

Friday was also a sad day. As many celebrated a momentous achievement in the struggle for LGBTQ rights, Rev. Clementa Pinckney was laid to rest. What happened at the Emanuel AME Church is still a fresh wound.

For me, Friday was a confusing day.

I have always been a stalwart LGBTQ ally. When I was about 9 or 10, I realized some of my friends had incorporated the word “gay” into their vernacular. This was of course the 90s, and my friends weren’t using the word to mean lighthearted and carefree. Ugly haircuts were gay. Getting too much homework was gay. Not being allowed to stay up late was gay. “Gay” identified things people didn’t like, things that annoyed them, things that (to 4th graders) ostensibly stunk. This really bothered me.

I’m sure I annoyed some people with my constant “please don’t say that” any time I heard the epithetical slur used. It was simple to me, though: It’s cruel to cast the word gay into negative light by using it as a synonym for all things shitty. Words are powerful. What we say, why we say it (or why we don’t), can reflect a lot about who we are and the beliefs we hold. Sometimes unintentionally. I don’t think my friends had ever really reflected on homosexuality and formed an opinion either way, at least not at that point in their lives. I don’t think they were pre-pubescent homophobes, purposefully spewing hate speak. They were just kids, but their words were filled with more meaning than they knew. That understanding, for me, has had a profound effect on the way I engage with the world.

I felt compelled to attend the Pride celebrations in New York on Sunday afternoon. I wanted to stand in solidarity; I wanted to say “I respect your struggle, and I’m happy for you and for what’s been achieved.” I was there as an ally and a friend to celebrate love and beauty and acceptance and marriage for all.

But there is a part of me that found it painful to rejoice.

Love wins. That’s the mega-trending hashtag being used to commemorate the victory of marriage equality. It expresses a beautiful sentiment; a simple human truth. It addresses the problem of inequality by invoking the one thing that can unite us all: love.

The part of me that found it painful to rejoice is the part of me that cannot say with absolute conviction that love has actually won. What does it mean to use the words “love wins” when just within the LGBTQ community alone, there are so many for whom love has not won? Transgender women are still the most likely group to experience police discrimination, harassment, and sexual violence. It is still legal to fire someone for being gay in 28 states. When we focus solely on celebration, it’s easier to forget there is still a fight.

Members of the LGBTQ community have expressed similar feelings. “The right to same-sex marriage has taken precedence over the right to everything from employment and housing options for the LGBTQ+ community to literally existing in the public space without being murdered,” said Mariella Mosthof.

“Marriage is just one small part of the vision of equality for the LGBT community, and it’s critical that we not lose sight of how much farther we have to go,” wrote Mari Brighe.

There are also layers and shades of discrimination to be aware of. Have we stopped to think about what marriage equality might mean for an LGBTQ person of color? Darnell Moore recently wrote the following:  “I cannot summon enough pride to prevent my black, gay body from being the target of white racial supremacy.” #LoveWins, superimposed onto the fresh memory of Charleston, of what has been happening to black and brown bodies all over this country, seems more like a goal we’re working towards than a goal we’ve achieved. It is crucial that we remember the fight for equality in all communities, not just the communities we are part of.

So, know this: In the days since the Emanuel AME massacre, black churches have burned. Yes, black churches are burning. I imagine, when love wins, it will not look like this. Love is not reactionary.

Know this: Love didn’t win for Ty Underwood or Papi Edwards, both trans women who were killed by men in their lives. According to Mother Jones, trans women of color may be the group most victimized by hate violence in the country. I imagine, when love wins, it will look like acceptance. Love does not fuel transphobia.

Know this: Love didn’t win for Dajerria Becton. At 15, she was publicly assaulted, in a bikini, by an adult man. I imagine, that when love wins, acts like that of former officer Eric Casebolt will attract mainstream feminist outrage. Love is allyship and support.

Let us all hold fast to allyship and support now, because it is together that we can ensure that love actually does, and continues to, win.

The SCOTUS decision is undoubtedly monumental -- a major step in the right direction. But there is still work to be done in the fight for equality and justice. The most historically marginalized groups of people in this country are still marginalized. Love will truly win when we can reflect on the attitudes that fuel inequality in the first place. What makes us want to criticize people that are different? Why don’t we accept, appreciate, and value that which is not us? Until we can honestly ask and answer these questions, love is fighting to survive; clawing its way to the top; and I am cautious of using the words “love wins.”