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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Following the Money The NGLTF, the HRC and Prisons (2010)

From Pink and Black Attack #6

“We need to recognize that the leaders of the forces of political and religious intolerance are not driven primarily by anti-gay animus, even though it often feels that way. Instead, under their frame, anti-choice, anti-environment, anti-welfare, anti-sex, antiimmigrant and anti-LGBT philosophies not only fit together but are all intertwined. The immigration issue is a perfect example of how they do it. Both the Old and New Testament contain numerous admonitions to treat strangers from other lands well. (Failure to do so was the true sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.) How do you square that with the right’s overwhelming support for ‘sealing’ the border, increasing the capacity of detention facilities by tens of thousands and increasing penalties for those who hire undocumented persons?”
- NGLTF Press Release “‘Si Se Puede!’:Immigration is and needs to be a gay issue”

For many LGBT activists in the United States, the names National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and Human Rights Campaign (HRC) are nearly synonymous with gay rights. As two of the largest LGBT civil rights organizations, they lobby for an entirely assimilationist agenda, pushing issues such as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and marriage equality to the front of political discourse in an effort to secure equality under law. With boards comprised of capitalists and activists-turned-politicians, it is clear that both organizations represent interests hostile to queer liberation and anti-assimilationism.

The national gay rights organizations, like their local counterparts, are funded by and beholden to the bourgeoisie. A main sponsor of both the NGLTF and the HRC is Wells Fargo, one of the largest banks in the United States. Wells Fargo is one of the largest investors in GEO Group, a private prison company that operates, among other facilities, part of Guantanamo Bay and several Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities. While the NGLTF is decrying the Right’s call for “increasing the capacity of detention facilities by tens of thousands,” one of their largest sponsors stands to profit from exactly that expansion.

Wells Fargo is certainly not the only corporate sponsor for these organizations. Indeed, it is no shock to see a litany of corporations on the sponsorship lists for allegedly grassroots organizations. Bank of America, Grey Goose Vodka, Showtime, and American Airlines all contribute to these organizations as well. The collaboration of capital with activist organizations leads to two conclusions: first, that these organizations cannot serve as a challenge to capital because their funding relies on being safe for capital; and second, that corporate donations are beneficial to both the organizations and the corporations. By funding political organizations, corporations both secure a progressive image for marketing purposes and create a loyal opposition with their largesse.

Wells Fargo, as mentioned above, is one of the main investors in GEO Group. GEO Group is a large player in the market of privatized prisons. This market has been growing rapidly because of both an increased drive towards privatization of government functions and increasing incarceration rates. With over 50 facilities in the United States (a mix of federal and state facilities) and 8 facilities overseas, GEO has a large and expanding presence in the private prison industry. GEO Group specifically has several facilities under contract with ICE to hold the detainees from the racist round-up of immigrants in the United States, as well as similar prisons for those considered undocumented in other countries. These detention facilities are built in order to satisfy the demand created by the Gestapolike roundups of people targeted by their skin color and class in order to enforce an imposed border. In the context of the focus on national security and the accompanying racist terror, this demand has been expanding rapidly.

The most apparent (and simplest) contradiction between the NGLTF’s stated goal and Wells Fargo’s business practices is the fact that there are undocumented queer people. An expected progressive analysis of this contradiction would likely focus on the specific inconsistency in regards to the intersectionality of queer struggle and immigrant struggle. However, the problem lies not in the case of any one donor, but on the implications of being funded by the capitalist class. The ideology of these organizations, along with their methodology, demonstrates a limited project that does not seek to offer a serious challenge to the existing order. Wells Fargo, by its involvement in the business of private prisons, represents a new merger of state and capital, where one of the basic functions of the state (incarceration) is placed into the hands of the market, which then creates a private demand for prisoners that the state obligingly fills. The funding of allegedly progressive groups such as the HRC and NGLTF is another part of the business strategy of corporations, such as Wells Fargo, in order to both create an image of social responsibility and promote a specific type of activism and social change that offers no real criticism of existing social conditions. The political orientation of corporatefunded, legalist activism is entirely tied to its funding source, as is evident by the positions of the HRC and NGLTF on immigration. Both organizations give firm support to the Uniting American Families Act, which has the goal of allowing same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples for purposes of immigration. While the HRC is mostly silent on immigration otherwise, the NGLTF voices its support for comprehensive immigration reform, which is shorthand for a more efficient immigration policy that includes stronger border enforcement along with limited legalization for migrant workers in order to more effectively exploit their labor. Rather than being based out of humanitarian concerns, such reform only serves to assist the state and capital in their functions. Capital benefits from a legalized workforce, as this limits the instability that comes with mass raids and deportations. With stronger controls over the domestic workforce, the state also benefits from such reform because it serves the purposes of national security. However, such reform does nothing to address the racism and exploitation that affects immigrants in this country.

It may seem irrelevant to criticize LGBT civil rights organizations on the basis of their immigration position, but with their funding sources and their attempts at connecting with activists around multiple issues, they position themselves as players in the immigration debate. The NGLTF specifically positions itself against the Right and the racist terror that they promote. The NGLTF makes use of the language of intersectionality, noting that the Right ties together several issues under a broader religious-political ideology. To counter this, the NGLTF seeks to build ties across the Left with various identity-based groups in a quest for a decidedly statist/capitalist idea of ‘social justice’. It is, however, difficult to resolve the contradiction of being against the expansion of detention centers for undocumented people while simultaneously accepting a large chunk of funding from the capitalists that profit off of these detention centers. Since the abolition of detention centers would be against the self-interest of these organizations, why do they express solidarity with people intended to fill the detention centers? One explanation is that these organizations seek to obscure the root of the problem and divert people’s energy into activism that, in the end, only strengthens the sociopolitical order instead of challenging it. Another explanation is that their focus on other issues is motivated by coalition-building. The political alliances with other identities becomes a political maneuver in order to establish credibility for the organization by taking the ‘correct’ position on a variety of issues to appeal to the ‘social justice’ movement, when in fact the only intention is to advocate for a specific class inside a specific identity. In the case of the NGLTF, both explanations make sense.

I am not writing to propose a campaign for the HRC and NGLTF to refuse funding from Wells Fargo. If one corporation stops funding these groups, others will take their place. Instead, I write this in an attempt to articulate a queer anarchist analysis of the relationship of these organizations to the project of total liberation. It is no contradiction that corporate interests fund activism. This allows for such organizations to ensure that activism never threatens their class interests, and these class interests include the fascist detention centers– fascist not in the pejorative sense, but rather as the very clear merger of state and corporate power. Rather than seeing these organizations as misguided allies or a competing perspective towards the same goal, they should be seen as the enemies they are.

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