Gay rights activists ally with greens in the climate fight
They’re here, they’re queer, and they’re ready to roll up their sleeves and fight the good fight against climate change. Queers for the Climate is a new activist group focused on “saving the straights” (and the planet) from imminent environmental ruin.
How? By applying some of their own smart strategies that helped win over half the country in the battle for LGBT marriage equality and civil rights.
We sat down with Joseph Huff-Hannon, one the founders of Queers for the Climate, to talk about why we need to save the straights, and how the climate justice movement can take a page out of LGBT community activism.
Q. Tell us about Queers for the Climate.
A. Queers for the Climate is a very new group. It came out of some different conversations with friends and activists, some of whom were queers involved in LGBT activism but also in various kinds of climate activism. The idea was to take all the really impressive successes of the LGBT rights movement in the last 20-30 years and apply them to the climate change battle.
One of the co-creators is my friend Andy Bichlbaum, who is the co-founder of the YES Men. This came out during a conversation over a few drinks. We thought: Hey, there’s a lot of great lessons here, and not that the fight is over, but the LGBT community is really politically savvy and influential and has some experience from these battles. There are a lot of other issues, including climate change, that affect all of us.
Q. Part of the campaign, #SavetheStraights, came out of Queers for the Climate. What’s that all about? Do the straights really need saving?
A. Um, I think they just need a little help! [Laughs.] It’s a very tongue-in-cheek way to frame climate change. Maybe to be even more specific, and be a bomb thrower, [the problem is] mostly probably rich, straight white men — the CEOs of all the big fossil fuel companies, and the Koch brothers, and the folks that are obviously not just destroying the climate, but destroying our democracy. It’s kind of a broad-stroke, stereotypical answer, but I think that the gay community has an interesting contribution to make, because many of the people challenging LGBT equality in the U.S. have been the standard bearers of the patriarchy right.
Q. So … save the straight, rich white guys from ruining the planet?
A. Yeah, save them from themselves; save us from all of them! This is all in good fun, of course, but it gets to a certain kind of truth, I think.
Q. Why has LGBT activism been so successful in recent years?
A. We were a country where LGBT people had little to no rights almost everywhere in the country. Now you can get married in half the country; people have protections against discrimination in the workplace and in the home. It’s still far from over, but I think we’re on a winning curve. Twenty years ago, nobody would’ve thought that gay marriage was possible, but the culture has changed. And a lot of that definitely has to do with smart, strategic, interesting, and nonstop organizing and campaigning by LGBT people and their friends, family, and allies.
One interesting thing both in the LGBT rights movement and also in the foundational movement for African-American civil rights is that you have to fight these battles on the cultural front as well. The many rights won by the gay community wasn’t just in the courts and in the legislatures; it was really just family to family, friend to friend, workplace to workplace.
Q. How do you then take those lessons and initiate political action around climate change issues?
A. For example, marriage equality at the federal level is not going to happen anytime soon, so the LGBT community activated these state-by-state campaigns. We said: Let’s look at where the public opinion is, let’s look at where the politics are in these various different states.
In terms of climate change action at the federal level, right now nothing can get passed in Congress because the lower house is mostly bought and paid for by the fossil fuel lobby, people like the Koch brothers, and the Chamber of Commerce. So there are lessons to be learned that many in the climate movement are already doing, like going after and pressuring large institutions such as colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuels, and decentralizing the battle.
The more interesting point for me is there is a specific kind of message and approach that can engage the LGBT community around this issue. … There is a certain kind of way that any minority community relates to each other and can speak each other’s language, and has a certain set of experiences that are unique and can fold that into their organizing and communication around this issue.
Q. Queers for the Climate had their official “coming out” at the New York City Pride Parade last weekend. How did that go?
A. It was amazing! We had two dozen people marching and a ton of awesome response. We passed out nearly 10,000 flyers, and everybody that read them just started giggling. And like I said: the intent was to sort of reframe this issue to make it something that’s approachable.
Q. Finally, Queers for the Climate is preparing for the big People’s Climate March in New York this September. Without giving anything away, what plans are in the works?
A. There’s not a ton of detail right now, but if the ambition is for this march to be the largest-ever mobilization of climate activists, and for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people to decide that it is an event they want to go to, it’s important to make this march political but also an experience as well. It’s going to need a kind of energy and creativity that you often see on display at pride parades, where people put on a show, and there’s a lot of artistry. It’s no secret that the queer community is known for creativity in all kinds of fields. And that’s what will make this march meaningful: to really bring in a lot of fun, excitement, and queer enthusiasm to that moment. It’s an important ingredient to really make this thing shine in the way that it could.