For a small isolated town, Walla Walla, Washington has a surprising number of clubs and programs for the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer community. Whitman, Walla Walla Community College and Walla Walla High School all have clubs working to build alliances between LGBTQ and straight communities.
I have respect for all of these organizations. They are necessary, especially for middle- and high-schoolers who may have nowhere else to turn. My concern lies with the youth and adults who do not want to assimilate into these groups or are unaware that assimilation is what is happening.
The United States has a long history of squashing the revolutionary potential of oppressed peoples. The Black Power Movement was pacified by weak political promises and small concessions. The right to vote was a huge victory but the votes of people of color are still suppressed to this day. Civil rights made it possible for children of color to attend school with their white peers. It also made it possible for the schools to indoctrinate them into white, capitalist culture and learn the white male version of their own histories. The women’s movement was repressed in much the same manner.
The LGBTQ community is now being indoctrinated in much the same way. On the surface, gay marriage seems like a good and necessary fight. Of course everyone should be treated equally. Except, maybe, when everyone is equally oppressed. Marriage itself is an oppressive institution rooted in patriarchy and ownership of another human being. It oppresses people’s natural sexual inclinations and sets a societal moral standard that people are rewarded for following with tax breaks and social acceptance.
In larger cities radical queer groups are bringing these issues to the gay community. Slowly but surely, these things are being analyzed and discussed in oppressed communities. Fitting in and assimilating are not the only options for young people. As a community, Walla Walla has an odd diversity. The colleges and the wine industry both bring a fair amount of metropolitan influence. But instead of isolating ourselves from the rural demographic, we should be bringing our ideas and perspectives to the community.
My worry for the youth of Walla Walla, and small communities nationwide, is that they are getting one side of the story. Are they learning about the Stonewall riots? Are they exposed to non-mainstream queer theory? Will they grow up knowing the real struggles for life and freedom that all oppressed communities face? Or will they slip into mainstream culture, waiting their whole lives for the crumbs of dignity the Democrats throw their way?
I am truly glad this town offers safe spaces for young people to get to know themselves and understand their sexuality. However, freeing yourself from oppression is not “safe.” The youth are, and should be, angry. Angry that the society that was forced upon them oppresses the “other.” It stomps out the different. My only hope for the youth of Small Town America is that they are heard, not molded into normalcy.
The fight to end oppression does not begin or end with marriage equality or safe spaces. As queers or allies, we need to use our experience and our relative privilege to ask the tough questions and continue the fight against all oppression.