Gay Men, Lesbians and Neo-Liberalism

by Azione Gay e Lesbica Firenze (Florence Gay and Lesbian Action)

(from the list to prepare the European Social Forum)


1) Gay Men and Lesbians in the Neo-Liberalist Pattern.


The end of the XX Century and the beginning of the XXI are characterized by the progressive affirmation of the Neo-Liberalist pattern. We don't describe the Neo-Liberalist Theory and its applications in the world, but we simply bring into focus some changes (just happened or still in course) in Italian Society or in other ones that have particular relevance in Gay Men and Lesbians' lives. The examples that we present to motivate our critics to Neo-Liberalism, although not many, run over basic aspects of everyone's life: education, assistance to old people, workers' rights and health services.


The dismantling of the Welfare State is one of the characteristic features of the Neo-Liberalist Pattern. The trend is to replace fundamental rights of everyone (like the rights to health or to education) with payable services, whose quality varies according to the different possibilities of expense. It means excluding lower classes from everyone's rights. There's also another aspect that heavily affects gay men and lesbians' lives: the lack of a family of reference. In a pattern that excludes any form of state- assistance the family is burdened with too heavy tasks of economical or generically assistance-related solidarity among its members. The lack of a family of reference, for frequent contrasts with the family of origin and the scarce possibilities to create one own, exposes lesbians and gay men to stressed exclusions and disparities in the access to fundamental rights.


About education we assist in Italy to a strong promotion of the private school, in damage to the public one. As well as the huge problems of disparity of access, we must consider that one of the fundamental patterns of public school is the meeting in every classroom of very different people, and this forced cohabitation obliges everyone to relate to people who have a culture and a completely diverse personal and familiar, and that imposes a confrontation that helps the learning of cultural elements that are at the base of any form of respect of differences. Private schools are on the contrary inevitably addressed to people with strong communal traits (for example the numerous confessional catholic schools), they shirk on purpose a confrontation among differences and often give negative and false judgements about them: the danger for gay men and lesbians in this situation is self-evident.


Another (now extremely debated) theme in Italy is the abolition of Article 18 of the Workers' Statute, that imposes restrictions to the dismissal without a fair cause. Article 18 is an important tool of prevention against discrimination and blackmail in the workplace, that are anyway very frequent for gay men and lesbians. Its cancellation would open the door to a heavy degradation of work conditions (and life conditions too) for gay men and lesbians.


The red thread that connects all these different aspects is that the neo-liberalist pattern doesn't recognize the equality of rights for every man and every woman: the rights become privileges that you can buy. Anyway everybody must accept the lifestyles imposed by the pattern, like family values. Lesbians and Gay men are inevitably subversive against those models, so they strongly need a welfare state and have a lot to lose in a society structured by the neo-liberalist model. We must stress again that not only gay men and lesbians' particular rights are damaged, but also the fundamental rights of every man and every woman.


2. "The Gay Lobby"


The concept of economical lobby immediately derives from the basic organization of the society where we live.


At the interior of the capitalist and neo-liberalist pattern a minority will be recognized (independently from the inclusion in national or international documents) as much as the minority itself will have such economical, commercial of financial power that the lack of satisfaction will be in itself economically unprofitable, independently from the fact that the minority's aspirations are in contrast with strongly rooted principles.


In the latest years in Italy we've seen a strong activity of the gay movement in a lobby-style direction, not only to favour the constitution of the lobby itself but also to persuade the mainstream society that the gay lobby exists and that has a strong economical solidity.


We must ask: Is this approach to the problems of discrimination and homophobia really effective, to reach an improvement of the quality of life of everybody? For its own constitution an economical lobby must be recognized as such, to be effective, that means that the lobby must able to move big amounts of money: it's inevitable that the political choices of the lobby will go in the direction of preservation and growth of its own capital, also in contrast with the preservation and growth of the rights of all the members of the constituting minority. The two different targets not always coincide and are, sometimes, opposite. So, if it's true that everybody can enjoy the social and legal conquests that the lobby can obtain, it's also true that the conquests themselves are part of a logic of profit, and not of extension of rights, so it's probable that they will be effective only for the people who have more purchasing power and for the people who accept lifestyle mainstreaming.


We must ask if it's possible, now, in Italy, to talk about a "Homosexual lobby". If we observe the historical occurrences in the USA we see that the characterizing feature of a lobby is the strong sense of cohesion and belonging of people who are part of it, as it's necessary to create a movement of self-alimentation of the internal economical power. The social situation of gay men and lesbians in Italy (for example their scarce visibility) looks quite far to favour this kind of structure.


The trend now is to communicate an opposite message in the movement: in the media a gay and lesbian (but more gay) pattern whose richness is a characterizing feature is slowly spreading. The evidences used to confirm the combination "gay-richness" are quite naive and easy to contradict. One of the commonest, for example, is the affirmation that gay men are rich because they haven't children to bring up so they can use completely their purchasing power. We can also affirm that gay men and lesbians often live alone and can't count on state contributions that are reserved to heterosexually- patterned families nor on the help of their family of origin.


We have put in evidence how the economical lobby for its own nature isn't a reliable tool to guarantee the rights of everybody and how, in the Italian case, is more a cute mechanism to publicize particular goods than a reality.


The combination of these two factors makes quite dangerous the Italian situation. In effect the only economical reality, directly connectable to a rudimentary lobby, is the organization of gay and lesbian entertainment. We must surely deduce that this commercial reality has a lot to lose with a real gay and lesbian emancipation, because the now indispensable function of the gay club as a protected space would disappear (but the role of socialization space would resist), with the consequent loss of profit. So, very often these places lose completely every trait of "engagement", remaining only commercial activities. For this reason we can see today a majority of "unengaged" gay men and lesbians, conscious of their sexuality but not conscious of their own rights.


A separate analysis is necessary for the lesbian specific situation. If we examine the exclusive gay and lesbian addressed market, the market of entertainment, we see that the specific lesbian spaces are quite rare. We immediately deduce that now the market isn't interested in the lesbian target, so the lesbians can use only mixed spaces. Among the different motives of this lack of interest we can put in evidence the heterosexism (the lack of recognition of gender difference and gender autonomy)of the market, that sees only the economical power of the men, and the fact that now the visible lesbians are less than the visible gay men, so they don't reach the "critical mass" that can wake up a commercial interest. We can conclude that, in the general contraction of not-commercial realities produced by the development of the market, the gay spaces have suffered a process of mainstreaming but have become more numerous, while the lesbian spaces on the contrary are now extremely reduced.


3. Society of Information and Life-Style Mainstreaming


Till a few years ago it was really rare that in the media they talked about homosexuality, but in the latest years things are changing, and we assist to a growing presence of gay men (less of lesbians) in many different productions (from the talk-shows to t.v. fiction). It has surely a big positive influence, because it presents homosexual models also in geographical and social areas that couldn't be reached by different kinds of messages, but we must reflect about the quality of the proposed models. They appear really "mainstreamed". The imagine of the lesbian is strongly based on the gay stereotype, although some residual false images of false lesbians addressed to heterosexual male voyeurism still exist. For the gay man we can note a stereotype functional to massive reassurance: the gay man is a rich and young professional, always in a couple (The maximum of reassurance). We must consider the strong reassuring function to put a gay man in a couple, if we see that the first intent of pro-gay jurisprudence in Italy aren't anti-discrimination norms (as it would be logical) but interventions to legitimate the gay couples (but often with scarce practical effectiveness, as they don't want to disturb the catholic world): we must consider the numerous municipal registers of the civil unions.


This reassuring model appears copied from the straight world and exposes gay men and lesbians to many risks: the loss of their typical variegated cultural heritage and the homologation of lifestyles and consequent intolerance towards people who don't follow the mainstream (the "flamboyant" ones).


We haven't learnt the lesson and, after centuries of discrimination, we risk to discriminate people who are out of the pattern, for their own choice or for their lack of purchasing power. As we've put in evidence richness become an integral part of the gay stereotype, with the risk to exclude from the rights the majority of gay men and lesbians. The intent is to build many gay-consumers, clones of the same stereotype, to induce and to deduce their needs for a better commercial exploitation. We must again note the lack of a specific lesbian consideration.


As we've told before lesbians aren't interesting for an own market sector, and are so relegated to a single gay model, as "females" of the gay species. The diffusion of gay and lesbian models, as variegated as possible, to contrast the trend toward mainstreaming and to guarantee to everybody the right to be himself or herself and to leave the mainstreamed standards that are violently imposed by commercial exploitation can be an important challenge for the next years.


4. The gay and lesbian movement and the future of the associations


We must think now about the role of the Gay and Lesbian Movement


The technological transformations of the latest years have helped to shorten the space and time distances, so it's necessary for the Gay and Lesbian Movement to become global and try to work on a wider plan,( trying also to collaborate with the realities that are present in the social forums) to be able to govern the big transformations that are happening now: it's sure that the problems of discrimination, negation of rights, mainstreaming don't concern only gay men and lesbians but different strata of society. It's fundamental to maintain a strong political action at a local level because, especially out from the big cities, living openly and happily one's sexual orientation is still difficult.


This has a special relevance if we consider that the feelings of emancipation experienced by gay men and lesbians are always exploited by the different companies and commercial activities.


By the side of the movement, and partly thanks to the movement, some firms have been born and have been often confused with the same movement, especially by people who have a first contact with the lesbian and gay movement.


At the same time the progressive expansion of the commercial realities occupies the space of the movement. Buying a "gay deodorant" becomes a distorted symbol of emancipation.


We must consider another aspect: we can affirm that, without exaggerations, in the majority of the countries of the world gay men and lesbians are discriminated, put in prison, tortured, killed. It isn't too evident that in dramatic circumstances like hunger, war, poverty, and exploitation lesbians, gay men and all the other minorities see that their own rights are cancelled more heavily than among the rest of the population. It's important a reflection of the gay and lesbian movements about a global action to obtain an improvement of the quality of life.