by: Joseph Duggan Lyons
Note: This piece was originally posted at Chicago Phoenix and has been reposted with permission. You can find the original here.
Join the Impact presented an Occupy Chicago teach-in Saturday, sharing information about how Occupy can become more inclusive of LGBT people and the way that the struggle for gay rights complements Occupy’s overall goals.
Twenty-two people attended the event, Out of the Closets into the Occupation, held at Occupy Chicago’s indoor headquarters at 500 W. Cermak in a loft space. The panelists spoke on three topics: LGBT-inclusive terminology, the history of LGBT oppression and then its connection to a capitalist society organized around the nuclear family.
One of the panelists, Ryne Poelker, spoke on the many ways that income inequality affects the LGBT community. He said despite the double-income-no-kids stereotype, teen homelessness, unequal healthcare access and employment discrimination are all problems facing the LGBT community that Occupy protesters can connect with.
“The majority of LGBT people are working class,” Poelker said. “They are not lawyers. They are not business people. It’s like women are depicted in Sex and the City. Those do not match the majority of lives of women”
Poelker noted that now defunct ACT UP protested on Wall Street and invaded the New York Stock Exchange to protest pharmaceutical companies and the high price of AZT, the only HIV antiretroviral treatment at that time. He also quoted an early statement by the Gay Liberation Front.
“We identify ourselves with all the oppressed: the Vietnamese struggle, the third world, the blacks, the workers … all those oppressed by this rotten, dirty, vile, fucked-up capitalist conspiracy,” Poelker said.
Ryne Poelker presented on the beginnings of the LGBT movement.
Rodrick Isaac, a straight industrial engineer from Ringwood, Ill., was at the loft on Saturday painting signs for Occupy when the teach-in began. He said he wasn’t well versed enough on the topic and decided to sit down and listen.
“I just got a list of the way the gays and lesbians are being discriminated against,” Isaac said after the presentation. “I had imagined the list was long, but I feel enriched having it presented to me so completely.”
Isaac, who spends his weekends working with the Occupy Chicago, said he joined Occupy for many reasons, chief among them the environment but that the has learned about many was that people are oppressed.
“We’re getting trained in all areas of oppression that still exist and it’s important to be informed,” Isaac said.
Judy Heithmar, an organizer with Join the Impact, approached the Occupy Chicago education committee about hosting the event after she attended a teach-in on Jan. 21 about the upcoming NATO/G8 summits.
“As a group, [Join the Impact] supports Occupy and many of our members have been involved in committees from the beginning,” Heithmar said. “We try to build solidarity with these struggles.”
Andrea Barr, a member of the Occupy Chicago education committee, moderated the event. Barr, who said she identified as bisexual, said she was glad that LGBT issues were being brought up because they hadn’t been before.
“The struggle for gay rights is a part of one bigger struggle,” Barr said. “We need to support each other instead of standing divided.”
The conversation veered course during the discussion portion of the event to issues specific to LGBT activism like the efficacy of the It Gets Better Project and the degree to which marriage should be the number one focus for gay advocates. Heithmar said a similar and larger version of this discussion would continue during Join the Impact’s LGBTQ Town Hall at 2 p.m. on March 24 at the Merlo Library, 644 W. Belmont.