Homonationalism in Action and ‘The Butler Scandal’

I still remember quite clearly when I found out that Judith Butler had refused the “Zivilcouragepreis”, the award for civil courage at the Christopher Street Day in June of 2010 – an event which inspired the special issue of Leben nach Migration on homophobia and racism, a collaboration between Migrationsrat Berlin-Brandenburg e.V. and SUSPECT.[1]

Perhaps it is at least somewhat illuminating to share here how this story had travelled to me in New Zealand through a discourse of anti-commercialism: Butler stands against corporate LGBT interests. Certainly a queer anti-capitalist cause to support, and yet, upon further reading, and upon the translation of her speech into English, it became immediately clear that Butler was not simply speaking out against the commercialism of the mainstream gay pride celebrations of Berlin (in contrast to alternative pride organizing), but rather the racism and specifically anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the groups involved in CSD.

What this anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment and how is it connected to LGBTQI issues, and postcoloniality?

Butler herself reflects on this in a comment on a blog post:

“I took a needed break after the Berlin event, but I’ve now given some interviews by email to Die TAZ, a major German newspaper, Le Monde Diplomatique, and a few other on-line journals in an effort to clarify some mis-representations of the refusal and to try and re-direct public attention to the issue of anti-immigrant racism. [….]I believe I only used the word “commercial” as an adjective once, so it was with dismay that I say my remarks reduced to this.”

This is symptomatic of a wider issue in much GLBT activism. Butler reports in the same blog comment, “It is amazing to me how many “queer” groups ask me why queerness has anything to do with anti-racism.” Kimberle Crenshaw is credited with coining the helpful term “intersectionality” as a way of thinking through the ways that subjectivities are not formed simply around one axis, and thus neither can our political struggles.[2] In an interview between SUSPECT and an Activist of Color in this Leben nach Migration, the following exchange occurs:

“Do you share the perspective that it is sometimes easier for queers of color to form alliances with non-trans heteros of color instead of white queer/trans organizations?

Of course I share this perspective (laughs) (8)”

Puar’s work on homonationalism helps untangle some of the complex technologies processes of othering (and others othering other others) that works to create benevolent nations and citizens and also preclude certain identities, such as the queer Muslim migrant subject.

These issues are further illuminated by a specific Berlin-based examples described by scholar Jin Haritaworn in a piece in The Transgender Studies Reader Vol. II.[3] When, following an incident of violence against a gender non-conforming person, a clear discourse developed of the “homophobic migrant” who should be punished by the state and is differentiated from the civilized, modern German subject (71).

While suggesting that all LGBT and queer activism operates along such a model would be a disservice to the many groups fighting intersectional struggles against oppression (some of which Butler named in her speech),[4] a closer analysis of the way in which queer activism engages – or fails to engage – with (queer) nationalist, racist, neo-colonialist, imperialist or anti-immigrant discourses is an urgent priority in queer activism and scholarship.


[1] The full text of Butler’s refusal speech in English can be found here: http://www.egs.edu/faculty/judith-butler/articles/i-must-distance-myself/.

[2] Crenshaw. K. (1989) Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics, The University of Chicago Legal Forum, pp. 139-67.

[3] Haritaworn, Jin and Riley Snorton: “Trans Necropolitics”, in: Aren Aizura and Susan Stryker (eds.) Transgender Studies Reader Vol. II, New York: Routledge 2013, pp. 66-76.

[4] “1) GLADT: Gays and Lesbians from Turkey. This is a queer migrant self-organization. This group works very successfully within the fields of multiple discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and racism.

2) LesMigraS: Lesbian Migrants and Black Lesbians, is an anti-violence and anti-discrimination division of Lesbenberatung Berlin. It has worked with success for ten years. They work in the fields of multiple discrimination, self-empowerment, and antiracist labor.

3) SUSPECT: A small group of queers that established an anti-violence movement. They assert that it is not possible to fight against homophobia without also fighting against racism.

4) ReachOut is a councelling center for victims of rightwing extremist, racist, anti-Semitic , homophobic, and transphobic violence in Berlin. It is critical of structural and governmental violence.” (I take these descriptions directly from the English translation of Butler’s speech).

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