Queering Labor Showcase #4: Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ)


According to their website, Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ) is:

“a progressive non-profit organization committed to promoting economic justice in a context of sexual and gender liberation.Our goal is to challenge and change the systems that create poverty and economic injustice in our communities, and to promote an economic system that embraces sexual and gender diversity. We are committed to the principle that access to social and economic resources is a fundamental right, and we work to create social and economic equity through grassroots organizing, public education, advocacy and research. We do this work because although poor queers have always been a part of both the gay rights and economic justice movements, they have been, and continue to be, largely invisible in both movements. This work will always be informed by the lived experiences and expressed needs of queer people in poverty.”

Executive Director, Kenyon Farrow.

QEJ organizes projects such as shelter organizing, the beyond marriage campaign, welfare organizing, immigrant rights, and national coalition building (or, “Building a Queer Left”). All of the projects “reflects [QEJs] commitment to economic justice by building grassroots power. [They] also work to challenge the notion that to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer means you’re white, wealthy, have no children and/or does not face economic hardship” (http://q4ej.org/projects). These projects cover a variety of advocacy and organizing issues. For example, the Shelter Organizing works on outreach and support, trainings, working with the media, and advocacy issues for fairer shelter system policies. The Beyond Marriage Campaign “[works] to expand the national dialogue around same-sex marriage, to fight for the recognition of many different kinds of families and care-giving relationships, universal benefits that are available regardless of whether or not one is married, [and] the separation of benefits from the institution of marriage.” Welfare organizing focuses on training community and training leaders to fight for social change. Immigrant rights projects “[work] on a variety of issues which impact LGBT immigrants, their families and communities. This work includes: building a coalition of all the LGBT immigrant groups across the country, preventing the draconian immigration bills pending before congress, lifting the current ban on HIV+ immigrants, fighting for access to public benefits for LGBT immigrants, resisting the Real ID Act.” And, finally, through public education, communications and media, capacity building and skill sharing, QEJ is:

“building a national coalition of progressive, grassroots LGBT organizations who make economic and racial justice central to their work. By bringing together these organizations from across the country, we are building the strength and infrastructure of the queer left. This network will engage in work to expand the narrow definition of what constitutes a “gay issue,” and bring attention to the concerns of LGBT people that are too frequently excluded from our movement’s current priorities: low-income folks, people of color, prisoners, immigrants, and transgender folks.”

QEJ also organizes the Act Queer! Teleconference series. This brings together grassroots organizers from across the country to discuss pressing issues that call for coalitional response. Some topics have included: Research in Queer Organizing, Movement Building in Queer Organizing, Cultural Organizing in Queer Movements, and A Year in Queer Politics.

I include this organization in my Queering Labor project not because it is explicitly connected to workers, but because it addresses intersectional issues that shows the way queer communities are insidiously disenfranchised because of capitalism (which is obviously also one of the most pressing points of the labor movement—that capitalism disenfranchises the working-class). Furthermore, because QEJ focuses on queers of color, poor and working-poor queers, queer prisoners, and queer immigrants, this organization becomes even more relevant to my project.


I don’t have as much to analyze with QEJ since it is an inherently critical organization. The descriptions I’ve shared above are already an explicit radical queer critique of mainstream, white, middle-class LGBT organizing. I would point again to Cathy J. Cohen’s analysis of coalition-building that I discuss here.

Rhetorically, the organization doesn’t perform in a way that is radically isolationist. That is, while they have an overtly radical, anti-assimilationist agenda, they do not visually or rhetorically present themselves as a “crazy fringe group.” This becomes important since the group still works on creating policy change (such as welfare and immigration policy). This speaks to Jose Esteban Munoz’s notion of ‘disidentification’—that is, appropriating a mainstream, normative discourse as a method of survival. Thus, a group that rejects institutions like marriage, and believes in “sexual and gender liberation” rather than “equality,” is still practicing a pragmatic politics that enables material social change.

Here I would offer a juxtaposition of Chantal Mouffe’s articulation of radical pluralism and democracy to Judith Butler’s understanding of “intelligibility.” Mouffe believes that: “Our objective…is none other than the goal Tocqueville perceived as that of democratic peoples, that ultimate point where freedom and equality meet and fuse, where people “will be perfectly free because they are entirely equal, and where they will all be perfectly equal because they are entirely free” (101). Certainly this seems an admirable goal, however, the rhetoric of equality endorsed by Mouffe is challenged when viewed through a radical queer lens. QEJ is not looking for equality in a system that is already oppressive, but rather they are searching for liberation for not just their identities and modalities, but also from the system itself. Butler, to me, seems more to speak to their concern that “poor queers” are “largely invisible” in both gay rights and economic justice organizing.  In Undoing Gender, Butler states:

“The conception of politics at work here is centrally concerned with the question of survival, of how to create a world in which those who understand their gender and their desire to be nonnormative can live and thrive not only without the threat of violence from the outside but without the pervasive sense of their own unreality, which can lead to suicide or a suicidal life. Lastly, I would ask what place the thinking of the possible has within political theorizing. One can object and say, ah, but you are trying only to make gender complexity possible. But that does not tell us which forms are good or bad; it does not supply the measure, the guage, the norm. But there is a normative aspiration here, and it has to do with the ability to live and breathe and move and would no doubt belong somewhere in what is called a philosophy of freedom. The thought of a possible life is only an indulgence for those who already know themselves to be possible. For those who are still looking to become possible, possibility is a necessity.” (219)

Butler and Mouffe are not so vastly different in their belief of the need for agnosims and dissonance for a viable democracy, but Mouffe assumes “life,” when Butler problematizes it. We can read the erasure of queers from mainstream gay and economic justice work as a denial of their possibility. Thus Butler provides for us the urgent need for intelligibility for political organizing, a mission QEJ boldly seems to share.


One thought on “Queering Labor Showcase #4: Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ)

  1. Well said. I really appreciate the passage from Butler that you cite–I find myself referencing it a lot too. I also like how you put it into conversation with Mouffe. I am struck by your linking of a philosophy of freedom/possibility with intelligibility. I wonder, is intelligibility the only way that Butler envisions possibility being possible (how’s that for a confusing sentence, huh?)?

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