The discussion of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered
and Questioning (LGBTQ) movement concerns a movement of profound
difference that in and of itself is a convergence of differences
centered on the question of sexuality and gender variance. Homosexuality
and bisexuality is about sexual orientation while transgenderism
is about gender. These differences at times intersect one another.
Over the course of time these movements for recognition
and liberation have joined. This movement has come to be commonly
known as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Questioning
Movement. Another term that has gained common usage, especially
among youth has been the term "queer”. "Queer" specifically
refers to a particular development and direction of identity, culture
and community that has expanded to include all whose sexual life
and sensual social identities depart from the heterosexual mainstream.
Historically, the term "in the life" developed in the
African-American community to have a similar meaning as "queer"
has in the overall community.
This movement for liberation has the potential to
bring us to the understanding that heterosexism and homophobia not
only oppress LGBTQ persons, but also that heterosexism and homophobia
are an essential part of the fabric of oppression of all people
under capitalism. "Heterosexism" refers to a nexus of
interconnected social relations, practices, institutions, and discourses
which work to establish and enforce heterosexuality as the single
"normal”, "natural" and "desirable" way
in which human beings can engage in sexual relations with each other
while rendering homosexuality "abnormal”, "unnatural"
and "undesirable" as well in many cases "illegal”,
"immoral”, "sinful”, "sick”, often invisible.
"Homophobia" refers to the fear and hatred
of homosexuality and homosexuals. Homophobia spans from subtle actions
all the way to violence against homosexuals. Homophobia and the
intolerance for gay people cuts across religious, national, ethnic,
racial and class boundaries. Throughout the world LGBTQ people are
aggressively persecuted, jailed and even executed. I might add that
LGBTQ persons are also found within all religious, national, ethnic,
racial, and class groupings.
As a result of fear and internalized self-hatred we
tend to find higher rates of physical and mental illness, suicide,
depression and alcohol addiction than in the general population.
There can be no measure for the intense loneliness, isolation and
self-censorship that LGBTQ persons experience in trying to live
in heterosexually dominated society. I cannot begin to count the
toll that AIDS has reaped in terms of the deaths of gay and bisexual
men in this country.
LGBTQ Oppression and Patriarchy
It goes without saying that heterosexism and homophobia
are profoundly linked to patriarchy. It is no accident that increased
violence against gays and lesbians occurs in a time of increased
violence against women. Battering is the single major cause of injury
to women, exceeding rapes, muggings, and auto accidents. Physical
and psychological abuse of women is epidemic. The depiction of men
and women as opposites of each other is part of this practice. Through
patriarchy, and by extension through heterosexism, the patriarchal
male asserts his domination and superiority over women and all that
could be identified with the "inferior" qualities that
women represent, i.e. the violators of the norms, LGBTQ persons.
Patriarchy is fundamentally about relations. Under patriarchy, relationships
are static and fixed and are characterized by domination and subordination.
The movement for LGBTQ liberation is potentially one of the most
profound challenges to the fixed and static role determinates of
the patriarchal worldview.
Patriarchy, then, is fundamentally a question of social
relations that are historically and socially constructed. Though
humans are born male and female, there is no one way of being man
or woman and no one way that men and women should relate to one
another. The relations of patriarchy allow for men to secure extensive
economic, political, and cultural advantages over and at the expense
of women. Without going into detail, one of the results is the thinking
and behavior that men are not only different from but also superior
to women. There arises from this a gendered division of labor where
men value and are trained to develop the powers of rationality and
carry out the tasks that are related to this faculty, while women
are socialized to develop emotional sensitivity and are socialized
to assume positions where they support and nurture. This division
is constantly reinforced by the dominant culture around us. Men
are also encouraged to be aggressive and even violent.
To be gay and lesbian is to challenge this pattern
of socialization. The concepts of "real man" and "real
woman" are brought into question. The categories of heterosexual,
homosexual, lesbian, and bisexual are categories that, in essence,
could only rise out of sexist patriarchal society. A society characterized
by the dehumanization of women defines them as subordinate/submissive
and "surrendered" in their relation to men on the one
hand and on the other "emotionally cripple[s] men by demanding
that they be alienated from their own bodies and emotions in order
to perform their economic/political/military functions effectively.”
In a society in which men do not oppress women and sexual expression
is allowed to follow feelings, the categories of homosexuality and
heterosexuality would disappear." (Radicalesbians, "The
Woman-Identified Woman," New York, New York, 1970).
As socialists we realize that the potential for all
human liberation and freedom is the liberation of all human relations
from the process of capital accumulation, in other words, the elimination
of capitalism. The weakness in our message is that we have not always
understood and exposed the revolutionary totality of this transformation.
The human person must be liberated not only from capitalist accumulation
but from alienating social relations. The elimination of dominating
and subordinating social relations rests not only on the redistribution
of the wealth but also on the recognition of human beings as having
inherent worth and value in and of themselves. This gives us new
insight into the fundamental communist vision of "from each
according to their abilities, to each according to their needs."
To be a human being is to experience your being as a complex of
relations. The various categories and distinctions into which we
attempt to isolate this being can go no farther than a mental exercise.
The reality of a person is more complex. A person can be worker,
woman, oppressed nationality, gay, etc. Can one be isolated as primary
and fundamental when all this impacts her experience in society?
Time does not allow me to elaborate, but I believe
that this is foundational to a socialist understanding of sexual
and gender oppression. Many communists in the past have either had
very negative things to say about LGBTQ folks or have been indifferent
to and ignored the presence of folk with different sexual and gender
identities. Many of these revolutionaries suffered in silence out
of fear of being called petit bourgeois and counter-revolutionary.
There was a part of the communist movement that raised the most
backward views within the working class on this question to a level
LGBTQ Involvement in the Struggle
This brings us to the question of LGBTQ participation
in the social movements of today. I would say that the participation
of LGBTQ folks has much in common with the participation of all
folks in the social movements. As various sectors and various movements
interact, they impact and change each other. Folks that today would
be identified as queer have participated in the various movements.
Gays and lesbians were part of the Communist Party, notably Harry
Hay who helped to organize the radical wing of the movement for
gay and lesbian liberation. There were also LGBTQ participants in
the liberation movements of people of color, people like Langston
Hughes, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, just to name a few. Like women
activists in these movements, they were ignored and subordinated.
They experienced heterosexism and homophobia even in these powerful
movements for liberation. It is no secret and no accident that the
first real radical measures towards gay and lesbian liberation were
the result of the resistance of working class and oppressed-nationality
gay, lesbian and transgender persons. The Stonewall Rebellion in
New York, which has been whitewashed through history, was initiated
by the most marginalized sectors of these groups.
Lesbian women, through their participation in the
feminist movement, rose to a greater understanding of themselves
as women-identified-women and contributed profoundly to the understanding
of the intersection of oppressions. The Combahee River Collective,
which spoke out powerfully about the liberation of black women,
had African-American lesbians in its membership.
Another aspect of the LGBTQ movement has been the
response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This epidemic (as you all know)
had a devastating effect on gay men. While all gay men were impacted,
gay oppressed-nationality men were infected and died in proportions
much greater than their white counterparts. This was due not only
to homophobia but racism as well. Without support or aid from the
dominant sector, organizations from Gay Men's Health Crisis to ACT
UP and Queer Nation were born, as well as new organizations of oppressed-nationality
LGBTQ persons, such as the Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum
and Latina/Lesbian and Gay Organization (LLEGO). Many important
activists lost their lives in the course of this most recent period.
A Key Part of the Movements
In the light of a history of active participation
by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons in the various
social movements and in the movement for socialism, the LGBTQ movement
for liberation is not an afterthought or an add-on. The development
of a radical revolutionary sector in the LGBTQ movement paved the
way for a greater contribution to the various social movements that
intersected the lives of LGBTQ activists. They were able to bring
a greater strength and energy to the women's movement, labor movement,
oppressed-nationality movements, etc. as out LGBTQ individuals.
It can't be denied that homophobia and heterosexism occurs in the
various social movements, just as racism, sexism, and classism appear
in the movement of LGBTQ folks. These divisions remain major hurdles
that must be confronted in the effort to build a unified movement
that will shake the foundations of capitalism.
Today, we find organizations and caucuses in the oppressed-nationality
communities. An organization that I helped to organize participates
in the MLK activities every year and hosts a special breakfast for
LGBTQ folks and their allies during that time. This organization
also organizes workshops and meetings of African-American LGBTQ
folks around issues that impact their lives and the lives of the
African-American community. A group of young black queer revolutionaries
have converged around this organization as well and have moved to
form their own organizations. We must point out that LGBTQ oppressed-nationality
persons very often experience racism from white gays at the same
time as they experience heterosexism within their ethnic communities.
It also needs to be mentioned that gay men in particular have often
been identified as the perpetrators of gentrification, which often
pit them against established communities of people of color. This
has been often framed as an issue between African-Americans and
gays, thus totally obscuring the complex social dynamics, including
the class issues and capitalism's devastation of African-American
LGBTQ folks have moved to address issues in the workplace,
especially in the way they impact their lives. Pride at Work exists
today as an organization that addresses LGBTQ issues in the labor
movement on the one hand and educating LGBTQ folks about the importance
of labor and labor organizing on the other. Understandably, gays
and lesbians have also been active in the movement for accessible
In this current period, queer folk have also stepped
up as part of the anti-war movement. Special formations such as
Out Against the War and Queers Against the War have been organizing
and spreading the message in the LGBTQ community.
Radicalizing the Struggle
Like most sectors, the LGBTQ sector is not monolithic.
The LGBTQ community crosses class, ethnic/racial, national and gender
lines. Resistance to the organized attacks of the radical Right
has been a unifying factor, but despite this resistance, understandable
contradictions exist. The liberal sector of the bourgeoisie have
sought to exploit these contradictions and have sought to include,
within limits, the struggle for LGBTQ recognition into their hegemony.
Clinton's policy of "don't ask, don't tell" did not fundamentally
attack the roots of LGBTQ oppression, and while the majority of
individuals who were thrown out of the military for being queer
were African-American women, white gay males were the main beneficiaries
of this policy and were held up as the poster children by various
organization for this project. The movement for gays in the military
also raised questions from the Left in the LGBTQ movement about
why we should struggle to be part of the military apparatus of the
Another thrust is the movement for marriage. No one
among the leading spokespersons for the bourgeoisie is willing to
grant LGBTQ relations the full rights and privileges provided by
marriage. Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMA), and
movements are underway to define in the US Constitution that unions
between a man and a woman are the only legally recognized union
in the US. This movement gained impetus by the recognition of gay
marriage in Canada.
From a Marxist perspective the demand for marriage
has contradictions. By implication it could mean a buy-in and a
desire to emulate the productive units that are the nuclear family
under capitalism. On the other hand the equal recognition
of unions that are not heterosexual could challenge arbitrary gender-based
roles, as more and more LGBTQ persons are able to establish unions
that are given the same recognition and rights found in heterosexual
marriages. Today, already one in every three lesbian couples is
raising children and one in every five gay male couples is doing
the same. LGBTQ rights to raise children are constantly under attack
and currently have no legal protection.
There currently is a conflict between the radical
religious Right on the one hand and the liberal bourgeois elements
on the other as to how to deal with this issue and other LGBTQ issues.
Certainly, the liberal bourgeoisie wants to accommodate a certain
sector of LGBTQ folks, especially as more and more of their own
children come out and demand recognition.
The contention for terrain in the discourse over LGBTQ
issues is currently dominated, I believe, by the hegemonic discourse
of bourgeois ideas. This view is reflected in the main by the belief
that the LGBTQ movement is confined to recognition within the confines
of capitalism. Wealthier, white gay males (but not only white gay
males) have been attracted to this, and this has an organizational
expression in organizations such as the Log Cabin Republicans to
an extreme, along with organizations such as the Stonewall Democrats
and the Human Rights Campaign.
There are signs of contention for a more radical and
revolutionary understanding of gender politics but many parts of
the left have been late and timid in efforts to hegemonize the LGBTQ
struggle. On the other hand, there are many LGBTQ folks who have
come to a greater understanding that their total liberation is not
possible within the confines of capitalism. With that realization
is an understanding of the intersection of oppressions and the need
to struggle against racism, sexism and militarism, and ultimately
for socialism. As we develop the vision of the socialist future,
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons must be a part
of that future. The socialist organization that we are now building
must be a place where LGBTQ revolutionaries will feel at home, and
the socialist society that we strive to create in the future must
be a society which all human beings can contribute to and thrive
within in the fullness of their humanity.
BC Editorial Board member Badili Jones is
a writer and organizer who works among African-American LGBTQ persons
on the grassroots level and is also a rank and file member of SEIU,
Jobs with Justice,
and Pride at Work.