Intersections: two talks on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer movement and the fight against patriarchy.
When these presentations were originally made at the 2003 Congress of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization / Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad (FRSO/OSCL), no one predicted that Gay marriage would become the focus of a national debate. We, as socialists, understand the contradictory nature of marriage and its role in capitalism and would not have chosen this issue as the one to wage a struggle around LGBTQ issues. However, this is the form of the LGBTQ struggle that history has provided for us. Thus, we must take this opportunity to bring a socialist vision and analysis to the debate.
Forces on the right with the blessing of Bush have pushed to codify anti-gay discrimination within the Constitution. This maneuver by Bush has to be recognized for what it is, an attempt to mobilize his right-wing Christian base for the November elections. His actions also give impetus and support for increasing homophobic and heterosexist attacks on LGBTQ persons.
Whatever the actual history of the Constitution of the United States, the document has been promoted as the symbol of freedom and rights. In truth, whatever rights and freedom that exist within the Constitution have been the result of the struggle of the people. Constitutional amendments are a case in point.
This isn’t the first time that there has been public debate and controversy over marriage. As recently as the Sixties, fifteen southern states banned interracial marriage. Some carried prison sentences for violation. These laws, justified as preventing immoral and unnatural unions, were overturned in 1967 by the US Supreme Court (Loving v. Virginia). The arguments of that debate — pro and con, unnatural and immoral, unions vs. civil rights and anti-discrimination — are echoed in today’s debate. That Supreme Court decision must be set in the context of large Black Power and anti-war movements.
The irony is that the radical Right has spent almost thirty years in trying to whip up homophobic hatred within the African-American community, targeting especially the Black church. Unfortunately, some Black ministers have brought this message lock, stock and barrel. One minister has gone as far as to say that he would march with the Ku Klux Klan against rights for gay people.
A good example of this strategy is the film Gay Rights, Special Rights: The Gay Agenda. This film, specifically aimed at African-Americans, implied that an affluent, white gay movement was trying to co-opt the civil rights movement. While it is obvious that the struggle for democratic rights on the part of African-Americans is not identical with the struggle for lesbian and gay liberation, there are some apparent similarities. Simply because of sexual orientation, LGBTQ persons can lose their job, be denied housing, and even be subject to violence and murder.
- Right now 38 states have passed laws banning same sex marriage.
- A recent study estimates that 35% of homeless youth are LGBTQ.
Other statistics could be cited to show real discrimination against LGBTQ persons.
Contrary to the popularly promoted stereotype, gays are not all affluent, young, white males. LGBTQ persons are found in all nationalities, classes, and social strata. It’s true that this recent movement around marriage and the efforts to whip up homophobia within the African-American community have left many African-American lesbians and gays all too aware of their presence at the intersection of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation.
African-American gays and lesbians are conscious that they have historically played a part in the struggle for black freedom while being vilified or invisible in regard to their sexual identity. Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Pat Parker are some activists who come to mind. African-American gays and lesbians realize quite clearly that neither the struggle for Black freedom nor the rights of lesbian and gay persons are isolated or unrelated struggles.
Audre Lorde said, “Liberation is not the private province of any one particular group.” A recent Atlanta, GA meeting of African-American lesbian, gay and transgendered persons highlighted the awareness of the need to struggle for inter-connected liberation. No doubt meetings like this are happening all over the country. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people from the working class and communities of color are often very aware of the intersection of their oppression, not only because of their sexual and gender orientation.
This recent move against gays and lesbians is the culmination of decades-long process of scapegoating and marginalizing gay and lesbian persons. It’s noteworthy that in response to these latest assaults the LGBTQ community is not on the defensive but actually on the offensive. Thousands of gays and lesbians have responded to the offer to get married in San Francisco and in New Paltz, New York, often waiting hours in rain and snow. Thousands more, and their allies in the straight community, came out in support.
The level of desire to have their unions recognized on the part of gays and lesbians was unanticipated. We must recognize that this is a massive movement with a strong grassroots character. We should anticipate that new forms of struggle will emerge, especially in states that have referenda on the November ballot. In Georgia, for example, efforts are underway to build a broad-base coalition to defeat a referendum making marriage available only to heterosexuals.
The renewed discussion around patriarchy and homophobia is timely. It has to be recognized that attacks on LGBTQ persons is linked to attacks on the rights of women. In the current climate, it is important for us to find ways to concretely link the various social movements that implicitly challenge the system of capitalism and its ideological pillars. Renewed clarity around the issue of homophobia and patriarchy will strongly contribute to this. With this in mind, we offer for discussion and comment these essays, based on presentations at our 2003 Congress.