Strengthening our approach to LGBTQ+ liberation

BY:Bennett Shoop| May 9, 2024
Strengthening our approach to LGBTQ+ liberation


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

With the increasing fascist targeting of trans healthcare, bodily autonomy, and public displays of queerness, it becomes imperative for us as a Communist Party to further develop and act on a program of LGBTQ+ liberation.

As a result of the Party’s historical resistance to taking on the struggle for LGBTQ+ liberation and of its unwelcoming attitude to members of that community, both of which lasted until 1991, there are many theoretical developments and political strategies on this issue that the Party has to catch up on. While we have since become active participants in this struggle and have vastly increased our LGBTQ+ membership, there remains the need for further Marxist-Leninist study on the question and to interrogate and respond to the work produced through the struggles of LGBTQ+ radicals. In order to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ people in our current political climate, I propose that the Party take three key approaches: undertake a serious Marxist study of LGBTQ+ history, oppression, and liberation; establish an LGBTQ+ collective or commission; and develop a plan of work that can help to build a mass movement against homophobia and transphobia.

Our historical orientation towards the emergence of the Gay Liberation Front was one of dismissal. Until 1991, the Party failed to incorporate or study a Marxist-Leninist approach to understanding anti-LGBTQ+ oppression. Work from the Red Butterfly, the Gay Socialist Action Project, the Lavender and Red Union, Lesbians and Gays Against Intervention, Lesbians Due Wages, and others were ignored. While it is not my point to overlook any of their own theoretical missteps and their ambivalence towards the question of class struggle in many instances, it is worth noting that many of these mistakes might be attributed, in part, to the exclusion of LGBTQ+ people from the Left in general, and the Communist Party in particular. Alienation from a Marxist-Leninist organization certainly may have made many gay liberationists antagonistic or apathetic to such an approach. Nevertheless, these LGBTQ+ radicals pioneered new and important theoretical approaches to sexual and gender politics. It is incumbent upon us as we enter this arena full force to study this work and build upon it with a Marxist-Leninist lens.

The idea that homophobia and transphobia exist primarily to divide the working class is simply a mechanical approach to the issue which fails to interrogate the relationship between social reproduction and LGBTQ+ oppression. Given that the period in which we see the biggest onset of repressive policies towards LGBTQ+ people was the 1940s and 1950s, when there was no major visible queer community to speak of outside of the small Homophile Movement and the emerging, but still secretive, gay subculture, it is misguided to assume that this form of oppression functioned primarily as a divisionary or super-exploitative tactic. The correlation between the post-war spike in anti-LGBTQ+ campaigns and capital’s drive to valorize the nuclear family by forcing women out of industry and back into the home are illustrative that there is a deeper reality to this question than attempts to divide the working class. It is imperative if we are to provide guidance, clarity, and leadership on this struggle, that we attend to these historical relationships and build a Marxist-Leninist understanding of this special question.

Beyond study, however, it is also essential for us to provide a plan of action for addressing the fascist onslaught against the hard-won democratic rights of LGBTQ+ people across the country. In bridging this need with the previous point, the creation of an LGBTQ+ collective or commission within the Party to study and develop a programmatic approach to this question could be a major asset. Assembling a collective of comrades whose expertise and organizational experience lay with this issue provides us with an effective means for carrying out our work in support of LGBTQ+ liberation.

The final task for our Party, which could be carried out with such a commission, is to work to build a mass movement in defense of LGBTQ+ rights in the face of repression. While the LGBTQ+ movement originated with radicals who favored a mass approach to politics, both in the creation of the Mattachine Society by former Communist Party members and in the founding of the Gay Liberation Front, distinct shifts led to a conservative shift within the movement. Most notably this occurred through two factors: the stabilization of gay petit bourgeoisie within gay neighborhoods and the institutional approach necessitated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. While the first requires more elaboration than is possible for pre-convention discussion, the second is straightforward. With HIV/AIDS affecting people across class, conservative and wealthy elements within the LGBTQ+ community entered politics for the first time. Additionally, the need for a governmental response to the epidemic necessitated a shift in the relationship between gay liberation and the federal government. While the mass politics of ACT-UP coexisted with the more conservative, wealthy organizations who sought to address HIV/AIDS, the political and economic terrain of the late 1980s and early 1990s eventually caused these more mass approaches to dissolve. In doing so, what remained were bourgeois, reformist institutions which in many ways precluded the emergence of a mass movement. With the vacuum left by the weakening of organizations like ACT-UP and the exhaustion of the community in the wake of the grief and struggle surrounding HIV/AIDS, the battle for LGBTQ+ rights (more often really just for gay rights) was now mostly restricted to lobbying and the courtrooms, rather than happening through popular movements. These key moments led to the situation we see today.

Our response to the current crisis must be to re-emphasize and rebuild a mass, popular approach to LGBTQ+ politics. With the separation between working-class LGBTQ+ communities and national LGBTQ+ non-profits, made evident in non-profits’ ongoing relationships with weapons manufacturers and subsequent refusals to call for a ceasefire in Gaza despite mass pressure, it is our job as Communists to fill this gap. We must work to develop a theoretical approach and a plan of action which can provide leadership for mass struggle on this question.



    Bennett Shoop is an activist and historian of feminism, the Left, and LGBTQ+ movements from the Washington, D.C. area.

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