Convention Discussion: The CPUSA and the LGBT Community

BY: Daniel Elash| April 5, 2010

This article is part of the discussion leading up to the Communist Party USA’s 29th National Convention May 21-23, 2010. takes no responsibility for the opinions expressed in this article or other articles in the pre-convention discussion. All contributions must meet the guidelines for discussion. To read other contributions to this discussion, visit the site of the Pre-Convention Discussion period.

All contributions to the discussion should be sent to for selection not to the individual venues.For more information on the convention or the pre-convention discussion period, you can email

The Communist Party USA has come a long way from the days in which we expelled members from our ranks for being homosexuals. Nevertheless, some of those thus expelled were founders of the modern LGBT movement in the USA. The life stories of people like Harry Hay are well-enough known in the LGBT community that our former, official homophobia has left a lasting, negative legacy. This legacy makes our work in LGBT communities more difficult, because it increases the skepticism with which our current Party is viewed, and it sensitizes LGBT community members to slights, real or perceived, in our rhetoric and behavior towards the LGBT community.

American LGBT communities tend to be mixed-class formations. However, they also tend to be in the vanguard of resistance to ultra-right politics and movements in the USA. This situation is not by choice, but rather, because LGBT individuals and communities are frequently-selected targets of ultra-right organizing. Whether at the street level of hate crimes, or the social agenda level of attempts to bar “gay marriage,” American LGBT communities have been forced to fight back, for sheer survival. This we’ve done, with particular success in the cultural realm.

While the CPUSA, along with most of the rest of the American Left, has kept up with the times and become officially anti-homophobic, our rhetoric as regards the LGBT community still sounds antiquated, equivocating, sometimes like lip service. The single greatest example is our consistent omission of LGBT from the list of the labor-led “core forces” we envision as necessary to defeat the ultra-right. Women and youth are included in that list, but not the LGBT community. Where we do mention the LGBT community in our documents, our words have not kept up with the evolution of that community. For example, the Preamble to our Constitution identifies the working class as including “gay and straight,” but what about bisexuals and transgendered folks? The Human Rights Campaign lost a lot of support in the LGBT community recently for supporting the exclusion of transgendered folks from an employment nondiscrimination bill. This is a live issue in the LGBT community, one our rhetoric is sometimes on the wrong side of.

We do achieve full-community inclusivity (LGBT) in our Program. However, we do it in a section on “Special Oppression and Exploitation,” not in the section on the core progressive forces. That we’re willing to consider the LGBT community as oppressed is progress. On the other hand, the laundry list that places LGBT people reads, quote:

 “The racially and nationally oppressed, women, youth, and immigrants all face types of special oppression, as do seniors, the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) community, the disabled, and the mentally ill.” (Party Program)

Surely, no good progressive objects to identifying and fighting the oppression of the disabled or mentally ill. However, LGBT people have been incorrectly labeled both, and to include the LGBT community in such a list, and not in a list of core forces, at the same time, reads as implicit homophobia because of culture and history.

I am calling for review of the rhetoric in our organizing documents regarding the LGBT community and its role in the American progressive movement, as we see it, with the hope that we can update how we speak about the LGBT community so as to better reach out to it. I don’t think our line is wrong, but nor do I think we express ourselves very well in this day and age. Who am I to make such a call? I’ve grown up around this community (since my mother “came out” in the late 1970s). I’ve lived and organized in this community my entire adult life. I currently work in this community, in the Chelsea District of Manhattan, within a block of our national headquarters. Also, I live my life as an “out” Communist, and so I hear and see the things community members say and do when I present our Party to them as an effective and desirable way to fight back against the hard right. And in all this, our Party’s less than sterling history, and our current weak rhetoric, are all consistent obstacles to moving the Party further into the LGBT community.

This could change, but we have to do our part too. Please help consider what that might be, and join those of us in both the LGBT community and the Party in moving ourselves forward into the 21st century. It seems to me that such forward social movement will invariably include LGBT liberation, as a universal human right, one that offers a better life to everyone, “straight or gay.”


Related Party Voices Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer