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Gay Left  
 
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In the United States, political activists on the Left were often among the earliest proponents of homosexual rights. During the first decade of the twentieth century, the great anarchist and feminist leader, Emma Goldman, argued for the acceptance of homosexuals in her speeches and writings.

During World War II, the well-known poet Robert Duncan published the first political analysis of the status of homosexuals in American society in Dwight MacDonald's non-sectarian leftist/anarchist journal Politics. Poet, therapist, and novelist Paul Goodman, who identified as an anarchist, explored in his social criticism (such as Growing Up Absurd, 1960) and in his fiction (such as Making Do, 1963) the role of homosexuality in contemporary life.

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After the war, the first efforts to organize homosexuals were undertaken--in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York--by war veterans and by members, acting privately, of the Communist Party. The homophile movement that emerged in the 1950s was founded by former members of the Communist party who drew upon their organizing skills to establish the first gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society.

The Left vs. Homosexual Desire

While the Gay Left that emerged after Stonewall had roots in the left's great tradition of emancipatory thought as reflected in the writing of progressive writers and thinkers such as Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Emma Goldman, Edward Carpenter, and André Gide, it also encountered fierce opposition from the left, and there is also a long history of leftist anti-gay sentiment.

During the Russian Revolution (1914-1919), as the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich discussed in his famous book The Sexual Revolution (1951), progressive legislation was passed legalizing abortion, liberalizing the laws affecting marriage and divorce, and revoking the laws against homosexuality. Unfortunately, with the rise of Joseph Stalin in the late 1920s, this phase of progressive legislation was soon followed by a period of harsh sexual repression and, in 1934, the reinstatement of anti-homosexual laws.

In the wake of the Soviet Union's repression of homosexuals, Communist Parties (usually directed and funded by the Soviet Union) also adopted harsh measures against their homosexual members and allies. Homosexuals were expelled from Communist-sponsored political organizations (just as they were from conservative institutions) and homosexuality was widely characterized as "bourgeois decadence." Many of the early activists who helped establish the Mattachine Society had been purged or encouraged to leave the Communist Party of the U.S.A.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 was widely championed by the New Left during the 1960s and 1970s, but like its Soviet predecessors, the Cuban government also expelled homosexuals from political organizations. It also imposed harsh penalties, including imprisonment in concentration camps, for homosexual activity.

Most Gay Leftists took strong stands against the Soviet and Cuban governments' policies towards homosexuality. As a result, the Gay Left emerged as a distinct current on the left that opposed totalitarian and undemocratic forms of socialism, but which continued to exist in a marginalized relationship to the main currents of left political activity.

Gay Marxism: Homosexuality, Power, and Politics

In the early 1970s, many political discussion and consciousness-raising groups in the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Argentina, and Brazil sought to create a synthesis between Gay Liberation and Marxism. In a number of instances, these discussions took place in or on the fringes of established political parties and organizations.

In the autumn of 1975, a publication called Gay Left appeared in Britain, published by a collective. The Gay Left group produced an ambitious and theoretically coherent argument about the ways in which political and ideological power shaped the lives of homosexuals and enforced their sexual oppression.

Over the next five years, until Gay Left ceased publication in 1980, the Gay Left collective sought to articulate a radical politics of the left in which the gains of the women's and gay movements would be fully integrated. Drawing on the work of Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and philosopher Michel Foucault (whose theories they anticipated to some degree), they wrote about the development of sexual oppression under capitalism, the forms of political resistance to it, the integration of sexual politics into political organizations on the left, the nature of the new gay and lesbian culture, the role of consumerism, and the emergence of lesbian and gay political identities.

Many members of the Gay Left collective became influential writers and thinkers in the following decades: Jeffrey Weeks on the history of sexuality; Frank Mort on the history of health, medicine, and the regulation of sexuality; Richard Dyer on film and gay culture; Simon Watney on the impact of media and on the politics of HIV/AIDS; and Bob Cant on the integration of sexual politics into the left. Writers such as Mary McIntosh (in Great Britain), Dennis Altman (in Australia), and Amber Hollibaugh (in the U.S.)--all loosely affiliated with the British group--made their own contributions to the Gay Left perspective.

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