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Gay Left  
 
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The Gay Left refers to a cluster of positions on the political spectrum that has existed within the lesbian and gay rights movement at least since the Stonewall riots.

Modern gay and lesbian politics dates from the Stonewall riots of 1969, when a police raid on a Greenwich Village bar called the Stonewall Inn provoked a series of riots that mobilized drag queens, street hustlers, lesbians, and gay men, many of whom had been politicized by the movement against the war in Vietnam.

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By the time of the Stonewall riots, there were already signs that homosexuals were in the process of creating a civil rights movement. Inspired, in part, by the black struggles of the 1960s, the Stonewall riots crystallized a broad grass-roots mobilization across the country. Many early participants in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and people's rights were also involved in the various leftist causes of the 1960s, including the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the student movement, and the feminist movement.

The first political organization formed in wake of the Stonewall riots was the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). The organization was named in honor of the National Liberation Front, the Vietnamese resistance movement, and as a gesture toward the unity of the struggles of blacks, the poor, the colonized in the Third World, and women.

One early flyer, distributed in the Bay Area in January 1970, announced that "The Gay Liberation Front is a nation-wide coalition of revolutionary homosexual organizations creating a radical Counter Culture within the homosexual lifestyles. Politically it's part of the radical 'Movement' working to suppress and eliminate discrimination and oppression against homosexuals in industry, the mass media, government, schools and churches."

In 1969, Carl Wittman, a former activist in the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society, wrote A Gay Manifesto, one of the founding documents of the nascent gay liberation movement. "By the tens of thousands," Wittman announced, "we fled small towns where to be ourselves would endanger our jobs and any hope of decent life; we have fled from blackmailing cops, from families who disowned or tolerated us; we have been drummed out of the armed services, thrown out of schools, fired from jobs, beaten by punks and policemen."

In the period immediately after the Stonewall riots, the gay and lesbian movement did not at first focus on the question of identity, or even strictly on civil rights--though the question of black civil rights was, most certainly, on the political horizon--but on sexual liberation.

The sexual revolution had been underway since the early 1960s and that, along with the student anti-war movement, which had mobilized millions of Americans against the war in Vietnam, influenced how gay activists framed their political struggles. Sexuality was defined as a central political issue. One early radical group, the Red Butterfly, GLF's "cell" of Marxist intellectuals, invoked the conclusion of Herbert Marcuse's 1966 "Political Preface" to Eros and Civilization (and echoed Auden's great political poem "Spain, 1937"): "Today the fight for Eros, the fight for life, is the political fight."

The Historical Origins of the Gay Left

The "Gay Left" that emerged in the 1970s sprang directly from the radical social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. But the fight for acceptance of homosexuality and political recognition of homosexuals' right to sexual freedom has a long lineage on the left and can be traced back to political movements and activists on the left in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States.

The 1895 trials of Oscar Wilde sparked many homosexuals and progressives to undertake intellectual and political defenses of homosexuality. In the years following Oscar Wilde's trials, a number of socialists in Germany and England began to champion homosexual rights. Wilde himself wrote a series of essays on political-aesthetic themes that implicitly defended homosexual rights, titling the collection "The Soul of Man under Socialism."

Between the time of Wilde's trials and World War I, Edward Carpenter, a leading English author on sexuality and socialism, wrote about homosexuality, gender, and identity in The Intermediate Sex (1906) and defended feminism and homosexuality in his best-selling book, Love's Coming of Age (1896). In addition, the great sexologist Havelock Ellis, with the aid of art historian and biographer John Addington Symonds, published to great controversy Sexual Inversion (1897), the first major study of homosexuality to draw upon extensive case histories of ordinary homosexuals rather than clinical data or psychiatric patients.

One of the first and most significant connections between the cause of homosexual rights and political movements on the Left emerged in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century. The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-Humantitäres Komitee), the first homosexual rights movement, founded in Germany by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1897, was closely allied with the Social Democratic Party, the leading German socialist party.

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The cover of the Winter, 1977 issue of Gay Left, an English socialist journal, provided by gayleft1970s.org.
  
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