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From Mexico City to Buenos Aires

1960s: Youth demand lesbian, gay rights

Lavender & red, part 61

Published Apr 27, 2006 9:51 AM

The rising resistance of national liberation movements in the 1960s around the globe—from Asia to Africa, North America to South America—many of them led by communists, helped inspire a militant era of battle for gay liberation.

The year 1968 saw struggles for people’s power. In South Vietnam, the National Liberation Front’s Tet Offensive, which surprised and battered the Pentagon force, was the turning point in the war. In France, a student struggle generated a workers’ general strike that shook the capitalist government. In the U.S., rebellions ignited in Black communities in more than 100 cities as word spread of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In urban areas throughout Latin America—from Mexico City to Buenos Aires—a rebellious student movement defied repression to insist on greater freedoms in countries economically and often politically dominated by U.S. finance capital.

As the wave of youth rebellion rose, it lifted the demand to end “lesbian” and “gay” oppression. (The quotation marks are recognition that these sexual identities and the social realities in which they exist are not universal.)

Mexico was a particular political milestone. There, the demand for gay liberation did not arise in the same way it had in the U.S.—where brutal police raids on transgender/lesbian/gay people in bars or restaurants sparked spontaneous rebellions on both the West and East Coast during the 1960s. Nor did a small group demanding same-sex rights have to struggle to bring their grievances to the larger left-wing political movement.

In Mexico in 1968, the demand for “gay” liberation was a dynamic component of the student upsurge, articulated from within its own leadership. Lesbian and gay [email protected] organized to make “gay” rights one of the many demands voiced by a huge and courageous student protest in Mexico City.

Solidarity cemented unity

The student movement rocking Mexico in 1968 was part of the deepest political upsurge since the Mexican Revolution, observes Max Mejía in his essay “Mexican Pink.”

An upcoming segment of this Lavender & Red series will provide more details about the subsequent Tlatelolco massacre and mass arrests of youth and workers on Oct. 2 in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, specifically focusing on the role of the CIA.

Mejía explains, “The demands of the 1968 student movement included those of an entire generation of Mexican youth. Outstanding among the demands were political freedom and also sexual and personal freedom. Gays and lesbians were among the movement’s activists and main leaders.” The movement “expressed women’s desire for freedom, as well as gays’ and lesbians’.”

Mejía stresses the way in which solidarity cements political unity. “Their presence under the banner of solidarity with other oppressed people—political prisoners, workers, peasants—earned support and sympathy for their cause. Their daring behavior and their repeated exposure of abuses gained them the support of the feminist movement and the left, changed the attitude of the traditional yellow press, and won over prominent intellectuals. Most important, they convinced a wide sector of society of the legitimacy of their demands.”

Mejía concluded that the struggle won “greater public visibility of Mexico’s gays and lesbians; support for their exposure of police abuse from a broad sector of public opinion; legitimation of the struggle for civil rights; and the emergence, through the influence of their example, of other gay groups in several cities, most not ably in Guadalajara and Tijuana.”

‘Desire and militancy’

In his essay, “Desire and militancy: lesbians, gays and the Brazilian Workers Party,” author James N. Green offers an over view of the lesbian and gay rights movement in Brazil.

Green recalls, “Brazilian gays and lesbians were living under the most repressive years of the military dictatorship which ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. ... Although homosexual men and women were not specifically targeted by the dictatorship, the increased numbers of military police in the street, the arbitrary rule of law, and the generalized clamp-down on artistic and literary expression all created a climate which discouraged the emergence of a Brazilian lesbian or gay rights movement in the early 1970s.”

In Argentina, however, Green notes that a group of 14 men in a working-class Buenos Aires suburb met in 1969 to form Nuestro Mundo (Our World), the country’s first gay rights organization. “By 1971 six divergent Argentine groups had come together to form the Frente de Liberación Homosexual de Argentina (Homosexual Liberation Front of Argentina).”

That year, the Frente de Liberación Homosexual formed in Mexico. And in 1974, “lesbians” and “gays” in Puerto Rico had founded Comunidad de Orgullo Gay (Gay Pride Community) and published the newspaper “Pa’ Fuera.”

Next: 1960s in U.S.—police brutality meets resistance from coast to coast.

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