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Post-Stonewall gay liberation: ‘Power to the People!’

Lavender & red, part 72

Published Sep 12, 2006 10:42 PM

Stonewall is often recalled as a critical turning point in the United States because it marked the qualitative development of a mass movement in this country. That is both evident and important.

The Stonewall Rebellion was certainly not the first time in history that people who today would be referred to as gay, lesbian, bi and trans fought back against police repression. Stonewall, however, was only defensive in its very earliest hours. It quickly turned into an insurrectionary offensive. The street leadership of youth of all sexes—particularly those who were homeless and trying to cobble together a living on the streets, and those who faced oppression based on their nationality and/or gender expression—forced the police and riot troop reinforcements to retreat, again and again, in running battles.

Stonewall was not just a response to oppression. For at least the third time in history, revolutionary leadership sparked a mass struggle for the liberation of same-sex love, oppressed genders and sexes.

But unlike the early 20th century German Homosexual Emancipation Movement and the early 1950s Mattachine movement, the left-wing of gay liberation unleashed by the Stonewall insurrection was more thoroughly multinational and included many more women and trans people. The revolutionary leadership of early gay liberation was both of the oppressed and with the oppressed.

Some 25 militant organizations coalesced across the country in 1969, including the Committee for Homosexual Freedom of San Francisco, which fought job discrimination, and chapters of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in cities that included New York, Berkeley, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

Many of these youth of all nationalities and sexes and genders identified as radicals and revolutionaries. They drew inspiration from the Chinese Revolution, the indefatigable resistance of the Vietnamese people and the liberation struggles sweeping the African continent. Many of the youth of color were actively a part of struggles for their own national liberation, and many of the white youth saw the need to unite against racism and its white supremacist ideology.

Within a week after the Stonewall Rebellion, the Gay Liberation Front formed. It named itself to honor the National Liberation Fronts—the national resistance movements—in Algeria and Vietnam and demanded, in solidarity with the Black liberation movement, “Power to the People!”

The Los Angeles GLF statement of purpose, adopted in December 1969, read in part: “We are in total opposition to America’s white racism, to poverty, hunger, the systematic destruction of our patrimony; we oppose the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and are in total opposition to wars of aggression and imperialism, whoever pursues them. We support the demands of Blacks, Chicanos, [Asians], Women, Youth, Senior Citizens, and others demanding their full rights as human beings. We join in their struggle, and shall actively seek coalition to pursue these goals.”

GLF women initiated their own caucus in the spring of 1970; some of these women later started the “Lavender Menace.” In November 1969 and May 1970, lesbians from the Lavender Menace demanded to be heard at the Congress to Unite Women, opening up the vocal and militant role of lesbian activism on the front lines of the women’s liberation movement.

East Coast GLF delegates and other militants at the November 1969 Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations—a more moderate coalition from the pre-Stonewall era—formed a “radical caucus” that put forward resolutions that included calls to support the Black Panther Party, which was battling police raids, state frame-ups and assassinations; the Chicano grape pickers, who were trying to organize a United Farm Workers union in the field factories; and the Chicago Eight, political activists charged with conspiracy to start a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago; and to take part in demonstrations against the Pentagon’s war in Vietnam.

From San Francisco to Ann Arbor, anti-war lesbian and gay activists organized to stop the war against Vietnam. New York’s GLF organized its own contingent at the Oct. 15, 1969, anti-war march in Manhattan, and an even larger one at the November moratorium weekend in Washington, D.C., in which half a million people protested the Vietnam War. Gay radicals from Berkeley marched with their banners at the November 1969 anti-war rally in San Francisco. And lesbians and gays organized a large and visible presence at the 1971 May Day anti-war protest in Washington.

People of color LGBT forces provided leadership in many of these struggles, and formed their own caucuses and organizations. The struggle against racism and national oppression was an integral, yet highly under-reported, part of the multinational left-wing gay liberation movement.

Next: Nationally oppressed leadership and left-wing gay liberation.