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Recalling ‘Solidarity Sam’

Workers World fought gay oppression before Stonewall

Lavender & red, part 79

Published Nov 26, 2006 8:59 AM

Years before the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, the leadership of Workers World Party understood the need to fight oppression as a many-headed hydra.

I joined Workers World Party (WWP) in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1973, drawn to its ranks by my rage at the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the bloody CIA-orchestrated counter-revolution in Chile. The first person in the branch leadership that I “came out” to as transgender in late 1973—Jeanette Merrill—listened to me very intently. She responded, “I don’t know much about your oppression, but I know oppression when I hear it.”

My comrades in the Buffalo branch quickly made discussion and understanding about my oppression an important part of branch work. They demonstrated to me that comradeship is different than friendship or family. It is a powerful relationship among people who unite on a solid platform of political principles and who fight against each other’s oppression as though it were their own.

In reaching out to me, some of the older members told me anecdotes about how Sam Marcy—who had founded our political and ideological tendency—had developed their understanding and sensitivity to all forms of oppression, including sexuality and gender expression. While no one could recall the exact dates, these examples ranged from the mid-1950s to the very early 1960s, long before Stonewall.

In one example, Marcy, at that time living in Buffalo as branch organizer, called an immediate halt when a young man sashayed around the office, mocking a feminine male to elicit laughter—something that was and is still quite common in the U.S. generally.

Marcy said firmly, “Stop!”

Marcy, as a former labor organizer, certainly understood on a deep level that “An injury to one is an injury to all.” However, another incident shows the depth of political and historical understanding that Sam Marcy brought to every aspect of social life.

When someone who attended a Party forum made a disparaging remark about drag shows held at a nearby bar, Marcy interrupted him, arguing that this form of expression was a carryover from pre-class society. Before his death, I asked Marcy how he knew that. He replied that he had come across what is today referred to as transgender in his readings about ancient cooperative societies.

Jeanette Merrill recalls that when Sam Marcy first heard that meetings at the Mattachine Society in Buffalo were being menaced by reactionaries, he sent Party members to the society’s office at Main and Utica, telling them, “It’s very important for you to go in solidarity.” Merrill says she and her comrade and life partner, Ed Merrill, a steel union shop steward, attended.

“We walked up there on a Sunday evening—we didn’t have a car. I can’t remember all the details, but I can remember how everyone there greeted us and thanked us for coming. We stayed very late.”

Whole Party fought gay oppression

Bob McCubbin, a gay man who met WWP in the fall of 1960 and is today a Party leader on the West Coast, remembers hearing the news about the opening salvo of the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. “I later heard that a comrade in New York had commented, upon hearing this news item, that ‘A new front against U.S. imperialism has opened.’”

Members of Workers World took part in the following nights of the Stonewall Rebellion in Greenwich Village.

As a militant gay liberation movement emerged after the uprising, Workers World Party and its youth group—Youth Against War & Fascism (YAWF)—demonstrated solidarity on every front in the struggle against sexual oppression.

And it wasn’t just the lesbian and gay, bi and trans members who took part in these struggles. Party members of all sexualities took part in the struggle to “Smash gay oppression!”

Workers World newspaper carried articles about lesbian and gay resistance.

YAWF took part in a 1970 demonstration at the Tombs prison in Manhattan in support of Richard Harris—a gay member of the Inmates Liberation Front of the Young Lords Party.

McCubbin says that, while organizing in San Francisco a year after Stonewall, “I combined my gay liberation activities with Party work in the anti-war movement and the struggle for Black liberation.”

He recalls, “The banner we opened at a big rally for Angela Davis—where we also raised the need to support her co-defendant, Ruchell Magee—was signed Gay Liberation Front, but it looked suspiciously like a Youth Against War & Fascism banner. And it was greeted with some consternation on the part of the rally’s organizers.”

McCubbin describes the spring 1971 anti-war march in San Francisco as “the biggest of the semi-annual West Coast mobilizations during those years.”

“My friends and I carried banners in the march and managed to get out close to 5,000 copies of Workers World newspaper during the rally.”

The large [email protected] contingent had been insensitively placed at the end of the march. The political high point of the event, McCubbin explained, “was when the [email protected] marched into the stadium where the rally was being held and surged through the huge crowd right up to and onto the rally platform, where they stood triumphantly waving [email protected] banners and flags.

“One of the leaders of this action was my gay friend Arturo Rodríguez, who subsequently wrote an article for Workers World explaining the reason for the action.”

Next: Internal development of WWP’s organizational, political and historical contribution to the struggle for sexual liberation.

E-mail: [email protected]