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WWP’s support for early gay liberation

Party-wide education campaign in 1972

Lavender & red, part 81

Published Dec 10, 2006 9:29 PM

In the months after Workers World Party’s August 1972 conference at which founder Sam Marcy motivated the historic importance of supporting the gay liberation struggle, “Comrades hammered out some important goals for our work,” writes Bob McCubbin.

McCubbin—who had founded the Gay Caucus of WWP’s youth group Youth Against War & Fascism (YAWF) a year earlier—stresses that, “First and foremost, we wanted to show our support for the gay liberation movement in every way we could.”

New York City: Way back in 1972,
Workers World's youth group,
Youth Against War & Fascism (YAWF),
had already been part of the struggle
in the streets for gay liberation.

He recalls, “If we step back for a minute and consider all the struggles in which Workers World Party and its youth group were involved at this time—building anti-imperialist opposition to the U.S. war against Vietnam in the streets; supporting and defending the Black Panther Party and other revolutionary organizations of oppressed peoples in the U.S.; exposing the prison-industrial complex, publicizing the cases of the many political prisoners, and defending the political organizing going on in the prisons through the Prisoners’ Solidarity Committee; actively aiding anti-war and anti-racist organizing within the U.S. military, most importantly, by providing strong organizational and political support for the American Servicemen’s Union; supporting workers’ struggles and union organizing and establishing the Center for United Labor Action; providing active leadership, encouragement and ideological support to the growing women’s movement; and educating those we could reach on the many other struggles erupting throughout the world, including our principled defense of Cuba, the Soviet Union and People’s China—the ability of the party to take up the issue of lesbian and gay liberation in the sustained, serious and fully committed way it was done is truly remarkable.”

YAWF organized its own contingent in the 1972 Pride march in New York City, and party members of all sexualities, genders and sexes have marched together under the YAWF/WWP banners every year since.

Nowadays, McCubbin states, many glad-handing capitalist politicians, religious groups and businesses—large and small—want to be seen at the huge yearly Pride marches. “But back then it was largely the politically conscious members of the LGBT communities, mostly the youth, who made up the ranks of these grassroots marches.”

Being principled wasn’t easy

In the decades since, the LGBT struggle has gained strength and wrested many victories, attracting broader support. But at that time WWP’s stand in the movement was unique among the left parties and was not based on any short-term organizational or political advantages. It took principles to be a communist in the gay liberation movement and simultaneously to be for gay liberation in the radical and communist movement—including the self-described “New Left.”

When McCubbin left San Francisco to work in the WWP national office in Manhattan in 1971, he explains, “The gay movement in New York had a very different character from the movement that I left in San Francisco. It was easy for me as an openly communist activist to participate fully in the San Francisco movement. The whole climate, at least among the youth, was very open, very radical, and there was no single dominant organization.”

He explains that as the movement developed, party activists in some cities were caught between the anti-communism of more politically moderate and conservative lesbian and gay groups and the anti-gay prejudices that many other left organizations had not yet examined.

As a result, McCubbin states, as the gay liberation movement grew, “All left organizations were viewed, to one extent or another, with suspicion or open hostility. We were very much at pains to always act in a principled and supportive way, and with our very limited human and material resources, we couldn’t always do much more than simply show support for the lesbian and gay struggles with our physical presence at protests.”

However, he emphasizes, “There was a group that was much easier for us to relate to when I first arrived in New York: the Third World Gay Liberation Front, composed of revolutionary Cuban, Argentinean, Puerto Rican and Mexican trans people, lesbians and gay men. Unfortunately, they were only in active existence for a short period.”

McCubbin stressed that WWP’s 1972 national conference “marked the beginning of a party-wide effort to educate ourselves and our class on this issue. As Marxists we know that it is the struggle that is the great educator, and the new movement of lesbians and gays and transgender people was providing lessons in abundance about the situation of people historically oppressed because of their sexual orientation and their gender variance. But it is important to note that at this time the main focus of the gay liberation movement was on sexual, not gender, expression. Although trans people were involved in the movement, and often stood out as the most dedicated and militant, the issue of gender variation was often, unfortunately, sidelined and/or misunderstood.”

As the struggle was educating and raising consciousness, Workers World Party was on the eve of making a historic contribution to gay liberation.

Next: 1972: Marxism is as Marxism does—WWP begins analysis of lesbian/gay oppression.

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