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Struggles for sexual, gender liberation rooted in national liberation movements

Lavender & red, part 113

Published Oct 21, 2007 11:30 PM

Resistance rose wherever European colonial and imperial powers enforced the restructuring of indigenous sexualities, gender expressions, organization of the sexes, and family and kinship structures. This “New World Order” facilitated the economic exploitation of the labor, land and resources.

The struggles against colonial and imperialist outlawing of same-sex love and gender/sex variance among oppressed peoples, therefore, are also rooted in defense of sovereignty and the right of self-determination. This resistance has taken many forms—as diverse as the indigenous forms of social organization that existed prior to colonial domination.

In innumerable instances, leadership in these struggles came from those who did not conform to the colonial and imperial gender, sex and sexual dictates.

Female-bodied Carmen Robles
enlisted as male and fought
for independence from Spain.

The self-identification or social organization of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transsexuals and transgender people in the U.S. or Britain today is not identical to the Brazilian travesti, Zulu skesanas, South Asian hijra, Crow badé, Cocopa warhameh, Chumash joya, Maricopa kwiraxame, Turkish köçek, Moroccan hassas, Chinese tongzhi, Filipino bakla or Lakota koskalaka. Self-identification and group identities are specific to material social and economic histories.

Every form of indigenous resistance by oppressed peoples against the sexual and gender mandates of the colonial and imperial powers is part of the fight against cultural imperialism. These battles on many fronts expose racist ideological dogma, which tries to erase world history by claiming that the way social and sexual organization is in the oppressor nations is the way it’s always been.

Many battles

‘Rebecca and her daughters’ lay siege
to British toll gates in South Wales.
From the Illustrated London News, 1843

Conquistador Nuño de Guzmán recorded in 1530 that the last person his military took prisoner after a battle, who had “fought most courageously, was a man in the habit of a woman.”

Historian Daniel Wilson recorded that in Edinburgh in 1736, “The Porteous Riots, which were sparked by a hated English officer and oppressive custom laws and expressed resistance to the union of Scotland with England, were carried out by men disguised as women and with a leader known as Madge Wildfire.”

In 1839, peasants in Wales rose up against the British demand for tolls on the roads to market. Male-bodied guerrilla fighters in diverse parts of Wales cross-dressed, calling themselves “Rebecca and her daughters.”

On the North American continent in the late 1890s, the Crow nation defended a Crow badé named Osh-Tisch, which translates into English as “Finds them and kills them.” In a 1982 oral history, Joe Medicine Crow related that one government agent “tried to interfere with Osh-Tisch, who was the most respected badé. The agent incarcerated the badés, cut off their hair, made them wear men’s clothing. He forced them to do manual labor, planting these trees that you see here on the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] grounds. The people were so upset with this that Chief Pretty Eagle came into Crow Agency, and told [the agent] to leave the reservation. It was a tragedy, trying to change them.”

Lakshmi Tripathi (left) from Dai
Welfare Society and Gauri Sawant
of Charchowgi at 2006 media
conference protesting Lucknow arrests.

A Lakota medicine man recounted to historian Walter Williams the pressures on the winktes in the 1920s and 1930s. “The missionaries and the government agents said winktes were no good, and tried to get them to change their ways. Some did, and put on men’s clothing. But others, rather than change, went out and hanged themselves.”

Female-bodied Mexican revolutionaries enlisted as males and fought for national independence from Spain. A number of them rose to the rank of colonel, including Carmen Robles, Carmen Amelia Flores and Limbania Fernández. (suppressedhistories.net)

Cross-dressing Puerto Rican labor organizer Luisa Capetillo was arrested for wearing men’s clothing in Havana while organizing tobacco workers in July 1915. Capetillo fought the charge in court and won.

Cuban lesbians reportedly played an important role in the pre-revolutionary urban struggle that helped to overthrow the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in 1959.

Max Mejía, a founding member of the Grupo Lambda de Liberación Homosexual in Mexico City in 1978, explained, “In the 1950s, gay and lesbian life in Mexico was largely confined to big cities, in particular Mexico City.”

He described the massive student uprising in Mexico City during the 1968 Olympics, which resulted in the military slaughter of hundreds of activists. “The demands of the ‘68 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.” Activists carried hand-made “Gay rights!” signs.

In 1971, La Frente Liberación Homosexual formed in Mexico City to protest the firing of gay workers by Sears store bosses in the capital city.

James N. Green, a co-founder of the Brazilian gay and lesbian movement in São Paulo in 1978, wrote: “In 1968 student mobilizations swept through Latin America from Mexico to Rio de Janeiro, confronting authoritarian regimes and demanding more political freedom.” A year later, he wrote, “a group of fourteen Argentine men met in a working-class suburb of Buenos Aires 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).”

“In 1974,” he added, “Puerto Rican lesbians and gays organized the Comunidad de Orgullo Gay (Gay Pride Community) and began publishing the newspaper Pa’Fuera on the island.”

In Puerto Rico, activists struggled for years to overturn the 1902 U.S. colonial “anti-sodomy” edict which was a copy—word for word—of the California Penal Code. After a long legal battle by Puerto Rican activists, the island’s Senate abolished the “sodomy” law in June 2003, days before the U.S. Supreme Court officially decriminalized same-sex love.

In Hawaii in 1991, two gay men and two lesbian couples filed a court suit for their right to marry. They argued that the Hawaiian Constitution guaranteed their right to equal protection. But the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled against them in 1999, arguing that a U.S. state constitutional amendment gave the “state” legislature of Hawaii the right to bar same-sex marriage.

Many fronts

Black lesbians in Johannesburg and Cape Town townships helped build a lesbian/gay movement and link it to the anti-apartheid struggle.

Gay African National Congress anti-apartheid warrior Simon Nkoli “came out” during the notorious Delmas treason trial of the mid-1980s. “Upon his release from prison in 1989,” wrote South African political journalist Mark Gevisser, “Nkoli founded GLOW, radically different from the gay organizations that preceded it in that it was a [B]lack organization.”

Historian Peter Drucker noted that the 1992 Lesbian/Gay Pride March in Johannesburg was led not by white lesbians or gays, nor by Zulu transgender ‘skesanas’ from the Black townships, “but by the skesanas’ butch ‘injonga’ boyfriends—who were not considered gay.”

Nairobian writer John Mburu noted that Simon Nkoli organized an AIDS conference in Kampala, Uganda in 1996—three years before he died as a result of AIDS—that gathered lesbians and gays from about 20 African countries.

Drucker wrote, “Indonesian waria were also organized in the 1960s, before there was any attempt to organize a gay movement as such, in fact before there was much gay organizing in Europe or North America.” In 1965, the CIA led a counterrevolution there that drowned in blood the anti-colonial struggle, which had communist leadership.

Drucker noted that Pakistani hijra “organized successfully in the early 1960s against a ban on their activities by the Pakistani government.” Pakistan, like India, is still burdened with Article 377—the British colonial-era law against “unnatural” sexuality.

In India, the Naz Foundation took its challenge to Article 377 all the way to the Delhi High Court in 2001. In 2006, the arrests of four male-bodied people in Lucknow based on the colonial law ignited renewed struggle to repeal the repressive statute. Namita Bhandare reported in The Hindustan Times on Sept. 15, 2006, “Indian citizens from all walks of life have come forward to sign a letter written by author Vikram Seth asking for the overturning of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.”

In 2005, Hong Kong removed the British colonial edict against same-sex love from its lawbooks.

Next: Beware imperialist pretexts for war.

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