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Annual celebration a call for all to fight sexual oppression

Stonewall Rebellion and the tasks ahead

From Workers World in 1975

Published Jun 26, 2008 6:57 AM

We reprint this article from Workers World of June 27, 1975, as part of our archival series. In 1976, the writer, Bob McCubbin, published the first edition of his ground-breaking book, now titled “The Roots of Lesbian & Gay

Oppression: A Marxist View” and available from LeftBooks.com.

NEW YORK, June 23 – “Hundreds of young men went on a rampage in Greenwich Village shortly after 3 a.m. yesterday after a force of plainclothesmen raided a bar that the police said was well known for its homosexual clientele. Thirteen persons were arrested and four policemen injured.”

Thus did the New York Times, the American bourgeoisie’s “newspaper of record,” announce the Stonewall Rebellion in its edition of June 29, 1969.

The report continued, “The raid was one of three held on Village bars in the last two weeks, Inspector Pine said. Charges against the 13 who were arrested ranged from harassment and resisting arrest to disorderly conduct. A patrolman suffered a broken wrist, the police said. Throngs of young men congregated outside the inn last night, reading aloud condemnations of the police.”

Although the Times account was brief and didn’t mention the leading role in the rebellion played by lesbians [and trans people], it was probably more than the Times or any other newspaper had written about gay people in the 14 years since the widely publicized and Nazi-like roundup of large numbers of gay men in Boise, Idaho, in 1955. It was followed by further accounts as the disorders continued through Wednesday of the following week.

Stonewall spurred gay visibility

As with many historical turning points, the importance of the Stonewall Rebellion was not immediately recognized. But as the months passed, more and more gay women and men rallied to the new cry of “Gay Power!” both in the U.S. and abroad. Gays began raising demands for full equality as other oppressed people were already doing. And, as they had in the past, gay people continued to support the struggles against racism, war and in support of prisoners, only now their gay pride buttons and lavender armbands ensured that their proud presence in the front ranks of the struggle would be visible to all.

Stonewall was a historic breakthrough for gay people, and it has come to symbolize the kind of bold and militant action that has won for gays a number of concessions and a measure of respect. But the annual celebration of the Stonewall Rebellion which takes place each year at the end of June is more than a gay holiday. It is a call to all people to take up the struggle against sexual oppression.

Gay oppression hurts straights, too

On a spring evening in 1961 a young man named William Hall stood waiting for a trolley near his home in San Francisco. A short while later he was dead, the victim of a gang of hoodlums who decided to kill him when he answered their question, “Are you a queer?” with one of his own: “What if I asked you that question?” There is no evidence that William Hall was gay, but he was the victim of an anti-gay attack.

Pvt. Donald Weir got fed up with the U.S. Army in 1965 and decided to use the ruse of homosexuality to get out. It worked fine, but three years later he was fired from his civilian job for falsifying his military background. “But I’m not really a homosexual,” he pleaded. His belated confession was not believed. Previously deprived of military benefits because of the “undesirable” discharge, he now faced the task of finding another job with the stigma of homosexuality stamped on his work record.

These incidents and thousands like them show that the struggle against gay oppression involves even more than the millions of gay women and men who live in fear of losing their jobs, their homes, their children and their lives, more even than the thousands of gay prisoners who suffer brutalization, rape and the legal torture of behavior modification programs. Anti-gay prejudice is used against straight people too. It is, in essence, an ideological weapon of the ruling class, a historically rooted prejudice which is used to generate fear, doubt and suspicion among working people, both gay and straight, thus leaving them more vulnerable and divided before the class enemy.

Laws against love

Though intimate relationships between people of the same sex hurt no one, they are against the law in most states. Similarly, most states have laws restricting sexual expression between heterosexuals to the procreative act of intercourse. Of course these laws are not often enforced. But the point is that, enforced or not, they set a tone of fear and repression, emboldening the police and reinforcing ignorance and backward ideas of sinfulness among the people.

When the working class of Russia took power under the leadership of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, one of the first acts of the new government was to remove the tsarist laws against homosexuality and sodomy. The Bolshevik position was summarized in a Soviet pamphlet called “The Sexual Revolution in Russia,” published in 1923: “Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality–Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called “natural” intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters. Only when there is use of force or duress ... is there a question of criminal prosecution.”

As more and more people, gay and straight alike, commit ourselves to building a revolutionary working class movement in the country, we are ensuring a return to the inspiring tradition of the Bolsheviks under material conditions far more favorable to total victory for the exploited and oppressed masses. And the victory of socialism, under the leadership of gay and straight revolutionaries, will end forever the social conditions that spawned and have perpetuated the sexual and homosexual prejudices of class society. Long live the spirit of the Stonewall Rebellion! Smash capitalism, the source of our oppression!