In June, 1969, for the first time, customers at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York, fought back against the police when they tried to raid the bar. The modern gay/lesbian liberation movement generally considers this event the birth of their movement. But, unfortunately, this movement really has little in common with the spirit of the Stonewall revolt. Instead of self-defense against the attacks of the state and reliance on their own strength, the strategy of the lesbian/gay movement now consists of reliance on the state’s laws and money, and support for the electoral and legislative process.
Gay/lesbian civil rights legislation and funding for AIDS research are the current focus of the lesbian/gay movement. They lobby for passage of laws to prohibit discrimination in housing, jobs, etc., based on sexual tastes, and go begging to the feds for money to help find a cure for AIDS. Lesbian/gay political alliances and caucuses endorse various politicians running for office and have succeeded in pressuring a number of big city mayors to appoint gay/lesbian liaisons. They talk about the gay/lesbian “community” as if we were a neatly definable political and social group, to be used to reward or punish politicians and government officials with our vote.
There are several other problems with this approach, the most important and fundamental of which is the myth of a lesbian/gay “community.” The gay/lesbian liberation movement promotes the idea that gay men and lesbians have common interests and goals different from those of straight people, and therefore should work together as a group. But I have no more in common with most lesbians and gay men than I do with most straight men and women. Although most gay men and lesbians feel some effects of anti-homosexual bias, the best way to fight this is not by isolating ourselves as a “community,” but by reaching out to other victims of conventional society and allying with them in an attempt to change the bigoted world in which we live. I am not interested in gay/lesbian liberation. I am interested in individual liberation. Respect for and acceptance of individual differences, including sexual tastes, lays the basis for a society of equal freedom for all of us.
The gay/lesbian “community” can be just as discriminatory as any other community or group. Lesbians who engage in S/M sex have been denied meeting space at the Cambridge Women’s Center because of their non-traditional sex tastes. Black men are frequently “carded” and denied admission to gay men’s bars. And Harry Britt, the gay San Francisco supervisor, is supporting the recent ban on sex at the gay men’s bath houses in San Francisco. This is a “community” of which I want no part.
I am not interested in having gay men and lesbians trying to run my life instead of straight people. Neither community has any interest in individual freedom. This is a problem common to all movements which are based on the interests of specific groups, such as lesbian/gay liberation, feminism, or national movements. The interests of the group inevitably supersede the interests of the individual, resulting only in new forms of oppression.
Such a movement logically throws in its lot with the electoral system. Since they really are not interested in fundamental change, but only in opening up the system to more gay men and lesbians, civil rights legislation is a consistent route for them to follow. But reliance on the state will serve only the interests of the leaders of this movement. Passing laws merely increases the power of the state, including lesbian and gay politicians, to interfere with the rest of us. Civil rights laws don’t make it easier to come out to friends and co-workers. They only make it easier for aspiring gay and lesbian politicians to find work. Lesbian/gay marches, for all their problems have certainly helped change other people’s view of us more than any legislation will.
The most recent and well publicized case of this reliance on government is the struggle for state funding of AIDS research. Thousands of lesbians and gay men are clamoring for money from the federal government to help find a cure for AIDS. This is a turn away from the independent gay-oriented clinics which have been started during the last ten years, and toward alliance with the same medical-industrial-government complex that conducted the Tuskegee syphilis “experiments” on unknowing black men, and encourages the sterilization of poor women. Although a cure for AIDS will require lots of money and hard research, seeking help from the state will lead to more government control of health care and less individual initiative and control. The most positive aspect of the AIDS crisis, the formation of self-help and support groups for AIDS patients by the patients themselves, other gay men and lesbians, and especially by gay and lesbian health care workers, is being de-emphasized more and more by gay/lesbian leaders in favor of the fight for governmental funding.
It’s a sad comment on the lesbian/gay liberation movement that the only example of old-fashioned resistance in recent years has been the “White Night” riot in San Francisco. Although it was inspiring to see burning police cars and smashed city hall windows, it was disappointing to realize that the issue that brought people out was the fact that a murderer did not get a life sentence or the death penalty. Killing or locking up Dan White forever will not protect or liberate gay men and lesbians. Only self-defense, by any means necessary, will protect us from those who hate us. Prison and the death penalty are horrors, whatever crimes their victims have committed or been convicted of committing. Supporting them for anyone betrays the movement’s supposed interest in personal freedom.
Gay men and lesbians interested in freedom need to avoid the trap of gay/lesbian liberation. While rejecting the lesbian/gay “community,” we need to be open and assertive about our sexuality and defend our freedom to live as we please. We can do this in the context of a broader struggle for the freedom of all individuals to live as they like, free of the constraints of any authority or “community,” as long as they don’t invade the equal freedom of others.