If ever there has been a time when all of us, in all our glorious dissonance, need to pull together, and align with as many similar associations as possible, it is now. Donald Trump is like a prehistoric monster who has clawed its way out of an ancient tomb with his minions to menace us all with degrees of hateful prejudice the likes of which we’d hoped were forever behind us. Now suddenly we’re all again at grave risk of harm.
This has been evident for some time now, and it’s in this setting that the prolific Martin Duberman’s latest book, “Has the Gay Movement Failed?” (University of California Berkeley Press, 2018), arrives in an unsettling fashion to foment not a little unhelpful discord across wide swaths of an important anti-Trump current, the LGBTQ movement. Duberman trashes some of the most successful institutions that the movement has generated, labelling them “heteronormative” (imitating a hetersexual lifestyle) and, in the case of the biggest, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), conservative, hierarchical, insular, single-issue oriented, and in avoidance of criminal justice, economic inequality and working-class issues, while it pursues singularly nondiscrimination goals.
The HRC has taken heat like this for a long time, except around elections, when progressive candidates can’t thank it enough for the money and manpower it throws into their efforts.
I write this not as an apologist for the HRC, but it and other entities like it are for us and not against us. I am an ally of anybody who wants to defeat Trump and all he stands for in this dark hour of our national history.
There is much in Duberman’s latest book that is of historical interest and food for thought. He seeks to recall the original Gay Liberation Front (GLF) that was one of the first political currents to come out of the era of the Stonewall Riots ferment, which happened during the height of the anti-war, civil rights and women’s liberation movements. The GLF was centered on the general concept of identifying gay liberation with other struggles in the world and striving for a wider solidarity with them.
I was in the middle of all that in the San Francisco Bay Area. I co-founded the Berkeley, Calif,. chapter of the GLF in 1970, wrote the editorial in the first edition of the Gay Sunshine newspaper, the nation’s first of its kind.
But Duberman suffers an anti-West Coast myopia. For example, he writes in his new book that the “Effeminist” current in the movement, those organized as “gay men in the feminist revolution” (a concept still of great importance), began in New York, But its principal organizer there, my friend Steven Dansky, wrote in the book, “Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation” (City Lights Books, 2009) that founders of the current were Jim Rankin and I, who published the newspaper, The Effeminist, in Berkeley in the summer of 1971.
Duberman makes no reference to the historic City Lights’ “Smash” book, published on the fortieth anniversary of Stonewall, and its wealth of information in scores of first-hand recollections of those very earliest 1969-1972 years, including by me. Is that because it came out of San Francisco, where persisting activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca edited the collection, and not New York?
About a year into the post-Stonewall gay era, a fundamental split in the movement occurred which led to the formation of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) by those who wanted the movement to be focused simply on gay issues, and not on wider social ones. Efforts, like the Effeminists, to redefine that wider social context in a way more directly relevant to the gay experience were overwhelmed by the torrent of support for gay-only issues, which drew heavy support from business owners of gay establishments.
The rest is history and the roots of the HRC and like groups are important to know from that standpoint.
Still, notwithstanding all that, those who, like me, might still advocate the GLF ideal must yet recognize the need to embrace all efforts now in a firm solidarity with all resisting what Trump represents, no matter how radical or “heteronormative” anyone’s chosen lifestyles.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected].