In light of the recent legalizations of gay-marriage in Iowa and Vermont, author Sherry Wolf yesterday seek to bring attention to the continuous fight against the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning communities throughout history, from the 1969 Stonewall riots to the current controversy over Proposition 8, California’s 2008 ban on gay marriage.
The lecture, which was sponsored by the International Socialist Organization and Haymarket Books, attracted about 20 people.
Wolf, associate editor for the International Socialist Review and author of Sexuality and Socialism, explored the roots of LGBTQ oppression and offered a socialist analysis of how the current economic and social standards oppress everyone, not just the gay community. In order to really rise up and fight for gay rights, Wolf claimed that the LGBTQ must not only organize within their own community, but reach out to other communities that are struggling as well.
“We all know what it means to be oppressed,” Wolf said. “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Wolf introduced the history of LGBTQ oppression with the Stonewall riots, a series of riots between the police and the LGBTQ community which began on June 28, 1969.
At a time when homosexuals were barred from employment, sent to mental institutions for their “psychopathic disorder” and jailed for sexual intercourse, police raids in gay bars were common in the 1960s. However, Wolf noted that this particular raid in Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn was a time when the LGBTQ community actually fought back with “unorganized outrage.”
“It was the moment, the era that sparked it,” said Wolf, explaining the spontaneous reaction from the community.
[img_assist|nid=36716|title=Battle of Words|desc=Sherry Wolf, associate editor for the International Socialist Review, speaks about “The Fight for LGBTQ Rights” last night in Kaufmann Auditorium.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Unorganized as it might be, Wolf said that this outrage built an alliance in the fight for gay rights, which included protestors, socialists, women’s rights groups, black rights groups and more. It also sparked the creation of the Gay Liberation Front, a short-lived but influential group that “rejected society’s attempt to impose sexual roles and definitions of our nature,” according to the group’s statement. And thus, the fight against gay oppression began.
Wolf explained that the movement slowed down due to two main political obstacles: their “retreat into the Democratic party” and “identity politics,” which is politics focused on a specific gender, race or sexual orientation. The retreat into the Democratic party, according to Wolf, softened their voice because they “did not want to tarnish the appeal” to big businesses. Wolf claimed that they began to appease capitalism, which did not help their cause.
According to Wolf, capitalism bred “incubators of gender norms” and “hammered ideological norms [such as] the ways families should look.” Gay relationships challenged that traditional norm. Furthermore, Wolf claimed that under capitalism, everyone is sexually oppressed.
Wolf said that California’s ban on gay marriage, due to Prop 8, came from the lack of unity. She emphasized unity and working together against the “ruling class” that “divides and conquers” all those who are oppressed. According to Wolf, the oppressed includes everyone such as women, blacks, Latinos and the poor. Furthermore, she asserted that the gay community only advertised their cause within the gay community and did not reach out to other communities who are struggling as well.
She referenced the recent Oscar-winning movie Milk and claimed that the audience could see that Harvey Milk — as portrayed by Sean Penn — not only fought within the gay community, but also built alliances without to achieve his goal.
“The role of organized struggle in shifting status quo is paramount,” Wolf said.
Thom Barnes ’12 agreed with this statement.
“Quoting Martin Luther King, ‘we can either all go up together, or we all go down together.’” Barnes said. “As young people, we can all sympathize with one another … we all have trials, we all have tribulations. We must all work together.”
In reference to the recent controversy over program houses, students emphasized the need to stick together.
“We shouldn’t just fight for one community,” Donna Ugboaja ’10 said. “We’re not fighting for just the [gay community] but for other oppressed [communities] too.”
“To win the struggle for true LGBT equality, it needs to be a struggle that reaches out to others … ,” Michael Barnoski ’08 said.
Wolf concluded, along with the students, that the only way the gay community could achieve their civil rights was through building alliances and strengthening their unity.
“If we got together and spat,” Wolf said. “We could drown [them]!”