The Feminist Movement and the Gay Movement: How Are They Related?, (12 October 1975) Washington, D. C

Speech Text

[1] I am a lesbian woman. I know first-hand the discrimination and prejudice faced by gay people. I have been gay-baited on the streets, I have worked in terror of being fired, I have been refused entrance into a university, I’ve watched my gay sisters and brothers harassed by the cops for being “queer”—and I knew that at any time it could be me. I went through years of guilt and shame not wanting to be gay but knowing that I wasn’t straight. Finally, that fear, guilt, and shame began to turn to anger—good, solid, honest, healthy, justifiable anger—at how all gays are demeaned and abused. It was this anger that gave me the ability to fight back, but at that time I didn’t know where to direct the anger or who my allies were, if any.

[2] I, like many lesbian activists, looked long and hard for a movement that could answer my questions about the inequities I saw and felt. I looked at the New Left of the 1960’s, with its long-haired jocks, and that was certainly no place for me. I looked at the lesbian separatist movement but I could not agree that isolation would lead to any real solution. And I looked at the gay movement of the time, but it was mostly made up of men and was nearly as sexist as the New Left. No, none of these alternatives met my needs. I was looking for a movement that would not only relate to me as a lesbian woman, but one that would analyze the causes of my oppression and the injustices I had suffered as a human being in this society.

[3] It was only after long examination of all the various groups that I became a socialist and a feminist. At first I saw the two theories as separate. I was a socialist because socialism got to the roots of sexism, racism, and class exploitation. I was a feminist because I was tired of people trying to push around and walk all over me because I was a woman. It was at this point in my political development when I discovered Radical Women and its program of socialist feminism. I had found, at last, a connection between my struggles as a gay woman and the struggles of other oppressed people. Socialist feminism put them all together. It made sense.

[4] Radical Women, in combination with the Freedom Socialist Party (a socialist feminist party in Seattle), have done serious theoretical and programmatic analysis in their joining of these two ideologies. They have developed a program of socialist feminism, a program which calls for the leadership of women and for unity around the needs of the most oppressed: minority women, women workers, and lesbians, who, because of the double and triple nature of their subjugation, embody the needs of us all. The theoretical connection between socialism and feminism is summed up in this quote from the Radical Women Manifesto:

    1. [5] “We are the majority of the old and the young; we are the majority of the poor. We are the double oppressed half of every oppressed minority, as well as the most economically exploited of American workers…
    1. [6] Feminism—women’s rights—is inseparable from socialism. Capitalism cannot eradicate sexism—or racism or poverty or war or wage exploitation—without killing itself. Recognizing this, oppressed people grope for a socialist solution, and socialism can only come about through revolutionary politics, through a fiercely independent political party of working class and all other wretched of the earth.”

[7] Through socialist feminism I have come to understand that we gays are not persecuted as social outcasts because we are sick, or perverse, or child molesters as our oppressors would have us believe. They do not brand us pariahs because of some biological mistake or an ethical or moral truth. No—the roots of our oppression go much, much deeper. The truth is that homosexuality challenges the most basic social institution in this system of private property and profit: the unit upon which capitalism is built—the heterosexual, monogamous family. Two workers for the price of one is a key prerequisite for capitalist production and profit whether it is free domestic labor in the home, or that kind of cozy slavery combined with low-paying wages in the industrial job market.

[8] In the past, women’s enslavement has been blatantly crude. We were simply the slaves and chattels of husbands and were considered to be the property of men. Today our “traditional” role is realized in a much more sophisticated but no less rigid manner. Everyone is simply conditioned to think of women as indecisive, born to be home-makers, hopefully pretty as a picture, always child-like, artistic, sensitive, sexy, manipulative, and bitchy.

[9] It is not strange that gay men—who have both given up and been denied much of their male privilege—are painted in the same colors: indecisive, good home-makers, pretty, child-like (they always remain boys), artistic, sensitive, sexy, manipulative, and bitchy. As a result, gay men are held in contempt by society, just as women are. Lesbians, however, when they are acknowledged at all, are looked at in horror and fear because we deal a double blow to the male ego. Not only do lesbians reject the stereotypical “traditional” role of women, but because of our independence from men we go on to take what has traditionally belonged only to men: women and jobs.

[10] These mystiques, these sex-role stereotypes, now enforced by the state and church, custom and culture—which keep women in their place and deny us our liberty as gay people—are nothing more than brainwashing by a small minority: a power elite which owns all the wealth and makes all the rules to keep us in our place. Who are they to say what’s healthy or good or right? They, who are the creators of racism, sexism, the Vietnam war, and the bombing of Cambodia—all the things that led to our response in Watts, and in the Christopher Street riots.

[11] No, we as gay people, as women and as minorities, must be the ones who say what’s right. It is incumbent upon us to expose the false morality of this system; to refuse to allow this sham of democracy and freedom to continue unchanged.

[12] In the course of my work with Radical Women I have participated in many community organizations. We mobilized around the issues of police brutality, childcare, and gay rights. During these struggles I have seen the tremendous influence that socialist feminism has on all people. Through this community work we have taken our theory of socialist feminism and seen it work, in practice, as the connecting link between women, minorities, gays and workers.

[13] About a year and a half ago the Action Childcare Coalition, one of the mass organizations we helped to organize, got 300 people to a public hearing. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services had proposed regulations which would have made it impossible for gay people to become foster parents. These same regulations would have raised the requirements for living-standard so high that most minorities would not have been able to qualify as foster parents. We stood up at the hearing and spoke to the common cause between gay people and racial minorities—clearing exposing the institutionalization of racism and sexism. The people at that hearing heard what we said and spontaneously rose to the occasion. Bureaucrats, representatives of service agencies and childcare centers, radicals, and professional social workers all supported the demands of gays, women, and minorities. We stopped the regulations against gay foster parents and we effectively weakened the other regulations. It can happen, it must happen. We’re attacked together, we must fight together.

[14] The same issues that affect gays affect women and minorities: the right to employment; the right to have and raise children; the right to childcare; freedom from sexual and racial stereotypes and prejudice; the freedom from violent assault, rape and police brutality.

[15] We have addressed the issues of police harassment and brutality in STOP (Seize the Time for Oppressed People), a community organization in Seattle. We put an ordinance before the City Council of Seattle which would create a Citizen’s Review Board for the Police Department. This board would have regulatory and enforcement powers to control the illegal actions of the Seattle Police. Organizations representing the spectrum of activists in the Seattle community came to the Council hearing and demanded freedom from policy brutality for racial and sexual minorities, women, poor and working people. The STOP ordinance was not passed by the Seattle City Council, but because of community pressure it did win support from the Board of Freeholders who had been elected to draft a new charter for the City of Seattle. When the Freeholders voted we lost the citizen’s review board by only one vote.

[16] In the fall of 1974, Radical Women was asked to participate in the preparation and teaching of a series of classes with the Seattle Counseling Service of Sexual Minorities. The Counseling Service is a community service staffed by women and men who are concerned about the direction and the goals of the sexual minority community. This series, Adam’s Rib and Other Fibs, was organized to create discussion in the gay community about the nature of gay oppression and how to fight it. The classes were called for because gay people in Seattle were ready for a change, they were tired of a sexually segregated gay community. They called on our assistance because we had long called for unity between women and men within the gay community on the basis of common support of feminist issues. Through this call, we in no way suggest that women should work with men at the expense of our rights as women. We will not! When men are ready to take women’s leadership, to work side by side equally with women then we will see the strength and unity of our common struggle as gay people.

[17] Out of the class series grew the Union of Sexual Minorities, a gay organization made up of both women and men who realize that our common struggle is the feminist struggle against sexism.

[18] As gay people, we are attacked from all the directions I have mentioned—by the police, by the state government, by our employers and landlords. All of these arenas are part of the struggle for gay rights. Far from diluting or diffusing the fight, all of these simultaneous approaches strengthen and energize it.

[19] For our survival we are forced to fight in all these ways at once because we are attacked in all those ways at once. We can only win by soliciting and accepting support from all those waging the same battles. And in turn we must be prepared to give our allies support when they need it.

[20] We’ve been leaders in making this kind of unity work in Seattle, and as a result are beginning to see the demands of Feminists and of Gays raised in nearly all the movements for social change, even the most traditionally resistant.

[21] Recently there was an attempt by the Washington State Legislature to write off protective legislation for working people in the entire state of Washington. An effort to stop this was led by Feminists and now a historic united front has been formed to save protective legislation. The Coalition includes feminists, socialists, trade unionists, gays and racial minorities, all fighting to save our rights as workers.

[22] This kind of organizing, around the survival needs we share with all the harassed and oppressed, is the key to building a strong, solid base of mutual respect and cooperation.

[23] Every woman and man in this room is here today because of a commitment to the struggle to have our needs met as gay people. It is not for fun that we fight. We fight for survival from a system that beats us up on the streets, takes our kids and jobs away and turns our friends and families against us. We fight for survival needs because we must.

[24] We must not fool ourselves into believing that we can ask the capitalist class to please make the world nice for us. They may give us a few crumbs, but they will have to stop somewhere, our rights are not profitable.

[25] Three years ago in Seattle we won protection under the Fair Employment Practices Act on the basis of sexual orientation and political ideology simply by walking into the City Council Chambers and saying “put our protections in that ordinance.” Now, three years later, the Salvation Army is attempting to reverse our gains in employment rights by claiming that the protections are unconstitutional because homosexuality is illegal. Our reform victories are never final, the struggle to maintain them is just as difficult as winning them in the first place.

[26] John Brown, the fighter against slavery, said, “Moral persuasion is not enough.” Well, changing the hearts of elected officials is not enough. Changing the hearts of our friends and neighbors is not enough. Having the American Psychiatric Association change its stand on homosexuality is not enough! Matlovitch’s picture on the cover of Time magazine is not enough! The reforms we work for are not enough. Yes, they prove our growing strength. Yes, we must have them to survive in this hostile world. But the economic system of this country can not afford to give us the amount of reforms it would take to free all gay people.

[27] A true struggle for gay liberation comprised much more than only the demand for gay rights. How can you tell a Black lesbian to fight separately for her rights as a woman, as a racial minority, as a lesbian or as a worker? We are all races, all sexes and most of us are working people. We must address all our needs as gay people, entire human beings.

[28] I started out fighting my plight as a lesbian woman and have come to see a whole world of oppression, both within and without the gay community. I’ve come to see that only through a thorough and correct analysis of the roots of our oppression, and through unity; unity of gays and women, of women and men, of racial minorities and whites, of straights and gays, and all oppressed people, will we have the power and strength to build, all together, a new world. Then and only then will we begin to experience in our daily lives the real and precious freedoms we fight for today.