Gay Liberation in Canada:
A Socialist Perspective
The Gay Movement 1971:
A Tentative Assessment
In August 1971 the LSA/LSO adopted an initial report on gay
liberation, which assessed the significance of this new movement and
attempted to formulate a basic Marxist approach to homosexuality.
The six conclusions of the report contained serious errors, which
were corrected in practice before the 1973 convention.
This report is intended to do three things: (1) review how Marxists
go about analysing new social movements; (2) describe the objective
situation as it relates to this specific question; (3) outline the
policy for the LSA/LSO for the immediate period ahead.
When we talk about the objective situation in Canada, there will be a
tendency to compare the situation here with that of the United States.
This is fine, but what we want to get some feel of is the situation
before us in Canada, so that we have some basis to make a tentative
assessment of the movement as a guideline for our approach to it.
In the United States a powerful slogan has come out of the gay
liberation movement: "Out of the closets and into the streets." This is
the logic of the various movements now expressing the deepening
radicalization. In Quebec the independence movement has also raised the
slogan "dans la rue." We know what possibilities lie beneath that slogan
in Quebec. Our analysis of the Quebec nationalist movement, our
experience with this movement, our lengthy discussion about this
movement, spanning several years, has given us this knowledge and
determined the character of our intervention into the nationalist
This is what we want to begin to examine here. We want to ask the
questions: How the slogan "out of the closets and into the streets" fit
into the Canadian political scene? What can we say at this time about
what lies beneath it?
Our attempt to deal with this question is based on some experience of
our movement with gay liberation organizations, the traditional approach
of Marxism to the question of sexual repression under capitalism, our
experience with other movements reflecting the new radicalization, and
correspondence from comrades in other areas who have been considering
1) The Marxist method
Marxists do not create or control radicalizations, or create or
control the movements that express them. Social movements arise out of
objective social conditions. What Marxists can do is, under certain
conditions, play a decisive role in determining their direction. This
means that the possibilities for our intervention in a particular area
are determined by the objective conditions — the objective possibilities
for a movement, its origin, direction and dynamic, and the size and
effectiveness of our own forces. An assessment of a movement is
determined by a concrete analysis of its origins, composition,
activities, program, in the context of the political situation.
2) The objective situation:
The Marxist approach to homosexuality
The gay liberation movement has had its sharpest impact within the
United States and is clearly an extension and reflection of the
deepening radicalization. It is closely allied to the development of the
antiwar and women’s liberation movements — yet another example of those
who are oppressed by the capitalist system, standing up, and fighting
against the system that oppresses them. The reaction of Marxists can
only be to be inspired by this movement and to lend it their support.
For Marxists, the question of sexual repression and homosexuality is
not new. The materialist view of homosexuality has been very clear.
Homosexuality is not a perversion, not a disease, but a form of human
sexuality. Homosexuality has existed in many forms of society, and is
practiced in this one by large numbers of people. The declaring of this
form of human sexual expression as "queer" or perverse is consistent
with the social norms embedded in the nuclear family, one of the most
basic and oppressive institutions within capitalism. A Young Socialist
Alliance comrade active in the gay liberation movement in the United
States put it well when he said that the real degenerates are in the
White House organizing mass murder in Vietnam.
Sexual repression and the oppression of homosexuals is part and
parcel of this system. It will take a socialist revolution to lay the
groundwork to eliminate this form of oppression. This was recognized by
the Bolsheviks in 1917. The 1917 Russian revolution wiped out the
anti-homosexual laws along with the rest of the Czarist criminal code.
It was only with the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy that oppression
of homosexuals was reintroduced. At the beginning of the Stalinist
purges in 1934 there were mass arrests of homosexuals, and laws were
passed against sexual intercourse between men.
Our own movement followed this tradition. We have never been faced
with any particular problem concerning homosexuality and the Canadian
movement has never made any special provisions with regard to
The Gay Movement in Canada
We want to consider a number of things here: the legal situation
confronting gay people; the gay movement itself; and aspects of the
political situation in Canada.
In 1969 the Criminal Code was amended to make certain sexual acts
between two consenting adults, in private, legal. This liberalization of
the law, the gay movement is pointing out today in a brief to
Parliament, left a lot to be desired. The brief points to discrimination
against homosexuality as well as cop harassment and calls for their
A recent panel discussion on gay liberation at a Vanguard Forum in
Toronto discussed harassment of homosexuals by the cops. Cop harassment
goes on (although probably not to the extent that it does in the U.S.)
and homosexuals are often arrested and confronted with criminal charges
— although in many cases penalties are not jail terms but fines.
In the past year homosexual groups — usually called homophile groups
— have been founded in a number of areas across Canada, in most
instances on campuses.
These organizations have begun to carry public activity around the
issues raised by the oppression of homosexuals. These actions have
included public meetings, speaking tours, articles in the press, dances
and picnics. A demonstration was held by Toronto Gay Action recently at
Queen’s Park as a builder for the August 28th demonstration involving
about fifteen people. The response to this public activity of
homosexuals has been interesting. For example, gay activists at the
University of Waterloo speaking to the Waterloo Socialist Educational
Conference told of a favorable reception by non-gay students. The
federal government recently gave a grant of $9,000 to the Community
Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT) and a three-quarter page article
on this organization appeared in the Toronto Star.
The homophile associations that exist tend toward providing social
services for gay people. In most of these groups there are a minority of
activists that want to organize gay people into action against their
oppression. This is the case where our comrades are members of gay
Homophile associations exist in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, London,
Waterloo and Guelph, Edmonton, and Winnipeg.
To this date the substance of the demands raised by this movement is
contained in the brief to Parliament around the civil liberties of gay
To summarize then: during the past year a number of gay organizations
have developed, mainly on campuses. They have raised demands around the
civil liberties of homosexuals against laws which, while more liberal
than those in the United States, reflect the oppression of homosexuals
in Canada. Gay organizations on campuses have generally been accepted
and reports on activities of these organizations in the press have often
In considering the objective situation before the gay movement, two
other aspects of the Canadian political situation should be noted for
both English Canada and Quebec.
In Canada the radicalization tends to be more structured, channeled
and less explosive than in the United States. The NDP in English Canada
and the nationalist movement in Quebec tend to give it this form. It
seems logical that the NDP would move in behind the civil liberties of
homosexuals as well as other civil liberties organizations. In Quebec,
the first public action of the Montreal gay organization was
participation in the July 1st independence demonstration.
These big political factors will have to be taken into account when
considering the development of the gay movement.
We can expect that in the next period the number of gay organizations
will grow as well as the public organized activity of gay people
fighting for an end to the oppression of gay people. This will be
especially marked on the campuses. Within the gay organizations, the
question of sexual repression, the development of gay pride, and the
activities carried around the fight for the civil liberties of
homosexuals, will be a radicalizing factor for gay people who declare
With the movement being so new, it is difficult to project an outline
of its development. However, the general political situation in Canada
suggests that the tempo of the development of the gay movement and
perhaps its scope may be somewhat limited. Certainly at this point a
perspective of masses of gay people coming "out of the closets and into
the streets" is not at all likely.
Summarizing again: we can say that the gay liberation movement in
Canada as we know it is part of the general process of radicalization
throughout Canadian society, but that at this time the perspective for
this movement is not clear.
Comparisons with the Women’s Liberation Movement
A number of comrades have said that since we have a program for the
women’s liberation movement we should have one for the gay liberation
movement, and give the gay movement the emphasis we give to the women’s
movement. They argue that both movements are new developments and
shouldn’t be treated differently.
This view is incorrect for a number of reasons. First, the feminist
movement is not new. It has deep roots in Canadian history. The present
movement reflects a new rise of this movement which has some traditions
of struggle. We know a good deal about the struggle for women’s
liberation through past experiences of the revolutionary socialist
movement with it. The demands raised by the feminist movement, we know,
have a deep impact through all aspects of Canadian society: abortion
repeal, day-care, equal pay, all affect working people directly, both
men and women. The LSA brief to the Royal Commission on the Status of
Women and the findings of the commission itself express this. The
response to the beginning campaign to repeal the abortion laws, as well
as the past traditions of the feminist movement, are a solid indication
of its potential ability to mobilize masses of women into action — out
of the kitchens and offices and into the streets. We know, too, that
this movement is a powerful radicalizing force pointing to the necessity
for socialism. While the gay liberation movement points in the most
general sense to the necessity for a socialist society, we know very
little about its possibility of becoming a major force within the
radicalization-in other words, in contrast to the women’s liberation
movement its potential is not clear.
3) The role of the LSA/LSO in the gay liberation movement
The major consideration here — as it is in our intervention in all
movements — is the question of how it con-tributes to the building of
the revolutionary party. What is involved here is the most efficient use
of our cadre based on an objective assessment of the possibilities.
Recently two of our comrades working in the Toronto organization
CHAT, were encouraged by moderate elements to leave, along with a small
number of other activists, and to form their own organization, which
they did. It is called Toronto Gay Action (TGA). This organization is
the prime mover behind today’s Ottawa demonstration. One comrade has
been thrust into the active leadership of the group and has been working
a number of weeks on the action. He is a co-signer of the brief to the
In this situation, although the direction was not carried through the
branch, we have assumed responsibility for building and leading the gay
The thrust of this report is that at this time we are not prepared to
assume this responsibility. To do so is out of proportion to the
possibilities before the gay movement as we know them now.
To assume these responsibilities requires a planned intervention with
our press and our cadres around a program based on a solid assessment of
the direction and dynamic of the movement. At this point we have
neither. What we have is an appreciation of the movement as a reflection
of the deepening radicalization.
Within that framework the following recommendations are being made:
- We support the fight for gay civil liberties — in our press, our
educational work, forums, etc.
- Our movement does not, at this time, take organizational
responsibility for building and leading the gay liberation movement.
- The movement, at this time, is not taking an orientation to the
gay liberation movement, is not advancing a program within this
movement and not therefore assigning comrades to carry an
intervention into the area.
- Gay comrades who participate in the gay liberation movement will
work under the direction of the movement. Gay comrades in the
organization should seek to orient these groups to participate as
gays in other areas of the radicalization — antiwar, the Quebecois
national struggle, etc., to facilitate the development of gay
militants into revolutionaries.
- The movement does not pressure gay comrades to declare
themselves. This is an entirely personal decision: it is up to the
comrades themselves. Comrades should be aware of the implications of
such a decision in the context of the sexism of capitalist society.
Our movement is opposed to any cavalier, non-serious approach to
- This report will be circulated to the movement and a written
discussion will be organized by the Political Committee.
August 28, 1971
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