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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 movement.

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 this question.

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 homosexuals.

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 elimination.

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 organizations.

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 people.

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 been objective.

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 themselves.

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 Canadian government.

In this situation, although the direction was not carried through the branch, we have assumed responsibility for building and leading the gay liberation movement.

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:

  1. We support the fight for gay civil liberties — in our press, our educational work, forums, etc.
  2. Our movement does not, at this time, take organizational responsibility for building and leading the gay liberation movement.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 question.
  6. 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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