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Gay Liberation in Canada:
A Socialist Perspective

The Socialist Perspective for Gay Liberation

This statement was adopted by the August 1976 plenum of the Central Committee of the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialists Ouvriere. The Political Committee’s original draft statement (IDB Vol. 11. No. 6) was edited to incorporate the results of the LSA/LSO membership discussion and the plenum decisions.

This statement has three aims:

  1. to reaffirm the League’s rejection of all forms of discrimination and oppression suffered by homosexuals and our unconditional support of the struggles of gays for full civil and human rights;

  2. to assess briefly the current stage of the gay liberation movement;

  3. to present guidelines for the League’s participation in the gay liberation movement.

The gay liberation movement is a product of the current radicalization. Gays are becoming conscious that their problems are social in origin, a product of specific social institutions, and attitudes flowing from these institutions. They are organizing to fight politically against that oppression.

Since the gay movement began, it has established itself in every major Canadian city. Many campuses, for example, now have gay liberation organizations which function as recognized campus clubs. While it is still small, the gay movement has had a significant impact on prevailing social attitudes. It has begun to win a greater acceptance of homosexuality. While anti-gay prejudice is widespread and deep-rooted, it is no longer unchallenged.

The gay liberation movement has advanced a political program of powerful democratic demands for gay rights, and its protest actions have won a wide hearing.

A typical indication of this is the case of Doug Wilson, a University of Saskatchewan lecturer fighting a case of job discrimination. He has received widespread support both on and off campus, including some student demonstrations on his behalf.

The growth of the gay movement shows the depth of the radicalization, which challenges the most basic prejudices, including the ‘natural inferiority of women’ and the ‘unnatural’ character of homosexuality.

Capitalist society represses natural human sexual impulses. The sexual behavior imposed through the family and other capitalist institutions severely damages all sexual relationships. Individuals are incapable of following their sexual inclinations spontaneously, free of guilt, fear, and neurosis.

The repression of homosexual behavior is an aspect of this sexual oppression. It reinforces the approved model of heterosexual, monogamous relationships, confined as much as possible to the framework of the nuclear family. The gay liberation movement weakens the grip of this repressive institution.

Gay oppression and anti-gay prejudice are deeply embedded in Canada, as in all capitalist countries. Gays are also oppressed in post-capitalist states like the Soviet Union and China.

Anti-gay hysteria is the common coin of right-wing and fascist groups. Gays face discrimination in housing, employment, and immigration; they are subject to harassment and physical brutality. Efforts are made to exclude gays from many important areas of employment, and to admit them to others only on condition that they keep secret their sexual orientation.

In many cases, homosexual acts are explicitly illegal. In Canada homosexual relations between “consenting adults” were allowed under the 1969 amendments to the Criminal Code, but the age of consent was established at twenty-one years, significantly higher than the age limit for heterosexual acts. This means that a significant proportion of homosexuals, those under twenty-one, are criminals for exercising their sexual preference.

Faced with this situation, most gays try to hide their sexuality, living in constant fear that their real sexual preference will be detected.

The gay liberation movement rejects these vicious forms of anti-gay discrimination. In growing numbers, homosexuals reject the fear and self-hatred they have been forced to live with, and affirm their pride in their sexuality. They are beginning to conclude that they are not guilty — society is guilty, for its persecution of gays.

The League welcomes the development of the gay liberation movement, and unconditionally supports’ its struggle for full civil and human rights for gays. We completely reject all reactionary “theories” that maintain homosexuality to be an “illness” or “perversion.”

We support gays, as we support every oppressed group struggling for its basic democratic and human rights. We understand the power of such struggles.

The gay liberation movement challenges fundamental propositions of bourgeois morality, and its struggles are directed against the political institutions that uphold morality: governments, the church, the courts, the educational system. It thus tends to put in question the legitimacy of these institutions and of the social system they represent.

The bourgeoisie may well make concessions under the pressure of the gay liberation movement. But no such gains can be secure in a decaying capitalist system, whose rulers are increasingly hostile to democratic rights in every form.

The existence of gay oppression underlines the fundamental character of the system, rotten through with exploitation, oppression, and poverty, defending and justifying these abominations and deepening human misery. Awareness of gay oppression helps people to draw the conclusion that the capitalist system as a whole must be overthrown, and that a socialist society is necessary.

This understanding raises in turn the question of how a widespread consciousness of the need for socialism can be created, of the role of the working class in this process, and of the need for a revolutionary leadership.

Within this context any movement of the oppressed demanding change has a very great potential. The fight for gay rights will help gay activists come to understand the need for socialist revolution, and throw their lot in with the working class in the struggle against capitalist rule. We can also expect that the working class, which is now shot through with anti-gay prejudice, can be won over time to support the struggle of gays for equal rights, and will make this goal its own. The demands and aspirations of gays, and the gay movement itself will be a component part of the revolutionary process in this country.

As a revolutionary organization with the goal of leading the working class in the fight for state power, the League takes positions on questions of program, strategy, and tactics for the political struggle. It does not adopt positions on questions of culture, science, or sexuality.

Consequently, the LSA/LSO does not take any stand on the essential character or value of homosexuality.

What is our position on discrimination and prejudice against gays? What demands should the gay liberation movement put forward? What forms of action should it adopt to achieve its goals? What is its relationship to other social struggles? These are the kinds of questions on which we, as a movement, should express our opinion.

We often utilize scientific conclusions to help further the struggles of the oppressed. Many League members are active in scientific or cultural fields. But it is not the League’s task to develop scientific positions, or to pass judgment on scientific debates. Even on scientific questions where there is a well-established position of Marxism, as in the debate among anthropologists on the matriarchy as a stage of human evolution — where we have an interest in ensuring that the Marxist view receives a hearing — we do not ask the League membership to vote for this or that position and the League as such does not take a stand.

Similarly our movement rejects quack racist theories of white superiority, but we do not take a stand on this or that scientific view of human heredity or of the nature of physical and racial differentiation in the human race.

Questions of the nature or value of homosexuality, or on sexual orientation and life-style fall into this category.

An additional factor is the absence of an authoritatively established Marxist point of view on questions of the nature of sexuality. The facts on questions of the nature of human sexual orientation are not clearly established, and the discussion of this topic is not far advanced.

We reject the prevailing bourgeois views that homosexuality is “sick” or “perverted” or a form of “deviant behavior.” We have nothing but contempt for these so-called theories whose sole function is to rationalize this or that form of social oppression. But we do not counterpose to them an “LSA/LSO theory” of homosexuality, or of sexuality in general.

We do not have to take a vote on the nature of homosexuality to reject all forms of anti-gay discrimination, and to identify completely with the aims of the gay liberation movement. This is what we have done. We welcome the entry onto the political arena of the gay movement. We express our solidarity with the growth of gay pride. We support all the struggles of gays for equal rights. We view this movement as an important and dynamic new component of the radicalization. We want to be part of it and to put forward our views on how it can best be built.

Current Stage of the Gay Movement

Two kinds of organizations compose the gay liberation movement. A minority of groups conduct public protest actions for civil rights for gays — the most advanced and politically conscious groups. A broader range of groups are socially oriented — homophile associations and gay community centers which provide services for gays, and opportunities for gays to meet one another. There are also gay churches in several Canadian cities.

The gay liberation movement has attained a considerable level of organization and cross-country coordination. This is largely due to the leadership of the action oriented groups, which have launched a number of civil rights and defense campaigns and have succeeded to some extent, in involving a broader range of gay organizations however reluctantly on their part.

Some of these activities include: actions in opposition to the federal government Green Paper on immigration; the organization of several gay pride marches in different cities; pickets protesting censorship of gay publications and advertisements; campaigns in several provinces demanding protection for homosexuals under provincial human rights acts; and two important campaigns protesting job discrimination, the cases of Doug Wilson in Saskatchewan and John Damien in Ontario.

Three cross-Canada conferences of the organized gay liberation movement have now been held.

The year 1975 saw the establishment of the National Gay Rights Coalition, a cross-country organization representing the overwhelming majority of organized gay groups in the country. It is defined as a civil rights organization with two main objectives: the removal of all federal legislation discriminating against gays, and the implementation of legislation guaranteeing full civil rights for gays.

These are promising developments. Groups favoring political action have carried out a number of excellent campaigns, and laid the basis for a cross-country movement, achieving a good deal of unity around these initiatives. Experience will show whether this direction is maintained and whether the action-oriented leadership that has promoted it continues to develop.

Our strategy

We have advocated a strategy for gay liberationists which is fundamentally an application of the mass action strategy we have fought for in other arenas including the antiwar movement and the women’s liberation movement.

This strategy has several elements:

  1. there is an observable and growing consciousness among gays that they are oppressed by this society, and at the same time a growing willingness to struggle against that oppression;

  2. gay oppression is concretized in legislated anti-gay discrimination, in the Criminal Code, the Immigration Act, and elsewhere; and in the absence of any protection of gays alongside protective legislation for other oppressed groups, as in the provincial Human Rights Acts;

  3. gays who are becoming aware of the need to organize and fight will respond to, and can be mobilized around, concrete campaigns which single out specific aspects of anti-gay discrimination, and put forward demands that meet the needs of gays and around which they can rally;

  4. through united campaigns and public, mass-oriented actions, gays can wrest concessions from the ruling class which can alleviate some of the worst aspects of anti-gay discrimination, and develop the confidence of gays in their ability to struggle and make gains;

  5. such campaigns can enable gays to gain the widest support for their demands from labor, women’s liberation, civil rights and left organizations, and from public opinion in general;

  6. the struggle for full civil rights for gays can be a profoundly educational one for gay activists. It can help them to understand the nature of the ruling class and why it fights so hard to maintain the oppression of gays and others. It can bring gays into contact with other struggles for social change and help them link up with these struggles. It can bring gays into contact with revolutionary ideas, and allow them to develop an understanding of the need for a socialist society, as the solution to gay oppression and all forms of oppression.

Recent actions of the gay movement coincide with this approach in many ways.

League members work actively in the gay movement, as partisans and participants in its struggles. They put forward the League’s views on how the gay movement can best be built, and they present the League’s revolutionary socialist positions.

Our participation in the gay movement should be governed by the same guidelines as those for any area of work. Our central task in this period is to carry out revolutionary propaganda with the aim of building the LSA/LSO as the future mass revolutionary party of the working class. We want to put forward our program, extend the influence of the League, and win new recruits. This is our aim in the gay liberation movement as elsewhere.

To carry this out, we should develop the use of our educational tools. Our press should continue to cover the most important events in the gay rights struggle. We should look for opportunities to carry articles of a more educational nature — interviews with gay rights leaders, and features on important struggles as they develop. Some branches have utilized their forum program as a means of developing connections with the gay movement and presenting our views on gay liberation. We want to take part in the conferences and other important actions of the gay movement.

In addition, branches may want to consider intervening in gay organizations in their cities — that is, assigning a comrade or comrades to work within local gay organizations. Branch leaderships should decide this taking into account the other tasks before the branch, the possibilities of recruitment and other gains for the League, and the cadre resources the branch has at its disposal. Where we do assign fractions, our approach is the same as elsewhere: we want to work as serious builders of the organization, assuming whatever responsibility is necessary to carry out our tasks and win the confidence of the people we are working with.

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