WHAT’S “RADICAL” is always defined in relation to prevailing attitudes and norms. The idea of same-sex marriage was so radical in the 1970s—at the height of the Gay Liberation era—that it wasn’t even discussed; but by the time marriage equality was finally achieved in 2015, it was considered “assimilationist” and conservative by many LGBT activists, who argued that we should be questioning the whole institution of marriage and its patriarchal foundations.
This debate points to a division in the LGBT movement that has existed pretty much from the start. The first “homophile” organization was led by Harry Hay, a card-carrying Communist who promoted a broad agenda of social change. But soon the Mattachine Society was deeply divided, with a large faction splitting off to pursue a more limited gay rights agenda without the social revolution. Two decades later, in the years after Stonewall, something similar occurred when the Gay Activists Alliance split off from the Gay Liberation Front—which was very much a creature of the New Left—in order to focus on gay rights rather than every social injustice.
The argument continues today, though on somewhat different terms now that we’ve achieved basic legal equality. Critics argue that these gains—marriage, military service, employment protection—have all been achieved within a social system that’s rife with racism, sexism, and gross inequality. The moderate agenda of the HRC may have prevailed, but the radical critique has never gone away. In this issue we explore some of its major figures and memorable moments.
On the cover is a man who embodies this comprehensive view of social change, Peter Tatchell, an icon of the LGBT movement in Britain who has no equivalent in the U.S. Since the 1970s, he has led thousands of protests and demonstrations, has been arrested numerous times, and has also served in Parliament. Staying in the UK, Jenn Thompson discusses here a cultural movement of the 1990s known as “rebel dykes” that never organized officially but managed to stage numerous rallies, exhibits, demonstrations, and guerilla events against homophobia, Thatcherism, gender inequality, and so on.
Back in the U.S., a piece by Malcolm Lazin describes how the American Psychological Association was pressured to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness, which began with a bit of agitprop at the APA’s 1972 convention, fifty years ago this year. The action was spearheaded by Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny, two activists known for moderation who became increasingly radicalized after Stonewall. Martin Duberman is back with a piece that looks at the relationship between the LGBT rights movement and the Communist and Socialist Parties. Focusing on two individuals, Dorothy Healey and David McReynolds, Duberman concludes that only the Socialist Party has been a reliable ally over the years.