Socialism and the Struggle for The Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men: 1995 Australian socialist resolution

From my former party, now defunct.


Socialism and the Struggle for The Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men

The Activist – Volume 5, Number 6, 1995

By Kath Gelber – 1995

[The general line of this report was adopted by the 16th National Conference of the Democratic Socialist Party on January 8, 1995.]

At our 15th National Conference, held last January, it was decided to draft a new party resolution on gay and lesbian rights. In the report on the revised edition of the party program, we assessed that there were a number of confusions and a lack of clarity among comrades on some of the contemporary issues being debated in the gay and lesbian movements.

We decided to draft a new resolution for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we noted that the language used in the resolution on gay and lesbian rights adopted by our 7th National Conference in January 1979 was outdated. In that resolution, we used the term “gay” to mean both gays and lesbians. As was explained in the introduction to the resolution when it was reprinted in pamphlet form in 1992, that was the terminology that was used in the gay and lesbian rights movement at the time. Since then, the term “gay” has come to be used to refer to male homosexuals.

Furthermore, in the new resolution we have referred to the gay and lesbian movements, reflecting the fact that the movement for gay rights and the movement for lesbian rights have developed differently. The lesbian movement emerged from within the women’s liberation movement as lesbians demanded visibility and their consciousness was raised around their oppression as women and as lesbians. This was different from gay men, who have often been in the forefront of struggles to eliminate anti-gay laws.

Strategy and tactics

In drafting a new resolution on the struggle for gay and lesbian rights, we also wanted to correct a political problem in the 1979 resolution which we had in fact noted at an NC meeting in March 1979, but which has not yet been corrected in a public document on gay and lesbian rights. This problem was evident even in the title of the earlier resolution: “A Revolutionary Strategy for Gay Liberation.” This suggested that we have some specific strategy for winning gay and lesbian rights, which is separate from our strategy for ending any other form of oppression. Our strategy for winning lesbian and gay rights is the same as our strategy for winning women’s liberation or for ending racial discrimination or environmental destruction. It’s the Leninist strategy of building a mass revolutionary workers’ party to mobilise the collective power of the working class and its potential allies to overthrow the capitalist government and replace it with a working people’s government. This is our strategy – our overall plan – for winning gay and lesbian rights.

In the 1979 document there is a confusion between our strategy for ending the oppression of lesbians and gay men and the tactics we advocate for building a movement that fights for the democratic rights of gay men and lesbians. Both of these become subsumed under the phrase “our mass action strategy.”

Mass actions – street marches, rallies, strikes, etc. – are tactics we use in building movements, the aim of which is to mobilise our class in anti-capitalist political action. Our strategy for ending the oppression of lesbians and gay men is to build a revolutionary party to mobilise the working class in mass actions to fight for political power. Building a movement fighting for the democratic rights of lesbians and gay men that relies on mass actions rather than lobbying capitalist politicians, is a tactic to facilitate the implementation of this strategy, to draw working people into independent political action.

Because we have applied the same general tactical line in each of the new social movements that arose out of the youth radicalisation of the 1960s – movements that arose outside the framework of the organised workers’ movement – we slipped into regarding it as our strategy. In the Perspectives Report adopted by the May 1979 meeting of the National Committee, Jim Percy pointed out that:

We developed a tactical line for our political work in the anti-war movement. That’s the first important movement that we become involved in. That’s where we developed, where our ideas developed, where our tactics developed. You must remember how the anti-war movement in this country began, with small committees largely outside the labour movement.

There were marches largely made up of students. As this movement grew to very large proportions it pulled in significant union support. But this union support was not a constant factor. It came out for the big mobilisations at certain critical points but again and again the movement was rebuilt by us posing the question, we need to build mass action, or demonstrations to be more precise.

Again, the women’s liberation movement developed largely outside the labour movement at first. Understanding the reality of the Australian labour movement, that’s no accident. The independent committees, the consciousness-raising groups, developed not in the trade unions, but outside them. We proposed the sort of actions we [had] proposed for the anti-war movement. We used the example of the anti-war movement to say that the women’s liberation movement can win its demands, can move ahead if we do the sorts of things we did in the anti-war movement such as organising the street marches. From a tactical line for the anti-war movement this became our “mass action strategy.” You can see it in resolution after resolution, document after document. At our last conference, our gay liberation resolution, for instance, referred to this “mass action strategy,” as we called it.

Jim Percy then read a passage from the old resolution:

The strength of the homosexual movement lies neither in influential “friends” nor in terrifying cops with flour-bombs, but in the power of masses of people determined to struggle for their rights. The gay movement can win only by relying on its strength: the hundreds of thousands of homosexuals who want an end to their oppression and the hundreds of thousands of “straights” who can be persuaded to support gay rights.

“The Socialist Workers Party therefore favors a strategy of mass action, of mobilising as many people as possible in demonstrations focussed on specific and uncompromising demands.

“Such mass actions are the best way to demonstrate and to increase the strength of the gay liberation movement.”

Jim Percy went on to point out that we generalised this tactical line for each of the social movements so that we slipped into a sort of poly-movementism, i.e., the way to overthrow capitalism began to be seen as adding one movement to another, with each employing mass actions. What eventually get’s left out, is the fact that none of these movements and struggles can really win their demands without the support of the organised workers’ movement.

But our tactical line for the anti-war movement, which began among students, was aimed at winning the support and involvement of the labour movement. And in fact, it was because the movement against the war in Vietnam began to draw support from the unions that it eventually won its central demand – withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam. It was the capitalist rulers’ feared that union support and involvement in the anti-war movement would lead to a broader radicalisation of the working class as a whole, that led them to decide the political cost of keeping Australian troops in Vietnam was too high.

Our tactical line for the women’s liberation movement, which also began among students, had the same strategic goal. i.e., to win the support of and actively involve the organised workers’ movement in the struggle for women’s liberation. Recognising that the leadership of the organised labour movement was hostile to the struggle for women’s liberation, we sought to create the best conditions for drawing more and more workers into the struggle by building mass street marches around particular feminist demands. But over time, we started to slip into identifying this tactical line with our strategy. Protest marches began to be seen as a strategy for winning women’s liberation. United-front type coalitions to organise protest marches began to be seen as a strategy for winning not only women’s liberation, but for overcoming every form of oppression.

This kind of approach leads to other misconceptions; the implication that it is only women who should fight for women’s liberation, or it is only gay men and lesbians who should fight for gay and lesbian rights, which is also not our approach. We support building alliances, strengthening the anti-capitalist movement by taking on board all of the struggles of the oppressed as part of the fundamental transformation of society. This is based on an understanding of what social forces are capable of taking on the ruling class and winning; that the central social force in the struggle to end all forms of oppression is the working class. Through their daily experience of exploitation and oppression workers can learn that the only way to win a struggle is through cooperative unity in action, overcoming divisions based on race, sex and in the labour process between white and blue collar, skilled and unskilled and so on. That is, in order to defend their class interests workers are impelled to overcome the divisions forged or fostered by the ruling class to weaken the fighting strength of our class.

Only by winning the support of the working class as a whole can different oppressed social groups drive back discrimination and oppression, while at the same time moving towards a more fundamental transformation to rid society of the foundations on which such oppression is built.

Social weight and political centrality

This understanding therefore also clearly rejects any notion of a hierarchy of oppression; misleading debates about who is most oppressed. Such debates erect barriers to the building of the alliances necessary to strengthen the anti-capitalist movement. They are fundamentally divisive.

While we reject the notion of a hierarchy of oppression, what we do do, and we do this all the time in determining the priorities for our political work, is make a political assessment of the social weight of oppressed groups and the political importance of struggles against particular forms of oppression. How do we assess the social weight of different oppressed groups and the political importance of their struggles? We do it by looking at their relation to the tasks and line of march of the working class in its struggle for socialism.

For example, our party assesses the social weight and political importance of the struggle against women’s oppression as central to the working class in the struggle for socialism. This is not only because women are a majority in the world, although this is a major consideration. Women constitute a super-exploited section of the work force, and the largest section of the reserve army of labour – both of which are used by the capitalists to hold down the wages and working conditions of the working class as a whole. The working class can’t take state power without combating the discrimination the ruling class imposes upon half its membership, because this discrimination aims at keeping the working class divided, pitting one half of the working class against the other.

Moreover, the struggle against the oppression of women directly challenges the family, the basic socio-economic institution of class society. The struggle against women’s oppression poses a need to replace this fundamental institution, to socialise the tasks performed by women within the family. This poses a direct challenge to class society.

The oppression of gays and lesbians is a by-product of the oppression of women. This was the analysis we made the document adopted in 1979 and it remains our analysis today.

The oppression of lesbians and gay men has many manifestations. They have ranged from ignoring their existence to physical extermination in Nazi concentration camps in World War II. Lesbians and gay men have been subjected to servitude in forced labour camps, denial of their civil rights, assassination by death squads, censorship, imprisonment, castration, clitoridectomy, forced internment in psychiatric institutions, the barring of parents from raising their children, state hangings, dismissals from jobs and the military, shock therapy, family rejection, forced registration with the state, government-sanctioned torture, prison rape, threats of eternal damnation from religious leaders, evictions from churches, and random street violence.

But while there have been many different manifestations of the oppression of lesbians and gay men, homosexuality has not been a basis of systematic super-exploitation within the workforce. Lesbians and gay men do not play a special role in the system of capitalist exploitation of wage labour. While employers in a variety of jobs and professions discriminate against open lesbians and gay men, homosexuals as a group are not subject to the last-hired, first-fired, high-unemployment, low-pay pattern of a super-exploited section of the workforce. The oppression of homosexuality is not a comparable source of direct profits as the oppression of women. Lesbians and gay men are persecuted not for direct economic gain, but as part of the defence of the ideology which justifies the oppression of women through the family system. The social weight and political importance of the struggle against the oppression of lesbians and gay men is therefore less central to the line of march and tasks of the working class in its struggle for socialism than the struggle against women’s oppression.

The nature of lesbian and gay oppression

Lesbian and gay oppression is a result of repressive bourgeois sexual morality, which is an aspect of the ideology used to shore up the family.

Bourgeois sexual morality stigmatises any form of sexual activity that is outside the framework of heterosexual activity within the family for reproductive purposes. It is a fundamentally hypocritical morality. For example, women who are sexually active outside a monogamous relationship are castigated and scorned. Yet men who do the same are not. Women sex workers are criticised for working in their industry and regarded as morally wrong, yet none of this scorn is directed at their male clients.

In preparing this report the National Executive came to the conclusion that some formulations in the draft need to be changed to avoid unnecessary confusion. One is the use of the phrase “homosexuality challenges the ideology of the family.” This would more usefully be phrased “homosexuality contradicts the repressive sexual morality of the family,” that is, bourgeois sexual morality.

Bourgeois sexual morality says that homosexuality – which is clearly not for the purposes of reproduction – is wrong, that it’s an aberration, that it’s unnatural, it’s “against God’s will” and so on. So homosexuality does pose a challenge to this sexual morality.

But the ideology that is used to bolster the family system involves more than sexual morality. For example, it includes the idea that women should bear children and stay at home to care for them, that women should take responsibility for care of the young and the elderly and the sick. This includes the necessity of women staying home and not working, that women do not need economic independence. It asserts that women do not have the right to control their own fertility.

So to change the way we formulate this clarifies our position; homosexuality represents a contradiction to one aspect of the ideology used to buttress and support the family. It contradicts a central aspect of repressive bourgeois sexual morality, which stigmatises all sexual activity outside the framework of sexual relations between married heterosexual couples within the family directed toward the conception of children.

The struggle against lesbian and gay oppression, because it is a struggle against repressive bourgeois sexual morality, has a potentially anti-capitalist dynamic.

Homosexuality and homosexuals

This brings me to another point in the draft resolution that needs to be highlighted. There is a change in our theoretical analysis of the origins and nature of the oppression of gay men and lesbians.

In the document adopted in 1979 we put forward the view that the oppression of homosexuals is a permanent feature of class society. We did not make clear the distinction between homosexual acts, which have existed throughout history and throughout class society, and the identity of “the homosexual” – later gay man or lesbian – which only appears under capitalism.

The origin of homosexual oppression is as a by-product of the oppression of women in capitalist society. It is therefore crucial that we have an understanding of the origins and nature of women’s oppression. That is why we describe this in some detail in the resolution.

But in terms of when, historically, the oppression of homosexuals emerged, we make the point in this document that this is connected with the rise of capitalism. We say that “while homosexual activity has existed in a great diversity of social forms in many human societies, a category of people called homosexuals' has existed in almost none of them. The word homosexual was only coined in the 1860s in German, emerging in English in 1892. The creation of a specific person known asthe homosexual’ is a product of modern societies… Only in the last hundred years… long after capitalism was firmly established in the Netherlands, Britain, France and North America – have gay/lesbian identities emerged in their distinctively modern form.”

This was because capitalism provided – for the first time – the material conditions that made it possible for people engaged in same-sex activity to set up their personal relations on this basis.

Changing family structures and gender roles in the developing capitalist nations combined with industrialisation and urbanisation, created large numbers of people who were able to lead a more independent life outside the constraints of a feudal family structure. These urban communities, made up of new social classes (the capitalists, the urban middle classes and the working class) exercised a greater degree of economic independence and therefore greater possibilities for personal relationships emerged.

While capitalism created the material conditions to make it possible for people engaged in same-sex relationships to live outside of traditional family structures, this also meant that traditional family structures could be undermined. This was one of the contradictions for capitalism.

It was in this context that capitalism needed a repressive sexual morality to tell people that this was wrong, unnatural or evil. Combined with this ideological onslaught there emerged the first anti-homosexual laws. These laws still exist in many places today, and even in areas where the gay and lesbian movement has been able to repeal such laws, repressive sexual morality continues to play its role in promoting homosexuality as wrong or unnatural.

This analysis of the origin of homosexual oppression represents a major change in our theoretical approach. For this reason, a large amount of descriptive material dealing with this point has been included in the resolution. This theoretical analysis is based on factual information which is not readily available. Providing this information in the resolution clarifies for comrades why we have taken this theoretical position.

Other material not widely available or common knowledge has been included in the resolution for purposes of clarification of the political points. For example, the increased lesbian content and the information about the development of the lesbian and gay rights movements in Australia.

This is a programmatic document: it provides comrades with the political framework and analysis for understanding the nature and character of the oppression of lesbians and gay men, and how to fight it. The resolution provides comrades with a framework to understand the debates that exist in the lesbian and gay movements, and our position on them.

In this sense it’s not a conjunctural document, i.e., we haven’t included events that are specific to the current period and don’t help our analysis or understanding, although some of these issues will come up in the report and discussion today.

I want to move on now to discussing some of the sections in the resolution, dealing with some of the debates and confusions in the movements that have emerged since 1979. These form a major part of the new resolution. Clarity on these questions is needed by our comrades, if we are to effectively intervene in the movements. Some of the confusions that reign have, understandably, filtered into the party and have meant there is a degree of confusion within our own ranks.

Identity politics

One of the biggest confusions stems from identity politics, which is very widespread in the lesbian and gay communities; the notion that “identifying” as lesbian or gay, that coming out and being out is a radical political act.

In historical terms the assertion of a homosexual identity has only recently been seen as a political act. Earlier in the development of the movements, “coming out” was an act of defiance, a refusal to accept the social constraints of the day. It broke the rules. Today, while this may in certain specific instances still be true, that is limited. To “come out” today is much less an act of defiance than it once was. And not only is it less an act of defiance, but the logic of identity politics is that that’s all you have to do to be radical. You don’t need to do any more. Being “out” is enough.

The logic of this position is that just being a lesbian or a gay man is radical; that it’s a radical act, a politically progressive act.

We don’t agree with this. We don’t think it’s any more radical to be gay or lesbian that it is to be a woman, or to be black, or to be a wage worker. Being oppressed is not a radical political act. Joining in common action with others to fight oppression is.

Certainly, the recognition of oppression is an essential step is the development of political movements against that oppression. But by itself, recognition of oppression is not a radical political act. This is one of the limitations of identity politics. It does not have a logic of advocating getting involved in a political movement to struggle for the rights of lesbians and gay men. On the contrary, its logic is that you can change society through individual acts, through coming out or even just engaging in same-sex relationships. Ultimately, identity politics is an expression of petty-bourgeois liberalism. This has obvious limitations in the light of what I discussed earlier in the report about our strategy for combating the oppression of lesbians and gay men, our strategy for fundamental social change.

Identity politics therefore seeks to build a movement on the basis of personal choice and individual lifestyle. It draws on the understandable situation under capitalism where, on a social level, gays prefer to live, socialise and work with other gays and the same goes for lesbians. As a political party we don’t take a position on any person’s individual choices about who they prefer to socialise with.

Identity politics attempts, though, to create a movement based on these social ties rather than on political ties, on common political views. It advocates that, for example, a movement for gay liberation should be composed only of gay men, rather than being composed of all those who politically support gay liberation. Or that a a movement against the oppression of lesbians should be composed exclusively of lesbians, rather than of all those who support the struggle against the oppression of lesbians.

An example of the limitations of identity politics is the recent furore in Sydney over Oxford Street, the so-called “gay mile.” In fact, this debate has shown how identity politics lead to reactionary, anti-democratic ideas. Oxford Street contains a large number of gay owned and/or what are now called “gay-friendly” businesses. That means capitalists who have realised they can make money out of a ghettoised community. Some of these capitalists are themselves gay and they publicise this fact because they believe it will give them an edge in a competitive market. And in many senses they’re right. Other capitalists dress themselves up as gay-friendly, they stick pink triangle “Safe Place” stickers in the window of their businesses, they offer 10% discounts to members of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, they put a float in the Mardi Gras parade, or they provide some minimal sponsorship to a community event. There are other ways of proving their gay friendliness, but basically they promote a business to the gay and lesbian communities in the hope that it will become trendy. They usually charge exorbitant prices for their goods and services too. It’s a niche market.

Recently a debate was started when the South Sydney Council, which controls one side of Oxford Street, proposed a refurbishment and zoning plan to upgrade the area and attract “gay” businesses. Included in the proposal was its reverse side; venues “that would be likely to attract people likely to be perpetrators of violence” would not be permitted to set up in the area. That is, businesses that people like the lobby groups feel will attract young heterosexual men, will be disallowed. The Council which controls the other side of the street opposes the plan. Commentators from the gay and lesbian community have had a mixed response. It has been claimed in the gay and lesbian media that doing this represents positive discrimination, or affirmative action for gays and lesbians. One of the phrases quoted was, “there’s nothing wrong with discrimination per se.”

The rationale is to control violence against lesbians and gay men on the street – and this is a real and escalating problem. But of course any push to control the entry of new businesses into the area caters nicely to the profit margins of the capitalists already situated in Oxford Street.

In this debate, some of the lobby groups have supported the proposal to exclude supposedly inappropriate businesses from the area. In their comments and the coverage in the gay press, gay capitalists have been portrayed virtually as automatic representatives of the majority of gays and lesbians as a group, who like the rest of the population are working class.

The social causes of anti-gay and anti-lesbian violence are not discussed or examined. The question of who benefits from anti-gay and anti-lesbian violence is sidestepped, and therefore the question of who can be won as political allies to a movement demanding an end to such violence is not taken up, or understood. This means that heterosexuals are seen as the enemy – on the basis of their identity as heterosexuals.

These views are being expressed by some people in the community who see themselves as the spokespeople for all gays and lesbians. This of course is not the case. Most gays and lesbians are not part of the “gay and lesbian community.”

This approach – of excluding some young heterosexuals from Oxford Street – attempts to solve the very real problem of violence against gays and lesbians by ghettoising the community even further and segregating gays and lesbians from heterosexuals. There is no room for any alliance with heterosexuals who support gay and lesbian rights.

In fact, this issue hasn’t only been the result of identity politics. It has also been framed by its logical extension – separatism.

Gay and lesbian separatism

In the gay and lesbian “communities” separatism is expressed in a variety of forms ranging from lesbian separatist feminists to rich gay men who don’t want women coming to their bars.

Separatism has been a phenomenon in the feminist movement since the second wave. Feminist separatism is based on an analysis of the origins and nature of women’s oppression which identifies men – individually and collectively – as the enemy. Women are subordinated because of men’s manipulation of women’s sexuality and their reproductive role, especially through the use of violence and rape. The primary oppression of women is then generalised to the creation and maintenance by men of all other divisions and inequalities in human society.

Separatists therefore advocate separating from men as a strategy for women’s liberation. You’re therefore not a “real” feminist if you have dealings with men or are not celibate or lesbian.

This current still has its advocates in the lesbian feminist movement, and a recent controversy that has emerged in Sydney illustrates this very well.

A couple of years ago a project called the Lesbian Space Project (now called Lesbian Space Inc.) was launched. The idea was to raise money to buy a centre for lesbians. The fundraising began in earnest long before the specific politics of the project were publicly discussed. The project was advocated in the name of “coalitionism.” The general gay community was asked to donate money to the project, and by doing so they were supporting lesbians and therefore helping to build a coalition. The definition of this kind of coalition work was respecting each others’ rights. This included respecting each others’ right to political independence. Gay men were asked to show their support for coalitionism, and prove they were not sexist, by donating to a project that they were never to be allowed to participate in.

By this logic, the whole notion of political independence of a movement fighting against gay and lesbian oppression became equated with being socially separate; political independence for the lesbian movement has become synonymous with having a space that no-one else is allowed to have anything to do with, but they are expected to support it – especially financially.

When we talk about a movement retaining its political independence, e.g., the women’s liberation movement, we mean it is a movement organised and led by those who are subjected to a particular form of oppression that that movement is fighting against and that it does not subordinate this struggle to the needs and concerns of capitalist politicians. Separatists, on the other hand, confuse political independence with social separateness – and demand their right to do so in the name of “coalitionism.”

This has been the experience in regard to lesbian separatists and the Lesbian Space Project. Recently, the project has been the focus of a heated debate fueled by a group calling itself the Autonomous Lesbian Movement. This group stacked out meetings of the LSP with proxy votes from interstate and voted to ban male to female transsexuals who identify as lesbians from the LSP. This approach was justified as follows:

We are feminist lesbians who identify and define lesbian as female-born. We take an autonomous and proactive position both in defining ourselves, and in our intention to set our agenda according to our own perspective, beliefs and requirements, and not according to those of any other political or social agenda… In recent times there has been a push by lesbian identified male to female tranies to enter into lesbian community and redefine our politics… The fact that lesbian space is in jeopardy, clearly demonstrates the dominant social power of even a small minority of male born people to define themselves as “woman” and “lesbian.”

The LSP organisers claim these tranies deny their claim to the existence of real differences between men and women and force lesbians to accept that female-born bodies “are equivalent to male bodies with some surgically constructed female parts.” The LSP organisers announced after a “community consultation” meeting to only accept as members “lesbian identified women who are born female.”

Queer politics

The separatist group Autonomous Lesbian Movement claims they have formed in response to queer politics, to “reclaim feminism.” Historically, the development of the queer movement was the reverse of this. It followed on from separatism as a reaction to it. Queer politics was based on the idea that anyone interested in or involved in unconventional sexual activity, identity or even dress and appearance, could be part of a so-called queer movement which challenged “straight” heterosexual behavior. It claimed to be inclusive and open, reacting against the separatism and/or identity politics that had been such a big part of the politics of the gay and lesbian “communities.”

Queer political theorists were criticising gay and lesbian identity politics for being not radical enough, for not challenging gender stereotypes. They claimed gay and lesbian identity politics relied on a so-called polar view of sexuality, i.e., that a person is either heterosexual or homosexual. They claimed that under the banner of queer it was possible to unite broad layers of people suffering sexual repression, and that this was in fact a more radical position than traditional identity politics.

In the end, queer politics became the ultimate in identity politics – under a new name. It advocated the adoption of a new, radical identity – the identity of queer which was claimed to be a more progressive identity than that of gay or lesbian, as well as being inclusive of bisexuals, transsexuals, cross-dressers, S/Mers and others engaging in unconventional sexual activity.

Queer politics remained inside the framework of identity politics with all its limitations. Queer politics claimed to solve questions of oppression by virtue of a new label. It advocated unity not on the basis of political agreement around demands directed against discriminatory social practices or a struggle for democratic rights. Membership of queer groups is defined by who you are, what your sexual practices are. In this sense it has the same problems as identity politics – a unity based not on political agreement, but on social ties, with all the limitations that implies.

Queer politics was particularly appealing for bisexuals who had been involved in the gay and lesbian movements for years, often in the forefront of many struggles. Yet due to the combination of identity politics and separatism in the movements, bisexuals were often excluded; branded as “sleeping with the enemy,” or unable to make up their minds because they participate in both heterosexual and same sex relationships. Queer politics provided a framework within which bisexuals could “come out” and not be excluded by gay and lesbian political activists.

Bisexuals suffer particular forms of social prejudice in the gay and lesbian communities as well as in society as a whole, e.g., bisexuals have been blamed for transmitting HIV to heterosexuals or into the lesbian community, by placing people at higher risk. However, there is no institutionalised inequality or discrimination which is specific only to bisexuals.

Many people who engage in so-called unconventional expressions of sexuality encounter prejudicial attitudes. These are a product of repressive bourgeois sexual morality, as outlined earlier in this report. We are against such morality; we are against the interference of the state and society in sexual relations and we are opposed to social prescriptions of any particular forms of sexuality, except in instances where someone is injured or coerced. However, not all those who encounter prejudicial attitudes to their sexual practices are necessarily subject to oppression, i.e., to a systematic material relation of inequality.

Queer politics, however, fails to differentiate between oppression, i.e., social relations of inequality and discrimination, and individual prejudices because of its lack of political focus and its reliance on a social milieu. This can lead to confusion over the kinds of prejudice and oppression bisexuals face. Bisexuals are not subject to any specific form of bisexual oppression. Bisexuals are oppressed only insofar as they express same-sex desire, or engage in same-sex relationships. Social prejudice against bisexuals is a by-product of bourgeois sexual morality’s stigmatisation of homosexuality.

Queer politics has some other drawbacks. Taken to its own logic, queer politics has the potential to be inclusive of coercive and non-consensual sexual behavior, such as paedophilia.

Queer politics also lends itself to notions of a hierarchy of sexuality – those who are most developed sexually are those who identify as sexually fluid, not either heterosexual or homosexual.

However, the key problem with the queer politics perspective, and the one that we want to edit the draft resolution to highlight, is its attempt to substitute a movement based on social ties of “unconventionality” in sexual identity for a movement based on political agreement to fight against concrete manifestations of oppression based on people’s sexual practice, i.e., the oppression of lesbians and gay men.


Another area I want to look at is in relation to the limitations that exist for us to do work in the gay and lesbian movements is the domination of the lobbyist perspective.

As with other social movements, the perspective of lobbying, or working within the framework of the capitalist parliamentary system, has won a lot of ground. Overwhelmingly the gay and lesbian rights groups that exist work within this framework.

The ALP’s dominance in the lobbying arena is very strong. Many of the community organisations reflect this – Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby for example. As a result, we have limited allies in the movement. The opportunities to build an independent movement that will involve everyone who supports the democratic rights of lesbians and gay men are very limited. Radical sections of the movement are in decline.

One example of the degree of ALP manoeuvring is the recent announcement by Susan Harben of her ALP candidacy for the inner city Sydney seat of Bligh. Harben is a very high profile lesbian, and ex-president of Mardi Gras. The seat is currently held by an independent, Clover Moore – self-styled champion of the gay community. She introduced the anti-vilification legislation and has been marching at Mardi Gras for many years. Harben represents the best chance the ALP has to win back the pinkest seat in Australia. Harben is the first public lesbian candidate.

Discussion so far in the letters columns of the gay press has centred on issues of personal loyalty, for example, how “Clover has done a lot for the community so we should keep on supporting her,” versus how “Susan is a lesbian who works hard in the community and deserves our support.” The magazine Lesbians on the Loose has openly endorsed Harben’s candidacy, on the basis not of her politics, but because she is a lesbian. They say “endorsing Susan is about congratulating her about the courage of her lesbian convictions,” and “We want out lesbian MPs in major political parties that govern in Australia.” She is drawing heavily on identity politics for her support. The question of her membership of the ALP and the ALP’s record on fighting against the oppression of lesbians is avoided.

Our tasks

In conclusion, the most effective way for us to get involved in the gay and lesbian movements at the moment is to use Green Left Weekly, to increase our propaganda work. We need more articles taking up these debates. This resolution is aimed at politically arming comrades for these debates. The biggest obstacle at present to winning gays and lesbians to our perspectives for building an independent movement fighting for lesbian and gay rights is the ideological confusion that exists within the movements. We need to be clear ourselves.

We want to publish the resolution in book form, with a more popular title. We want to have launches in the branches for the book, hold forums on it and workshops. We want to promote it as a key tool for our interventions into the gay and lesbian movements, use it to promote a higher level of debate on issues within the movements today. This book will provide a very useful tool for us overall in our work of integration, education and intervention.

The published pamphlet which contained a version of this resolution: