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John Passant

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November 2011



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



We need a revolution to win gay liberation

Knots of young gays…gathered on corners, angry and restless. Someone heaved a sack of wet garbage through the window of a patrol car. On nearby Waverly Place, a concrete block landed on the hood of another police car that was quickly surrounded by dozens of men, pounding on its doors and dancing on its hood…

Helmeted officers…dispersed with swinging clubs an impromptu chorus line of gay men… For the next few hours, trash fires blazed, bottles and stones flew through the air and cries of “Gay Power!” rang in the streets as the police, numbering over 400, did battle with a crowd estimated at more than 2,000.

This was how historian John D’Emilio described the riot the night after patrons unexpectedly fought back when the police raided the Stonewall bar in New York. These were the events which launched the Gay Liberation Front in the US. It was June 1969. Gay liberation became part of the generalised radicalism spreading around the world, joining student protests, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the US Civil Rights Movement, the emerging women’s liberation movement, and growing industrial militancy by workers demanding better living conditions.

Many lesbians and gays, supported by the most radical activists in those movements, many of them socialists, raised the banner of sexual liberation. (Later, Bisexuals, Transgender and Intersex people raised their voices in the clamour for liberation, hence today we refer to the struggle for LGBTI rights).While they fought for immediate reforms to achieve recognition and equal rights, they argued that if they were to be truly liberated, this society, which blights people’s lives, would have to be fundamentally changed.

Many of us argued that the divisions between straight and gay were fostered by the ruling class, who benefit from our oppression. So gay and straight can and should unite to fight for a society in which everyone was sexually liberated and the gender stereotypes of woman and man would be overthrown. To do this we needed a mass revolution.

However, as the movement spread around the world it opened up a space into which less radical forces also moved. Within a few short years the radicalism of the liberation movement was under challenge. More right wing activists argued that discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation has nothing to do with capitalism. They insisted that all straights are the enemy.

Gradually more conservative forces gained in numbers and influence as the radicalism ebbed. Activists were demoralised as the hopes for revolution faded under the hammer blows of neoliberalism and reactionary campaigns against the gains of the movements of the 1970s.

For instance it is much easier to be “out” today then in 1969 as many of the worst forms of discrimination have been struck from the law books. And so individuals who would never have risked their cushy positions as business people, politicians, academics, lawyers and the like by coming out of the closet in the 1960s, now feel there is little risk. As the overall political climate has moved to the right, many of these respectable layers have gained prominence and influence among those still campaigning for LGBTI rights.

There is now a whole pink economy in which workers are often under pressure to work for worse conditions than other workers because they should care about the survival of a pink business. The idea that all LGBTI people have something in common, and opposed to “straights”, adds to this pressure, giving LGBTI bosses a licence to make unreasonable demands on those they exploit. Instead of sexual liberation, we have super-exploitation in the name of LGBTI rights.

So while many LGBTI people are pleased to have bars in which they can socialise and not feel threatened, and anti-discrimination laws protect us to some degree, it’s a long road from here to the actual sexual liberation we campaigned for the in 1970s.

Homophobic attacks are still all too common. Same-sex love is rarely discussed in schools in ways that encourage students to be open about their sexuality. Same-sex couples in popular culture are still usually treated as something to comment on, not simply part of everyday life. So suicides by LGBTI youth continue at horrific levels.

These youths, and workers who still feel they will be victimised by bosses if they’re open about their sexuality, do not have expensive clubs to which they can retreat, they’re not flush with money to live a life sheltered by wealth and privilege. Only small numbers even have much access to the bars of the gay ghettos.

Like the whole of capitalist society, LGBTI people are fundamentally divided by class. So there can be no unity just on the basis of sexual preference.

Take James Newburrie who helped organise Mt Isa’s first Equal Love rally. He proudly proclaims to be part of the “one percent” – he earns a six figure salary. He strongly supports Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, writing on his facebook: “Those of you blinding [sic] siding with the union in this [Qantas] dispute are clearly ignorant people.” And he has said the government should have sent tanks in to clear Occupy Melbourne from the City Square.

While ALP minister Penny Wong can be open about her lesbian relationship, what does she care about the majority of LGBTI people who suffer day to day homophobia? She’s comfortable; she’s made it in the world on the back of reforms won by radicals. And so she has refused to fight inside the ALP to change party policy to support same-sex marriage, hardly a revolutionary change.

So after more than four decades of campaigning and winning reforms, it’s clear that it will take more than reforms to achieve sexual liberation.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t fight for things such as same-sex marriage, as some radical activists argue. It’s true that from early on there have always been those who want marriage rights so they can be part of “respectable” society. They have often promoted the family. Then there are those who oppose this demand on what are spurious grounds.

For instance, queer theorist, Michael Warner, makes an argument similar to that of well-known activist Judith Butler:

Even though people think that marriage gives them validation, legitimacy and recognition, they somehow think that it does so without invalidating, delegitimating or stigmatising other relations, needs and desires.

However there is no evidence that marriage rights adversely affect those who don’t wish to marry. But there is the track record of conservatives using the “threat” of same-sex marriage to whip up homophobia. The fact is that the right to marry has contradictory effects. It may seem to make LGBTI couples seem more respectable, but it also challenges the stereotypes about sex and relationships which are the basis of homophobia.

Every area of discrimination which can be defeated is a victory against reactionary attitudes to sexual desire that doesn’t fit the stereotyped heterosexuality. And being denied the right to marry is clearly a question of civil rights. The denial encourages the idea that LGBTI relationships are less equal than heterosexual couples.

The left can’t always choose the issues around which people will fight. In the 1970s this seemed a conservative demand compared with the struggle for liberation. But now, with a more right wing situation and many reforms won, marriage rights has become the banner around which many activists have had larger and more vibrant campaigns than any for many years.

Nevertheless, while campaigning for what might seem minimal demands at times, we need to understand why liberation is impossible in this system. And fighting for reforms is a battle ground on which new activists can begin to develop the confidence to fight the system as a whole.

The right are correct when they say the family is a bedrock institution of capitalism. It saves the system billions of dollars week in and week out as the mass of people provide unpaid care for the young, the sick, the unemployed and the elderly.

The family keeps alive the “ideal” stereotypes of female and male, of heterosexuality as the norm. Single parents and same-sex couples are widely accepted as families in many countries today. But this is held up as an example of a “tolerant” society. And what message does this send? That non-heterosexual families are clearly outside the norm, and society is wonderful for tolerating your lifestyle. Yuk, we don’t want to be tolerated! We want sexual liberation. To win it we have no option but to challenge the system of capitalism itself which depends on the family as we know it today.

What does this mean? It means taking up some of the radical ideas from the first years of gay liberation: that the fundamental division in society is class; that a tiny minority live by exploiting others and therefore have an enduring and unshakeable interest in oppressing particular sections of the exploited. The oppression creates divisions among workers and it undermines the confidence of the oppressed to fight for their rights. Pink bosses – LGBTI members of the ruling class – can never be allies in a fight for liberation. They are too integrated into the system of exploitation.

Anyone who wants to fight for sexual liberation needs to be the most determined fighters for same sex marriage and other reforms. But they also need to reject the idea that only the oppressed can fight that oppression. This just reinforces the divisions among us which serve the interests of the ruling capitalist class.

They need to support every radical cause which challenges the horrors of capitalism. Workers, organised in the workplaces, have the power to bring the system to its knees. And in their struggles, in spite of oppression and its debilitating effects, workers have shown again and again that they can unite and fight for the rights of us all.

When masses of people are fighting the system, they can become open to arguments against ideas such as homophobia which they might have accepted when life is one big chore and the main influences on them were TV and popular culture. They can begin to see they have no interest in supporting the oppression of others, because we need to unite to challenge the one per cent responsible for mass suffering.

It is no accident that the Stonewall riot happened in 1969 and millions around the world stood up for sexual liberation in the ensuing years. The world was in turmoil as millions confronted war, racism, sexism and exploitation. There was enthusiasm for revolutionary change among millions. That is the political atmosphere we have to recreate. So the fight for sexual liberation cannot be separate from the struggle to rebuild a revolutionary movement to overthrow capitalism.

This article, by Sandra Bloodworth, first appeared in Socialist Alternative.


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