Despite the period of political reaction in the United States started in the 1980s, the lesbian-gay-bi-transgendered movement has achieved significant gains in winning some measure of equality and dignity for sexual and gender minorities. In the almost 40 years since the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, 20 states, the District of Columbia and over 140 municipalities and counties have enacted anti-discrimination ordinances.
Forty-five states and Washington, D.C. have statutes criminalizing various types of anti-LGBTQ hate-motivated violence or intimidation. In 2003, the Supreme Court issued the Lawrence vs. Texas decision, rendering anti-LGBTQ sodomy laws unconstitutional. This ended the long history of legal criminalization of lesbian and gay sex.
There has even been progress toward the once unimaginable demand for same-sex marriage rights. Massachusetts became the first state to enact marriage equality in 2004. Five states—Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, California and New Hampshire—recognize civil unions with almost all the rights of marriage. Four more states—Maine, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington—along with Washington, D.C., recognize some rights for same-sex couples.
Given this seemingly steady progress under capitalist democracy, is the struggle for socialism really relevant for LGBTQ people?
Capitalism means constant struggle
It would be a mistake to conclude from the gains made so far that progress for the LGBTQ community is inevitable. On the contrary, it is a basic lesson for all oppressed and exploited people that under class society no gains come without constant struggle.
An example is the AIDS crisis that broke out in the early 1980s. AIDS was first identified as a new illness affecting mostly gay men. It was originally called GRID, Gay Related Immune Deficiency. The humanitarian crisis was accompanied by a political crisis.
Right-wing preachers and other anti-gay bigots whipped up a climate of near hysteria against gay people and all people with AIDS. The immediate need for medical care and research had to be fought for amid a larger battle against discrimination and bigotry.
A tremendous and powerful movement arose. Thousands of LGBTQ people and their allies, including many people afflicted with AIDS, marched, demonstrated and participated in civil disobedience actions. In addition to right-wing politicians and reactionary religious bigots, the movement targeted the healthcare system, winning much-needed medical care and services.
These struggles radicalized a whole generation of young LGBTQ people. They were largely responsible for many of the advances the LGBTQ movement has made in the reactionary period since.
Progress under capitalism is impossible without struggle. Gains that have been fought for and won can be taken away with the stroke of a pen. While 10 states recognize some form of same sex marriage rights 26 states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.
Anti-LGBTQ oppression rooted in class society
Marxists see the root of gender and sexual oppression as being important to the emergence of class society and the corresponding emergence of patriarchy. In pre-class society, men and women were on equal terms, children were everyone’s responsibility and sexuality was unconstrained. There is now a wealth of anthropological evidence for this on every continent.
As class society evolved, the transmission of wealth and property from one generation to the next becomes a primary concern for the property-owning class. Society’s institutions were designed to enforce and protect this accumulation of property. Since motherhood is far easier to establish—and to control—than fatherhood, extensive restrictions on female sexuality were imposed. Anyone who challenged these restrictions, including those who did not conform to the male-dominated heterosexual norm, were repressed.
As LGBTQ activists have argued in recent years, the line between male and female genders is not always clear. It is not a simple biological matter as right-wing moralists claim. In pre-class society, it did not matter much if someone was not clearly a man or woman, or if someone’s sexuality did not produce children. In patriarchal society, these issues matter a great deal.
Expressions that blur or bridge the divide between men and women threaten the deeply-ingrained social schism of class society. The basic social instinct of mutual support is disrupted by the need of the ruler to divide the ruled.
The way forward
It is for that reason that socialists see the ultimate answer to ending anti-LGBTQ oppression in the end of class society. Until that time, every step forward will have to come with tremendous struggle, and none of those steps will be secure.
That is not to say that a victorious socialist revolution will automatically guarantee equality. The 1917 socialist revolution in Russia initially eliminated the repressive anti-gay laws of the czarist regime. However, after the death of Lenin, less revolutionary Soviet governments reimposed many of those restrictions.
The 1959 Cuban revolution did not immediately address the problems of anti-gay oppression and bigotry. It took several decades for the revolutionary Cuban government to repudiate its early position and to aim to incorporate LGBTQ people into all facets of socialist construction.
A socialist revolution has yet to occur in an economically developed country. Most took place in countries that still had semi-feudal social relations, particularly in the countryside. None had a mass LGBTQ movement before the revolution.
The United States, however, is a developed proletarian country. LGBTQ people are already visible and active as leaders and rank and file members in many aspects of the class struggle. In fact, the LGBTQ movement has served as a source of inspiration for many of the most militant activists of every movement. For example, the slogan, “Stand up! Fight back!” arose out of the AIDS struggles of the 1980s.
By overthrowing the capitalist class, the working class clears the road for a society where anti-LGBTQ oppression, like racism and sexism, will be a thing of the past. That is why LGBTQ activists and leaders fighting for dignified and equal lives are so deeply involved in the struggle for socialism.