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The Radical Strain Among Gay Activists

In reading Conduct Unbecoming by Randy Shilts, I’ve been engrossed not only with the stories of gay veterans but the beginning of the gay rights movement in the 1960s and early 70s. Many of the issues and complaints that gay moderates and conservatives have about the far Left today originated during those times. The sometimes understandable radical attitudes that were expressed at that time for various causes still exist today, only now it is increasingly difficult to find any sympathy for them. The leaders of the gay rights movement quickly “merged its aims with the panoply of liberation movements asserting themselves in that era”. While “some of these alignments…made sense, others lacked intellectual consistency” (contrary to Shilts, abortion is not among those that “made sense”). For example, Shilts writes:

[G]ay libbers joined their leftist comrades cutting Cuban sugar in the Venceremos Brigade, despite the fact that Fidel Castro himself locked up Cuban gays in concentration camps. Gay lib leaders solemnly quoted Chairman Mao’s wisdom from their own little red books, though Mao’s Red Guards were known to castrate “sexual degenerates” public ly. [Gay Liberation Front members] handed out FREE BOBBY SEALE posters alongside Black Panthers, even though black liberation guru Malcom X had commented, “All white men are blonde, blue-eyed faggots”. Gays who had once been Uncle Toms to the Establishment were now Uncle Toms to the New Left…

We can see this lack of “intellectual consistency” in many gay activist groups today. They align their movement with every leftist cause no matter how tenuous the connection to gay rights they may be. Many such groups have contented themselves to being only one faction of one major political party, which in many cases has eroded their effectiveness and allows them to be taken for granted in elections. These groups have also alienated gay moderates and conservatives as well as a large portion of mainstream America. Probably the best example of this is the treatment of the military and those gays who choose to serve in uniform. This too began in the turmoil of the 1960s and early 70s that “wanted nothing to do with the anguish of gays in uniform” and “would have repercussions for decades to come”:

In late August 1969…the radical Youth Committee of the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations meeting in Kansas City resolved, “The homophile movement must totally reject the insane war in Vietnam and refuse to encourage complicity in the war and support of the war machine, which may well be turned against us. We oppose any attempts by the movement to obtain security clearances for homosexuals since they contribute to the war machine”.

An editorial in the San Francisco Free Press agreed: “Homosexuals should not fight in a war propagated by a society that fucks us over in all its institutions. We will not fight in an army that discriminates against us… that rapes us and gives us less than honorable discharges”. From the start, there were dissenters. When the New York City Gay Liberation Front collapsed amid internal ideological struggles, the Gay Activists Alliance took over its place, and a former Air Force Sergeant named Roberto Reyes-Colon became one of its earliest members. He was a pacifist now and wore love beads, long hair, and bell bottoms, but he sometimes argued that groups like the GAA should not turn their backs on gay soldiers. The Air Force had been his way out of New York’s mean streets; a way of easing the burden on his mother, who would die young, working three jobs to make sure all of her seven children got a college education, a way for a better life.

GAA activists listened sympathetically and agreed that no matter what Reyes-Colon might have done to help the war machine in Vietnam, he had been a victim of the system rather than a despoiler. But at a time when the military represented everything that idealists in all the liberation movements wanted to change, few could muster much enthusiasm for helping anybody associated with the armed forces. Efforts for equal rights for gays would not extend to gays in uniform. The discrimination against them would, in effect, have the sanction of the gay movement for many years to come.

This unfortunate alignment to the antiwar movement continues to this day and while some gay rights groups have made strides towards helping gays in uniform, one can still find an anti-military bias either directly or through their silence. An example of this would be the recent decision by the Berkeley City Council to brand Marine recruiters as “unwanted intruders” who were “not welcome in our city” because of the war in Iraq and the DADT policy banning gays from openly serving. Berkeley even went so far as to ally itself with Code Pink, a radical antiwar group, against the Marines including free parking in front the recruiting office and special permission for the use of bullhorns in their demonstrations. Berkeley officials failed to realize of course that their fight to repeal DADT or end the war in Iraq is with the Congress, who authorized both, and not the military which is bound to uphold the law. Their actions have smeared both straight AND gay Marines. Yet what was the response of the major gay rights groups today to all of this? Silence. Back in the 1960s and early 70s these activists “comprised only a fraction of a percent of gays”, which the same can probably be said today. The danger with all of this, however, is the same as it was back then in “because they were the only people talking out loud about homosexuality, their voices were the only ones heard”. This cannot be allowed to stand no matter what political leanings any of us have. When activists are too radical, no matter how ‘noble’ the cause, or by their silence countenance dishonorable behavior in our names, they definitely need to be held accountable. If we fail to do so then all of us will pay a heavy price for our own silence.

— John (Average Gay Joe)



  1. It’s hard to comment on a post I agree with so much.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — February 6, 2008 @ 12:10 pm - February 6, 2008

  2. …one can still find an anti-military bias either directly or through their silence.

    Which is often combined with a complete fetishization of those in uniform. I can no longer count the number of times some fellow homo has asked me about “all the sex in the barracks.”

    That’s really my only comment; otherwise I second ILC’s comment at #1.

    Comment by Mike — February 6, 2008 @ 3:52 pm - February 6, 2008

  3. Apparently, some GayLeftLib types STILL don’t get the fact that they can be hanged in Iran, stoned in Pakistan and sent to a gulag in Cuba, just for the “crime” of being gay.

    Tell me again how the government can deny civil rights to gays in this country??


    Thought so.

    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — February 6, 2008 @ 6:43 pm - February 6, 2008

  4. #3
    It still amazes me that liberals love Stalin, Castro, Mao, Chavez, Noriega, Guevara etc. Yet we’re supposed to believe Bush is a fascist dictator and the biggest violator of human rights?


    How the f**k does that square? I honestly believe that Disney World is based more on reality than liberalism.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — February 7, 2008 @ 12:36 am - February 7, 2008

  5. Recognizing the Iraq war as an illegal and immoral enterprise, and therefore working to prevent more people from getting sucked into it, is not the same thing as hating the military. The marine recruiters themselves did not implement the policies of the Iraq War and Don’t Ask (Just Kidding, We’ll Keep Asking But You Better Damn Sure) Don’t Tell, but they are the instruments of those policies. Look at war itself. Heinrich the german private may not have planned the conquest of Poland, but if you were fighting for the allies in WWII you’d still have to shoot poor Heinrich.

    Oh, and the Black Muslims and Black Panthers were two different groups. Or should I lump y’all in with Fred Phelps cause you’re both conservative?

    Comment by Boo — February 7, 2008 @ 5:09 am - February 7, 2008

  6. Here at GayPatriot I would probably be considered one of those reviled GayLeftlibs but I have to say that I agree with every word of Average Gay Joe’s commentary. Bravo Sir, bravo!

    That being said I must respond to Mike’s comment above. Let me preface my comment by disclosing that I am a proud veteran of the USMC (Officer, 12 years, including 2 combat tours). Yes Mike there certainly are hypocrites on the left who claim to be anti-war and anti-military while playing GI Joe at the bars and in their bedrooms. I personally know gay men who rant and rave against the military and war but who have military uniform fetishes. Unbelievably, one anti-war, anti-military screaming liberal I know actually has a Nazi SS uniform fetish. I call it “All Costume, No Show”. However, I have met MANY more gay conservatives (and conservatives in general) who SAY that they love the military, and who never met a war they didn’t like, who have never, will never and (most galling to me) WOULD never wear the uniform of the military they so love and certainly would never put their own asses on the line to fight the wars that give them such raging hard-ons.

    On the one hand you have people who get turned on by a military uniform as “macho” drag while completely disrespecting the military and the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen it represents. Worse yet, they ignore the huge sacrifices that countless men and women wearing that uniform have made to provide and protect the rights and freedoms that we all enjoy.

    On the other hand you have people who truly seem to get turned on by war (ANY war). They get turned on by the military and by the THOUGHT of (as opposed to actual) military service. They wave their flags, they display their yellow ribbons, they conflate supporting a war with supporting the troops, they spend countless hours in front of their keyboards (from the comfort of their home of course) “fighting” bravely in the trenches to passionately defend/support/promote the latest war, regardless of its legitimacy, from any and all challenges from the pinko liberal commie hordes; yet somehow they never are convinced enough, or passionate enough, or moved enough, or invested enough, or concerned enough or sincere enough to put their asses where their words are. Oh, they ALWAYS have reasons and excuses as to why that is: they’re doing their part here at home; they’re too old; they’re in school; they’re a legislative aid to a pro-war legislator; they own a business; they have flat feet and asthma and so on, but I have a hunch that the truth of the matter is they’re full of hot air. They have strong feelings on lots of things but no convictions on anything. They have passions and principles that they think SOMEONE should be willing to die for, they just want it to be someone ELSE. But most of all I think they are afraid. They are pussies. Any one who’s ever served in combat knows who I’m talking about, the guy who’s a “Kill ‘em ALL, let God sort ‘em out” bad boy on the surface but a sniveling coward inside where it counts when it counts. Having met a number of these types who are actually IN the military I can’t help but believe that the ranks of the Fighting First Keyboard Infantry Brigade aren’t chocked full of them.

    Military uniform drag queens annoy me. I never miss an opportunity to tell them so, but let’s face it, they are nothing more than a passing annoyance. On the other hand, cowards putting on Armchair Warrior drag shows from the safety and comfort of their keyboards really set my blood to boiling because there are real consequences to having lifelong civilian war monger cheerleaders that show up to rally ’round the flag every time they get a whiff of Napalm in the air.

    Sorry for the overly long comment but frankly, as should be obvious, I get pissed off at civilian people on the left and the right of this issue. I guess this explains why I tend to piss people off on both the liberal and conservative blogs that I post on.

    I just calls ‘em likes I sees ‘em.

    Comment by Zeke — February 7, 2008 @ 11:33 am - February 7, 2008

  7. #5
    WTF was that all about? Are you sure your comment is for this blog?

    Or should I lump y’all in with Fred Phelps cause you’re both conservative?

    Sorry. Phelps is a Democrat. He’s yours, not ours.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — February 7, 2008 @ 5:58 pm - February 7, 2008

  8. I am Iranian , not leftish but I am aware that left in Iran  has been supporing gay right in the last 10-15 years. left is under pressure in my country by this dictator regim, we gays/lesbians  are also under pressure. recently left groups in particula left students have tried to  creat somesorts co-operation between left. gays/lesbians and women movement.
    And the latest is that a left student magazine has asked for some gay activists to contribute  by articles. I think it is a good sign.
    The aim is to work for a movement similar to civil right movement in Us in 60`s

    Comment by Iranian gay — April 5, 2008 @ 7:29 am - April 5, 2008

  9. I’n in the Book by name Conduct Unbecoming, by Randy Shiltz, and Do Ask and Do Tell. I think I’m one the very few that is still alive which is in the book Conduct Unbecoming. My web site is
    I’m looking forward to the follow-up book by N. Frank, Unfriendly Fire.

    Comment by Robert LeBlanc — February 26, 2009 @ 9:53 pm - February 26, 2009

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