By Kamryn Stringfield, member of the LGBT+ Commission of the PCUSA
The LGBT+ question has quickly become one of the most polarizing and urgent questions of our society today. Much has led to the LGBT+ struggle being as prominent as it is today. The “sexual revolution” of the roaring twenties, the lavender scare, the Stonewall riots, the AIDS crisis, the fight for gay marriage and more has all led us to this moment. During the Obama Administration, in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all same-sex marriage bans following the Obergefell v Hedges case, and effectively legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. This was a major victory for the LGBT+ community and had an incredible impact on the level of consciousness of LGBT+ issues. Whereas the LGBT+ community was seen largely
as a taboo, fringe community before the 2010s, and were only capitalized on for gag jokes in films, by the mid-2010’s the LGBT+ community became not just a legitimized demographic of people, but a community whose symbols and struggles and celebrations could be capitalized on
by corporate America.
Much like Black History Month and capitalizing on pan-African colored things and selling things with images of black leaders on it, Indigenous Peoples Month and the same thing and the capitalization on cultural holidays from Chinese New Year to St. Patricks Day to Hanukkah etc, LGBT+ Pride month (June) became a time for corporations to brand themselves with rainbow or trans flag (light blue, light pink and white) colors and market themselves to the LGBT+ community and their “allies”, hoping to profit off of their symbolism and virtue signal to their struggles while doing ultimately nothing for them materially.
Pride parades, which started in 1970 by gay and lesbian activists in remembrance of the Stonewall Riots and in defiance of the overwhelming oppression and homophobia of the time, became corporate sponsored, liberal ran, police escorted and monitored events with tons of booths and floats promoting everything from WalMart and McDonalds to the FBI, CIA and US Military. That’s not to say every pride event today is like that, or that even despite that, LGBT+ groups and progressive groups aren’t involved in them or aren’t doing good activism outside of the events. We must recognize however, the co-opting of pride by corporate, imperial America and how they plan to use it to dilute the activism of our community and lead LGBT+ people into the empire.
Even some pride groups themselves are nothing other than a planning committee to facilitate the pride event, and are sponsored and subsidized by corporations and banks. As long as an entity pays for their booth and table, and as long as they’ve got speakers and performers signed up to be there, the pride event happens and the dollars come in. It is not just pride month in which capitalist America capitalizes on the LGBT+ community
for their own interests however. Constantly, the imperialists in the US State Department and in corporate media pinkwash conflicts and countries to manufacture consent for conflict or interference and ultimately use fear over LGBT+ oppression to suit their own interests. Pinkwashing is the usage of the LGBT+ issue to denigrate or demonize nations which have not seen the same gains for the LGBT+ community as has been seen in many western countries. This is similar to the calls to “protect the women and children” in a nation either before or after a US-led conflict, such as in Afghanistan, where women and children did suffer a setback with the Taliban takeover of 2021, or in Iran now, where women are facing state repression for challenging religious based laws on dress, conduct and more. The western imperialists, of course, do not actually care about the plight of women, children or LGBT+ in any of these countries, and their imperialism would not bring real salvation to these communities either. It is
simply a tactic in their imperialist activities to manufacture consent for war, sanctions, covert action and more.
It is a similar tactic to paint the very imperialist tools and institutions themselves with a rainbow brush, and act as if embassies and the military are more LGBT+ friendly or are fighting for LGBT+ issues, despite doing absolutely nothing for the LGBT+ community and allowing ongoing crises such as the beatings and rape of LGBT+ in the military to continue. It also allows for any attack on an American embassy or LGBT+ service members to be seen as an attack on the LGBT+ community, even if it has nothing to do with it.
The pinkwashing does not occur because somehow the LGBT+ movement is an imperialist contraption. It isn’t, and historically had not been for decades. The pinkwashing occurs because now that normalization of the LGBT+ community has been happening in the US, the imperialists can both use it as a sword and shield in their imperialist campaigns against countries that haven’t made the same progress, and the imperialists make platitudinous statements about their support for the community and how they’re supposedly changing to be more LGBT+ friendly.
Interesting thing to note is that the imperialists disregard the nations of the socialist bloc such as Cuba and to a lesser extent, Vietnam, which have made strides on LGBT+ issues. Cuba in particular passed a new family code which allows the people of Cuba to define their own families and not be stuck to the rigid mother, father and child model of the past. They’ve also made incredible progress on the wonderful CENESEX sexual education program. Fidel Castro himself, a devout enemy of Western Imperialism, congratulated this progress and apologized for not being as understanding and supportive of the LGBT+ community earlier in his life during and following the revolution. In Vietnam, the Vietnamese Health Ministry recently
removed same sex attraction and being transgender from a list of mental illnesses, and the nation has done much since 2013 to address LGBT+ issues and better serve the LGBT+ community.
The imperialists would never recognize this, because it does not suit their agenda. They also would not bring up things like the fascistic “LGBT-free zones” in Poland or that Ukraine has the same constitutional limits on marriage that Russia has or that Saudi Arabia has banned same-sex activity and being transgender with capital punishment, life imprisonment, flogging and more as the legal consequences. Why? The answer is because they do not actually care about the LGBT+ community or LGBT+ people. They want to use the issue to push their own imperialist actions.
Much of this is allowed to happen because by the early 1990’s, a lot of the LGBT+ movement was ran by liberals who separated LGBT+ oppression from the class struggle and isolated it as its own social issue to be solved by reformism. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was the progressives in Germany that led the way on the issues of sexual orientations and genders and who faced literal destruction by the fascist Nazis who destroyed the institute for sexology, burned the books there and threw thousands of homosexuals into the concentration camps. In the 1950s and early 1960s in the United States, it was the communists such as Harry Hay who started the Mattachine Society and pushed on LGBT+ issues in an America that had just seen McCarthyism and a lavender scare occur. In the aftermath of Stonewall, and into the 1970s and 1980s, it was the radical socialists and anarchists that fought for “gay liberation” and against the US imperialists on LGBT+ oppression and the neglect during the AIDS pandemic.
Up until the liberals had heavy influence in the movement, it was a revolutionary movement, even if it wasn’t always communist and had its own problems at different points. What the liberals did was obscure and revise that history to hide the revolutionary nature and the idea of liberation and instead focus on reformism and pointless ideas such as “representation”, “visibility” and semantics on what vocabulary the community used, things that would change nothing materially for the LGBT+ community. However, they kept the same symbolism and some of the slogans and had a few reformist victories that got them the support of the LGBT+ community. The only other popular current in the LGBT+ community is that of “Qu**r anarchism”, which is just anarchist tactics and ideology adapted to the LGBT+ struggle.
What the LGBT+ community really needs at the end of the day is liberation, the same liberation that all working class people deserve from capitalist oppression and exploitation. In that liberation, we will achieve the healthcare, housing, legal protections and more that we need now. The progressive forces in the LGBT+ community must shun corporate pride and imperialist pinkwashing, bring to surface the revolutionary history of the LGBT+ movement and organize against imperialism and for the establishment of a socialist workers state that will allow us to live as our authentic selves and work together to build our society. We cannot see the LGBT+ movement as inherently imperialist either, and need to stop deriding the LGBT+ movement as “wokeism” as the bigoted right does. The LGBT+ community needs the support of all of our comrades as an oppressed community which is under attack and in need of allies. We must use pride events as the ground on which we fight back against the imperialists, and give a different example to the LGBT+ masses. We must use our publications and our media platforms to push back against pinkwashing and corporate coopting of our movement. We must educate about the history of the LGBT+ community and struggle and resist any attempts to bury or revise it. We must resist the chauvinist attacks on the civil rights and gains of our community and against the fascistic violence happening towards LGBT+ people.
We must strive towards liberation. Fred Hampton once said “We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism.” We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with rainbow capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism.