Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections
No Pride in War: Queer Liberation and the Anti-War Movement
By: Gregory S.
Honnies, we’ve got big heels to fill: queers, dykes, femmes, fairies, and trans-kin alike have been challenging oppressive structural systems since the beginning of time. And if we’ve learned anything from our ancestors, it’s exactly like Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” The history of Pride Month is a history of struggle, one that demands our ancestors' legacy be acted upon in solidarity with oppressed peoples everywhere. In the poetic words of AIDS activists in the 90’s, “Act up! Fight back!”
As we carry the legacy of our rebellious ancestors, it is important to remember: the first pride was a riot. The very concept of Pride Month comes from the Christopher Street Liberation Day, organized in the wake of the Stonewall Riot, to celebrate the magic of queerness: out loud and proud!
The Stonewall riot, and the organizing that took place just after, are important historical memories for our movement work because of the ways organizers were informed by the struggles of the Global South. After those first bricks were chucked at cops, queers formed the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) - directly in relation to the liberation front movements in the global south and the rising Black and Latino nationalist movements forming in the United States, such as the Black Panthers, Young Lords, and many others. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two vocal leaders in the Stonewall riots, formed out of the GLF, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) which focused not merely on representation in the public eye, but on food, education, and housing projects for unhoused queers. The movement for sexual liberation has always been intersectional in this way - our liberation is bound to everyone else's liberation.
“STAR was for the street gay people, the street homeless people and anybody that needed help at that time.” said Rivera in a 1998 interview with Leslie Feinberg at Workers World. “Marsha and I had always sneaked people into our hotel rooms. Marsha and I decided to get a building. We were trying to get away from the Mafia's control at the bars.’
In this way, our ancestors took their queer and trans identities as a launching point for breaking down even larger systems of power and oppression in society - it is our job to continue this legacy. A pamphlet released by the GLF in the early 70’s reads, “But gay liberation does not just mean reforms. It means a revolutionary change in our whole society. Is this really necessary? Isn't it hard enough for us to win reforms within the present society, and how will we engage the support of straight people if we get ourselves branded as revolutionaries?” (People with a History: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History Sourcebook Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto London, 1971, as revised 1978)
Anti-war activism must go much deeper than simply being opposed to war; our understanding of being anti-war must be under a framework that encompasses all forms of militarism, imperialism, and carceral logic. The logics of war create the oppressive systems we are actively trying to dismantle: capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other oppressive structures. This is also true of the queer liberation movement: our queer liberation is not found in the logics of war or capitalism but outside and beyond, in the fringes and margins of society where rebellion takes the form of queering gender and sexuality from the heteronormative status-quo.
Queerness challenges warped versions of power that exclude, bomb, cage, and kill. We want systems of justice that do not rely on exclusion, power, and profit, that do not make said profit through the mechanisms of war and violence.
To take things one step further, queerness is not merely about objecting to structures of power and domination, queerness is a creation of new ways of being and romancing. Our NO! Is fundamentally a loud YES! No, to carceral thinking, and YES, to liberatory praxis. YES to the fluidity of gender, sexuality, and life itself. YES to collective ways of being and to the practice of compassionate care. YES to the “other” and the “outsider”, ever widening our circles of compassion. YES to every part of you that the heteronormative dominant culture says NO to!
The anti-war movement and the LGBTQIA liberation movement are active allies in our collective liberation. Both are easily siloed as their own projects, but as we look to the roots of the queer liberation movement we see an intersectional analysis that combats the logics of war for the logics of compassion, love, and community. Led by Black, Brown, and Indigenous folx, our queer movement quickly spoke to the multiple marginalized groups being attacked at once in the dominant culture: people of color, trans people, workers, sex workers, and many more. In this way, the grassroots LGBTQIA movement has always recognized that queer liberation is bound up in the liberation of all oppressed peoples. In the words of a great queer rebel, Matilda Bernstein,
“For me, the possibility of a trans or queer politic lies in using identity as a starting point for challenging the violence of the world around us, and building something else, creating more possibilities for everyone. I’m interested in a movement that fights for universal access to basic needs, as a starting point — housing, health care, food, the right to stay in this country or leave if you want to, a sex life that matters. I’m interested in gender, sexual, social and political self-determination. The possibility of a trans or queer identity lies in annihilating all hierarchies and creating something else in the ruins, something bolder and more caring, communal and daring.”
Gregory is an anti-war activist and member of CODEPINK San Francisco. If you’re interested in organizing with CODEPINK in your community, fill out this form.