Archive for the ‘Gay liberation movement/gay rights’ Category

by Phil Duncan

The postal plebiscite in Australia on gay marriage has returned almost exactly the same result as the actual referendum in the south of Ireland in 2015. Basically 62% Yes, 38% No.

The Yes vote across the ditch was a tiny fraction below the Yes vote in Ireland and the No vote there was a tiny fraction above the No vote in Ireland.  Also, in Ireland it was a binding referendum; in Australia it was just a plebiscite.  Nevertheless it seems that by the New Year gay women and men will have the same right to marry as straight women and men.

It’s a victory for human progress and equality.

But it is also a sign that the ruling class, certainly in the imperialist heartlands, has no interest in continuing to discriminate against gay women and men. It’s not just that the progessive movement is pushing for marriage equality; the reality is that they are pushing against an already-opening door.

It’s all a long way from the early days of the gay liberation movement.

Just a few decades ago Australian cops were (more…)


This year is the 50th anniversary of the partial liberalisation of anti-gay laws in Britain.  The reform applied to England and Wales, but not Scotalnd or the part of Ireland still incorporated in the ‘United Kingdom’ – nor to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.  The reform also did not extend to the armed forces or the merchant navy.  In the article below, a longtime British marxist and former activist in the gay liberation movement looks at the significance of the law change – then and now.  

by Mike McNair

Under the 1967 Sexual Offences Act homosexuality between consenting adult males in private was no longer an offence. ‘Adult’ was defined as someone over the age of 21; and ‘in private’ was subsequently defined by the judiciary: homosexual acts were only permitted in private property and there had to be only two people present. In a public place like a hotel it would still be an offence. Given the limits of the 1967 act, I did not expect anything like the scale of celebration there has been around its 50th anniversary.

In addition we have had a brief rush of publicity around a group of LGBT anarchists forming a fighting unit alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria against Islamic State. Rather startlingly, the Daily Mail on July 25 ran the headline, “These faggots kill fascists” – a photo showed them raising the rainbow flag in Raqqa.1

This story of a very small group of volunteers has been all over the mainstream media. There has been, I think, a valid argument, presented on Al Jazeera by a Syrian-Palestinian woman activist, that this group was in substance holding up the flag in favour of the general frame of western intervention in Syria, rather than having any realistic expectation that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) will display strong and persistent solidarity with lesbian and gay rights.2

But the coverage demonstrates that this summer’s celebration of gay rights is very broad. The story is that our modern liberal society has liberated lesbians and gay men from the chains of medieval oppression. Alongside this celebration, LGBT issues, just like women’s issues, have been made into an instrument for the justification of dropping bombs on foreign countries.

In this context it is worth looking a little bit further at what has been celebrated: the 1967 Act, what followed it and what went before it. As I have said, it decriminalised homosexual conduct between consenting males over the age of 21. Even though the ‘age of majority’ was reduced to 18 in 1969, as far as homosexual acts were concerned, it remained at 21 until 2000.3

The 1967 Act had an interesting consequence, in that it initially led to a substantial increase in prosecutions! Roy Walmsley, a member of the Home Office Research Unit, reported in 1978 that offences for ‘indecency between males’ recorded by the police had doubled since 1967, and the number of persons prosecuted trebled between 1967 and 1971. Most of the additional prosecutions involved two males 21 or over, so it was not primarily about consent, but about the ‘in public’ issue. In 1978 there were wide variations between police areas in respect of this.4

This is by no means the only instance of law reform leading to an increase in prosecutions. The same was true of the reforms of street prostitution (introduced under the Street Offences Act 1959), of the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, and of the 1967 Abortion Act. Nearer to the core of criminal law, it was also true of the various offences under the Theft Act 1968. The replacement of laws which are understood to be ancient, unfair, technical and difficult to understand by new legislation incentivises the police to prosecute – and makes it easier for them to do so. And it makes it easier for magistrates and juries to convict.

I might add that the ‘gross indecency’ offence, which had previously been triable by jury, became, as a result of the Act, triable before magistrates. That increased the number of prosecutions, as magistrates have always been more willing to convict than juries.


This is not the whole story, however. There has also been a good deal of judicial and prosecutorial resistance to (more…)


Barbara Gregorich and Phil Passen were members of the US Socialist Workers Party from 1965-72, and key figures in the Proletarian Orientation tendency within the SWP and then in the Class Struggle League 1972-74.  While maintaining their anti-capitalist views, Barbara became a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and Phil  is a musician on the hammered dulcimer.  In the interview below they talk about growing up in 1950s America, the winds of change of the 1960s, their politicisation and activity in that era, their involvement in the US SWP an how and why they began questioning its politics and organisational methods, how they came to a parting of the ways with it, their subsequent political activity, the decline of the left and the fate of the original new social movements of that era, and their assessment of politics in the United States today.

Philip Ferguson: Could you tell me a bit about your backgrounds?  What was it like growing up in the States in the 1950s and early 1960s?

Barbara Gregorich: I grew up in a small town in Ohio. My mother and father worked in my uncle’s bar as bar tenders until I was ten, then my father worked as a millwright in a steel mill and my mother worked at home. One of my uncles had a dairy farm less than half a mile from our house, and I spent much of my time there, with my cousins. I loved being outdoors and helping with milking and other farm chores. After I graduated from high school I attended Kent State University, which was maybe 35 miles away. I graduated with a degree in American Literature and also one in American History. I received an MA degree from the University of Wisconsin, in Literature, and I did post graduate work at Harvard, in the History of American Civilization.

I worked as an Instructor of English at Kent State University and Cuyahoga Community College while living in Cleveland, Ohio. Then Phil and I moved to Boston and I worked as a typesetter, first for a small job shop, then at the Boston Globe. We moved to Chicago, Illinois, and I worked as a typesetter for the Chicago Tribune, then as a postal letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office. I had always wanted to be either a baseball player or a writer. Baseball is closed to women, so I became a writer. In 1979 I went freelance,  which I’ve been to this day.

download (3)What it was like growing up in the States during the 1950s and 1960s is an interesting question, because of course one doesn’t think, “I’m growing up in the ’50s . . . and now I’ve transitioned to the ’60s!” But a person is definitely aware of the characteristics of the decade he/she grows up in, if not at the moment, then in retrospect, or in contrast to the next decade. Living in the 1950s, I was aware that I didn’t like many things about society. I hated fashion, especially as it applied to girls and women. I hated petticoats and crinolines, the latter “required” for the felted poodle skirts fashion of my junior-high years. I hated popcorn socks and pencil skirts and I refused to put my hair in curlers: torture!

What I wanted to wear was t-shirts and jeans, clothes I could function in. I also wondered why my fellow students flocked to and embraced each fashion that came along.  I can’t say that I was aware of politics when in junior and senior high, but standing in the early 1960s and looking back on the 1950s, I felt that it was a very conservative, unquestioning decade, and I was glad to be out of it.

Compared to the ’50s, the 1960s were a blast a fresh air, with people my age questioning what was right and wrong in society, and acting to make changes.

download (2)Phil Passen: I grew up in a small town in Michigan. My father, whose father had been a bricklayer who died from a fall on the job, owned a children’s clothing store in Monroe, Michigan, a small town between Detroit and Toledo. My mother’s parents had died when she was an infant, and she was raised by an aunt and uncle. I don’t know what their class background was, but I assume skilled workers or lower petty-bourgeois. My parents declared bankruptcy in 1960, and lost the store and our house primarily because of medical expenses for my mom’s various illnesses. I remember that this was the first time I thought about anything political, even though I didn’t realize at the time that it was a political question. But I wondered how medical expenses could be so great that they could cost people something they had worked so very hard for. My father was an Eisenhower Republican, and my mother was a Stevenson Democrat, and none of that made any sense to me.

passncon2I remember a palpable difference between the ’50s and ’60s. At some point early in the ’60s I realized that the stodgy, uninteresting, unexciting coat-and -tie atmosphere of the ’50s was gone — replaced by rock and roll, the Beatles and Stones, Bob Dylan, beats, greasers, art films, and an air of excitement. Hard to explain, but I remember feeling the change very strongly. And in the background, at least for me, but something I was very conscious of, was the Civil Rights Movement. I knew something was different.

Phil F: What made you first begin to question the existing state of things?

Phil P: Unquestionably, (more…)

As James Heartfield put it: “With love, misery and solidarity for gay Orlando”.


This piece first appeared on Redline in March 2012, but we’re giving it another airing as a lot of people don’t know about this history.  Since this year marks the 100th anniversary of NZ Capitalism Ltd’s ‘B’ – but sometimes ‘A’ – management team, we’ll be making sure that Labour’s history is very well highlighted on the blog. 

by Philip Ferguson

For Labourite mayor of Auckland, Len Brown, screwing over wharfies is the name of the game

The Ports of Auckland dispute has shown yet again – as if any more proof should really be necessary – that it is absolutely futile for workers to support Labour, give the Labour Party money or have their unions affiliated to the outfit.  While the left and union movement rally around the wharfies, Labour mainly sits on the fence.  One of their politicians, Len Brown, whose mayoral election campaign MUNZ in Auckland rather foolishly gave several thousand dollars to, is actually part of the assault on wharfies’ conditions.

There are so many examples of how, when it’s not directly attacking workers, Labour is always in the rearguard and never the vanguard of struggles for people’s rights.

For instance, these days Labour likes to parade its ‘anti-racist’ credentials.  However take something that was only 50-odd years ago – the way in which the NZ Rugby Football Union excluded Maori players from All Black teams touring South Africa.  Labour actually supported that piece of racism.  As the official New Zealand History On-line site records: (more…)

In comes the suave scum bucket; out goes the idiot

In comes the suave scum bucket; out goes the idiot

by Ben Hillier

Politicians stuffing up always makes good viewing. World leaders ruin the world for the rest of us, so we feel like the world is a little more bearable when they make fools of themselves or when we catch them butchering sentences, rather than entire populations.

Former US president George W. Bush and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin were masters of idiocy. There are hours of YouTube time devoted to them. Now there is a challenger to their mantle. His name is Tony Abbott. US TV show Last week tonight even devoted a segment to Abbott’s gaffes and idiotic musings.

Every week we are delivered fresh material. The latest comes from an interview with 7:30’s Leigh Sales. When pressed with hard facts about the deteriorating economic situation under his government, Tony responded: “Well I don’t accept that. The boats have stopped …”

Sales interrupted: “We’re talking about the economy”.

Tony pushed on: “The boats have stopped”.

Champagne comedy.

Much of the anti-Abbott commentary emanating from the press and the ALP is fixated on (more…)

imagesNB: This article was posted on April 7, but has been updated several times since.

by Philip Ferguson

It looks very likely that on May 22 the south of Ireland will become the first country in the world in which people have voted for gay marriage.  That day, there is a referendum on gay marriage, the wording of which is that an amendment be made to the constitution of the state that “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”.  All the main political parties and well as over 75% of voters, according to opinion polls, support the amendment which looks sure to pass.


Cops at Henry Street station in Limerick smile while they stand behind a rainbow flag with local Gay Pride 2014 organisers. The police station, on their own initiative, flew the flag on the day of the Limerick Pride festival last year. Most of the establishment now embraces gay rights.

The referendum is a mark of how much has changed in the south of Ireland over the past generation.  In particular of how liberal attitudes around sex and sexuality are now in the ascendant and the Catholic Church hierarchy – and in Ireland the Catholic hierarchy have always been especially reactionary – are on the defensive, their power diminished and their claim to some imaginary moral high ground much reduced as a result of the mass of scandals which has enveloped the church in recent decades.  These scandals have partly been the result of the secularisation of the society making it possible to challenge the church, and the challenges and exposures in turn speeding up the secularisation of the society.

As an April 23 editorial on the Irish Voice site notes, “In the old days a belt of the bishop’s crozier was enough to silence even the most liberal of politicians. Now they could be belted all day but it would have nothing like the same impact.”  (See here.)

One of the signs of the sea-change in southern Irish society is the wide political consensus in support of equal marriage rights.  For instance, while a position in support of marriage equality is not at all surprising from Sinn Fein, Labour and the Greens, it is now firmly supported by traditionally the two biggest and most socially conservative parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

It’s certainly interesting to see that Fine Gael have a leaflet out supporting gay marriage – it’s headed Vote YES, Equality for Everybody – while (supported by Labour) viciously attacking working class communities with household and water taxes, police assaults and raids and doing its damnedest to widen the economic gap between the wealthy and the working class.

Origins of conservatism in southern state

Both those parties date back to the struggle for independence and subsequent civil war.  Fine Gael is the successor party to (more…)