Queers Say No to War! Demonstration March 18th on the 20th Anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq

Image: ‘Smash Oppression’ by Shenby (February, 2021)

By Christian Brawner and Sunny Cobb

With the 20th anniversary of the Iraq invasion approaching, and while facing a seemingly insurmountable upsurge in state repression against our trans community, I want to honor the legacy of our queer and gay ancestors by reminding you of our revolutionary struggle. It’s absolutely no coincidence that when the U.S. instigates global conflict, it also attempts to sow mistrust and hatred amongst working class people. Queer history is one of resistance against these attempts, resisting patriarchy and, ultimately, resisting the system that uses patriarchy to maintain power, capitalism. But what about anti-imperialist resistance? What does it mean to be anti-imperialist? To answer this, we must look at the struggle against both capitalism and empire from our past.

Whether it was the Mattachine Society, the queers who revolted against police repression at Compton Cafeteria and Stonewall, S.T.A.R., the Gay Liberation Front, or ACT UP, the thread that united them wasn’t just that they were queer, but that they were knowingly engaged in class struggle. Our revolutionary ancestors understood the root of our oppression as the system of capitalism. Since the 20th century that system has morphed into an apparatus of endless war – forever clamoring to dominate global markets regardless of the suffering and mass loss of life. We must remember that our liberation is bound to the liberation of all others: the liberation of black people from endless police brutality, the liberation of indigenous people from centuries of genocide and colonization, the liberation of women from patriarchy– all that stem from the same system of oppression and exploitation! To be queer is to oppose the patriarchy, to resist capitalism, and to fight back against its empire for the liberation of us all! It’s to be revolutionary! 

No Cops at Pride: Our Anti-imperialist History

While many of us are familiar with the 1969 Stonewall uprising as the beginning of the contemporary gay liberation and pride movement in which we’ve fought and made progress in marriage equality and social acceptance, our history of resistance is actually marked by intense class struggle against capitalism and patriarchy. Much of our history has been forgotten or intentionally erased and co-opted by those who are comfortable ending the struggle at gay marriage and corporate sponsored Pride, but, in truth, our historical struggle was; 1. Led by revolutionary queers and gays, 2. Often consisted of communists in struggle against the police, unsafe labor conditions, and discriminatory housing, and 3. Carried a message of international proletarian (working class) revolution.

Sylvia Rivera (center) with other members of Street Transvestive Action Revolutionaries (STAR) from Come Out vol 7 no 1 1970. 

Despite cries of “No Cops at Pride!” our celebration of these struggles continues to be co-opted by police presence and corporate sponsorships. The erasure of our history silences the very queers and faggots who risked it all to start the fight for our liberation! Before the time of Stonewall, the police led the repression of queer and trans lives, harassing them out of work or housing or public life all together! Even as the police harassed, assaulted, and beat them back, our revolutionary ancestors knew that they had nothing to lose but their chains! The intense oppression was met with resistance from groups like the Mattachine Society, who in the 1950s fought against homophobia and anti-communism, the trans community in San Francisco who fought the police in the streets in 1966,  after years of repression and housing insecurity, and eventually with the uprising of 1969, at the Stonewall Inn. It was at this explosive moment that Sylvia Rivera howled through the streets, “The revolution is here!” An era of militant, anti-imperialist struggle emerged. 

Shortly after Stonewall, the Gay Liberation Front (G.L.F.) formed, its name in honor of the anti-colonial and anti-capitalist National Liberation Front in Vietnam and Algeria. The G.L.F. recognized that their struggle for gay liberation was bound to every other struggle against the system of capitalism and its empire that oppressed us at home and that invaded, pillaged, and decimated others abroad. From their manifesto their mission was, “part of a wider movement aiming to abolish all forms of social oppression,” and highlighted “peoples oppressed by imperialism, who lack the national, political, and economic independence which is a precondition for all other social change.” They denounced capitalism and racism locally and internationally. After Stonewall, Sylvia Rivera and other trans and gay activists went on to become members of the G.L.F. and organize with the Young Lords and the Black Panther Party with the shared goal of building a multi-racial and multi-national coalition to fight our common enemy: capitalism and U.S. imperialism. The experience of Sylvia Rivera and the many other revolutionary queers of this period provide evidence of why issues like housing, healthcare, war, racism, police brutality, and patriarchy are all queer issues and are all workers’ issues! All stemming from the capitalist system’s endless wars and wide spread oppression and exploitation.

Queer Liberation Means No More War 

As dozens of states are seeing the introduction and passage of anti-trans legislation, city governments are increasing their police spending and riot training, and the U.S. government is setting the stage for global war. They push policies to instill distrust, hostility, and confusion among working class people, all the while preparing for our resistance against their endless violence and warfare. The ruling class is well aware that if we were unified as the millions of poor, oppressed, and exploited, we would take what is rightfully ours. We would seize the world that we built. We would end war, protect the planet from destruction, and build a better world for us all where people’s needs are met and the primacy of profits made a thing of the past. We would smash capitalism and its structures of racism and patriarchy! 

Party for Socialism & Liberation Contingent at Pride parade Washington D.C. (2021) 

Just like our revolutionary ancestors and the G.LF., we must build multi-racial, multi-national coalitions to stop war, end racism, smash patriarchy, and ultimately, dismantle capitalism. In 2019, I joined the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), a multi-national, multi-racial revolutionary socialist party whose members and leaders are rooted in the working class. If we want to end oppression and exploitation that exists at the hands of the highly organized rich, the ruling class, we too must be organized! Like Malcolm X said regarding the struggle for black liberation, “we’re not outnumbered, we are outorganized.” Our party exists because we believe that revolution is possible even in the heart of the empire, that our class, and the most oppressed of us, can be liberated. We communists exist to show our friends, coworkers, and neighbors their own power so we can win! 

On March 18th, the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, PSL, the ANSWER coalition, and hundreds of other organizations are marching on Washington to say no to war!  And to demand:  Abolish NATO, Peace in Ukraine, No War with China, End Aid to Racist Apartheid Israel, Free All Political Prisoners (such as Mumia Abu Jamal, Julian Assange, Leonard Peltier among many others) and Fund the Peoples’ Needs, Not the War Machine! 

Locally, PSL Louisville is hosting a speak-out at the Old Louisville Coffee Co-op this Saturday, March 18th at 1PM featuring speakers from Veterans for Peace, Louisville Students for Justice in Palestine, Louisville Tenants Union, United Campus Workers of Kentucky, Queer Kentucky, and PSL. I urge all of you to join us locally or in D.C.! 

Further Reading 

Sylvia Rivera’s Searing “Bitch on Wheels” Speech

Leslie Feinberg: Revolutionary Communist, Transgender Warrior – Liberation School 

“Our armies are rising:” Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson – Liberation School

A history of LGBTQ workers’ struggles – Liberation School

The Marxist understanding of the roots of LGBTQ oppression – Liberation School

Cuba: ‘for families free of homophobia’ – Liberation School 

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