1970s: GAY LIBERATION AND THE NEW LEFT

 Huey Newton

Huey Newton

In September of 1970, the Black Panther Party, led by Huey Newton, convened a Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: to "remake the United States." Present were Black Muslims, Women's Liberation, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Gay Liberation Front. Many gay, lesbian, and Trans radicals had participated in anti-war, feminist, and civil rights demonstrations, but were angered by the sexism and homophobia shown by the Panthers. Philadelphia gay activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya wrote "We're no longer going to sit back when the Black Panthers call the pigs and rednecks 'faggots and cocksuckers.'"

Only a few weeks before the convention, Huey Newton published a promising letter, "To the Revolutionary Brothers and Sisters about the Women's Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements." In it, he argued "We have not said much about the homosexual at all, but we must relate to the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and through my life experience and observations that homosexuals are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the most oppressed people in the society."

In the Male Homosexual Workshop that was part of the Convention, about 60 gay liberationists including Philadelphia activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya discussed racism, sexism and sexual identities. They declared "the revolution will not be complete until all men are free to express their love for one another sexually." The Lesbian Workshop issued some of the same resolutions as the males, but they focused especially on demanding the control and power over their own destinies that they had been denied. This demand for real equality and power led to friction between lesbian feminists and the Panthers. Furthermore, black women felt that many of the Lesbian Workshop's resolutions concerning the destruction of the nuclear family invalidated African-American experiences.  

This uneasy alliance of black and white, gay and straight, and male and female, had reached its high water mark. From that time forward, those alliances would splinter, recombine and reform in the struggle for justice and equality in America.

- Bob Skiba, Curator, the John J. Wilcox Jr. LGBT Archives of Philadelphia