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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Peter Tatchell on lost gay radicalism

Over at The Guardian, 50 Voices of Disbelief contributor Peter Tatchell writes on what he sees as the lost radicalism of the gay rights movement.

Our vision was a new sexual democracy, without homophobia and misogyny. Erotic shame and guilt would be banished, together with socially enforced monogamy and male and female gender roles. There would be sexual freedom and human rights for everyone – queer and straight. Our message was "innovate, don't assimilate".

GLF [Gay Liberation Front] never called for equality. The demand was liberation. We wanted to change society, not conform to it. Equal rights within a flawed, unjust system struck us as idiotic. It would mean parity on straight terms, within a pre-existing framework of institutions and laws devised by and for the heterosexual majority. Equality within their system would involve conformity to their ­values and rules – a formula for gay submission and incorporation, not liberation.

But, he laments,

In the 40 years since Stonewall and GLF, there has been a massive retreat from that radical vision. Most LGBT ­people no longer question the values, laws and institutions of society. They are content to settle for equal rights within the status quo. On the age of consent, the LGBT movement accepted equality at 16, ignoring the criminalisation of younger gay and straight people. Don't the under-16s have sexual human rights too? Equality has not helped them. All they got was equal injustice.

The whole article is worth reading.


Tony Smith said...

HIV-AIDS was a major contributor to the decline of the radical end of the queer/gay movement.

The virus spread much more rapidly via those sufficiently removed from lifestyle constraints to put into practice what they were preaching than it did through the previously invisible cohort of committed homosexual male couples, allowing the latter to not just survive but take over the agenda by default, finishing up in bed politically with phallophobic lesbians and eventually promoting the oxymoron of gay marriage as their top agenda item.

On a side note, Tatchell is misleading with his claim that "opposite sex couples are banned from civil partnerships". Established legal protections for de facto heterosexual relationships are the model on which the civil partnerships idea is based. In Australia this largely boils down to how you register at Centrelink.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"Sadly, most of the LGBT movement in Britain is now too feeble to demand marriage equality. It meekly accepts civil partnerships instead of civil marriage."

I was surprised to read that. I'm used to thinking of my own country (U.S.A.) as being backward on gay rights, and I hadn't realized that there were European countries on the wrong side of the gay marriage issue.

Athena Andreadis said...

@Tony Smith: In the US, most if not all states do not recognize civil partnerships among heterosexuals. It's either marriage or nothing.

Geoff Coupe said...

@ Tony Smith:

You write: 'On a side note, Tatchell is misleading with his claim that "opposite sex couples are banned from civil partnerships"'.

Tatchell is referring to the UK Civil Partnership rules. The Act of Parliament (Civil Partnership Act 2004) specifically states:

"Two people are not eligible to register as civil partners of each other if ... they are not of the same sex".

It is true that the legal protections are based on those of civil marriage, but the fact remains that the UK differentiates between the two, unlike other countries where marriage can be between two people, same-sex or not. On a side note, here in the Netherlands, both civil partnership and civil marriage exist, and are open to all couples whatever their gender pairing.

I also raise a sceptical eyebrow at the theory that HIV-AIDS was a major contributor to the decline of the radical end of the queer/gay movement. I think some of us simply grew up and modified our political views. It seems to me that GLF was a child of the times, similar to the hippy movement. And like ageing hippies, there are still radical fairies around, but their numbers are not what they once were. And I don't intend that perjoratively; I have much admiration for the principled stances of Tatchell.