Gay and Lesbian Oppression [ZACF]

We demand complete liberty to give ourselves to those who please us, and absolute liberty to refuse ourselves to those who displease us.

Emile Armand,
French Anarchist,
on free relationships

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Gays and lesbians have long been subject to discrimination and prejudice in South Africa and other countries. Personal freedom in the area of sexual preference (as in all other areas of life) is tightly controlled under capitalism and the State, with laws in almost all countries defining what forms of adult sex are and are not acceptable.

We believe that all consenting adults should have the right to engage in the sexual practices and relationships that make them happy, and we therefore oppose the oppression of gays and lesbians.

We do not accept the argument that gay and lesbian activity is unnatural, because such behaviour has always existed in all societies. This includes Africa, contrary to the claims of bourgeois nationalists.[1]

The gay rights clauses in the new constitution of South Africa represent an important victory for all people. They were won through struggle, and must be defended in the same way. Such legislative reforms, while important, are not enough. For example, the laws will still be applied by the same bigoted police and judges who implemented the old anti-gay laws. Moreover, there is a gap between paper rights and the reality on the ground. In general, the broad structures of gay and lesbian oppression remain in place in practice. The forces which gave rise to this oppression (see below) are very much alive and kicking.


The oppression of gays and lesbians, just like the oppression of women, is rooted in the nature of capitalist society and the ideas it promotes.

Capitalism relies heavily on the heterosexual family which provides care for the workers, the sick, the elderly and the next generation of workers. The hostility towards gays and lesbians stems from the challenge that their sexuality poses to the idea that this is the only possible form of family. Clearly, it undermines the idea that sex is only for reproduction. Homosexuals are condemned as unnatural because their sexual activity cannot produce children.

Promoting hatred of gays and lesbians (homophobia) is also a very effective way of dividing and ruling the workers and the poor.


This analysis of the roots of gay and lesbian oppression has a number of important implications for strategy and tactics in the fight against gay and lesbian oppression.

Some gays and lesbians see the solution to their oppression in separatism and lifestyle politics. We do not see these as real solutions as these people are trying to drop out rather than struggle to change the society in which they live. The fight for gay and lesbian liberation needs to be taken up by all progressive forces and definitely should not be seen as “their struggle” only.

Given the roots of gay and lesbian oppression in the class system, capitalism and the State we do not think that the way to defeat gay and lesbian oppression is by promoting gay “business power” or by uniting all classes of the “gay community”. The presence of capitalists in the gay movement is a serious problem, not part of the solution. The gay bourgeoisie objectively defends capitalism and the State and cannot thus consistently fight lesbian and gay oppression. Instead, it tends to try to divert the struggle into safe channels like sponsoring glossy magazines, trying to make gay pride marches into harmless carnivals and advertising events etc.

Instead, we think that the fight must be linked to the class struggle against capitalism and the State, and we think that all progressive forces should support gays’ and lesbians’ right to equality.

United class- struggle is the only way to finally defeat gay and lesbian oppression racism for once and for all. There is no substitute for a programme of “boring within” and “anarchising” the trade unions.


Non-homosexual people do not benefit from gay and lesbian oppression, as it seriously divides and weakens the working-class in its struggles for a better, freer life, resulting in worse conditions all round.


However, although we believe that true liberation for gays and lesbians will only come about with the abolition of capitalism and the State, and the creation of a society that gives everyone real control over their lives, we do not put off the fight for freedom until the future. Gays and lesbians are entitled to full support in their struggle for equality.

In immediate terms, we must raise the issue of fighting against discrimination on the job, in our trade unions. An end to harassment must be demanded. Stereotyping and anti-gay attitudes must be challenged everywhere.

We support physical self-defence by lesbians and gays against gay bashers and the police where necessary.

We reject the right of the State to dictate the sexual choices of consenting adults.

We support progressive initiatives of the gay movement such as Gay Pride marches, the scrapping of anti-gays laws and anti-discrimination campaigns. We also think that links must be built with other working class campaigns.

The right of gay parents to keep their children must be supported.


  1. This is documented for Africa. See, for example, B.D. Adam, (1986), “Age, Structure And Sexuality: Reflections On The Anthropological Evidence On Homosexual Behaviour”, in E. Blackwood (ed.)., Anthropology and Homosexual Behaviour. Haworth. NY. London; E. Blackwood, “Breaking the Mirror: the Construction of Lesbianism and Anthropological Evidence on Homosexuality”, in E. Blackwood (ed.)., Anthropology and Homosexual Behaviour. Haworth. NY. London ; M.J. Herskowitz, (1967), Dahomey: an Ancient West African Kingdom. 2 vols. Evanston. Northwestern University Press; S.F. Nadel, (1942), Black Byzantium: the Kingdom of the Nupe in Nigeria. Oxford. London; E. Pritchard, (1971), The Azande. Oxford. Clarendon; E. Pritchard, (1970), “Sexual Inversion Amongst the Azande”, American Anthropologist, no. 72; M. Wilson, (1963), Good Company: the Structure of Nyakusa Age Villages. Oxford. London.