Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A GLBT activist history lesson

"It's a strange feeling, to realize your life has been written about as history. ..."

That's what many in the audience found ourselves saying to each other last night while listening to University of Nevada-Reno historian Emily Hobson. The San Francisco GLBT History Society hosted her talking about her new book: Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left. Hobson has captured recollections from the late 1960s through 1989. It was fun to run into numerous old friends who had gathered to view slides of those exhilarating, but also desperate and dire, times.

Then as now, the instinct of police departments to use violence against people considered outside the white middle class mainstream was a fact of life, to be denounced and protested. This image dates from 1969.

I have not yet read the book. But based on Hobson's talk and even a cursory glance, it looks as she'd written an account of gay and leftist activism which captures more of the flavor of West Coast struggles than often appears in New York-centric histories. There was a heck of a lot of going on here.

Then, as in this moment when He Who Shall Not Be Named seems to loom over us, we lived all too aware that our backs were against the wall and survival was at risk. As AIDS decimated the community, many didn't make it. Hobson suggested three themes from that past that might serve us today:
  • Awareness that activism has a genealogy, that the experience and flow of people through successive movements creates a potent connective tissue that undergirds our struggles.
  • We can reclaim the malleability of identities. How we understand ourselves and our priorities can change and morph. That's a good thing, not a fault.
  • Solidarity across seemingly separate struggles is where we make strength. If we look around, the world offers legions of unlikely allies we haven't met yet.

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