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1 In March 1988, thousands of lesbian and gay activists took to the streets of San Francisco to protest war in Central America (figure 1). United States president Ronald Reagan, falsely claiming that the forces of Nicaragua ’s socialist government had crossed into Honduras, had sent 3,200 US soldiers to the region to prepare for a military assault. He turned back this intervention after significant protests around the United States, including ten days of demonstrations in San Francisco. Lesbian and gay radicals were key to organizing the San Francisco protests, and among other contributions they mobilized two specifically queer antiintervention marches, the first numbering between 2,000 and 3,000 people and the second over 4,000.1 Participants in these protests claimed a long history of anti-militarist, anti-imperialist organizing as lesbians and gay men. As Kate Raphael stated at the week’s closing rally, “Since 1980, gay men and especially lesbians have been in the leadership of the Central America solidarity movements. We have fought with you in meetings, we have worked with you in the fields of Nicaragua, and we have been with you in jail.” Tede Matthews, reporting for the local gay and lesbian newspaper the San Francisco Sentinel, expanded the historical narrative further with a timeline that traced Bay Area lesbian and gay activism in solidarity with Latin America to the early 1970s. AIDS activist Guillermo Gonzalez spoke out about his frustration that despite their long-standing presence , “gay people of color are invisible to the left,” and he defined Introduction 2 | Introduction figure 1. Lesbians and gay men lead a march against US intervention in Central America, San Francisco, March 18, 1988. Photograph by Rick Gerharter. Courtesy Rick Gerharter. lesbian and gay solidarity with Central America as one way out of that invisibility and beyond a single-issue, racially limited gay politics. All three of these people described the Reagan administration as a common enemy, one that gay men and lesbians in the United States shared with Central Americans. They defined anti-war and anti-imperialist commitments as crucial to lesbian and gay movement building.2 Raphael, Matthews, and Gonzalez were three among many participants in the gay and lesbian left, a movement that stretched from the heights of the 1960s to the depths of the AIDS crisis and that defined sexual liberation and radical solidarity as interdependent. Gay and lesbian leftists saw heterosexism as interconnected with war, racism, and capitalism, each system using the other as a mechanism and support. They argued that full sexual freedom depended on anti-imperialist and anti-militarist change and that, by organizing as gay and lesbian radicals , they could achieve multiple and overlapping goals. The gay and lesbian left did not simply pursue alliance between distinct political causes, but also, more aspirationally, worked to forge an integrated and nonbifurcated politics. Its participants saw sexual liberation and radical solidarity as constituted within each other rather than as wholly separate. They defined gay and lesbian identities not only as forms of desire but also as political affiliations that could create the Introduction | 3 conditions of possibility to set desire free. And, by pursuing their politics across bodily, local, and global as well as national scales, gay and lesbian leftists crafted a vision for change that moved beyond liberal and neoliberal inclusion in the United States or other capitalist states.3 A history of the gay and lesbian left moves against narratives that approach US lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer activism only through a domestic political frame, as well as those that assume that when LGBT and queer activists do look globally, they do so only by exporting their goals outward and imposing perceptions from the Global North onto the Global South. Certainly, domestic politics, national agendas, and globalization have been major currents within sexual politics , and they have shaped gay and lesbian radicalism as well as other aspects of queer life. But there has also been another story worth telling. The gay and lesbian left drew inspiration for sexual as well as other freedoms from anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and anti-capitalist movements around the world. In addition, the gay and lesbian left was a transnational phenomenon. It held strength not only in multiple US cities but also in Britain, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, and Nicaragua, among many other countries.4 Gay and lesbian leftists communicated with one another across disparate locations, and they shared investments in looking beyond national borders...


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