“Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left” by Emily K. Hobson— Rethinking Liberation

Hobson, Emily K. “Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left”, University of California Press, 2016.

Rethinking Liberation

Amos Lassen

Many think of LGBT activism as a self-contained struggle, inspired by but set apart from other social movements. In “Lavender and Red”, Emily Hobson shows a different story by providing us with a history of queer radicals who understood their sexual liberation as part of the solidarity against imperialism, war, and racism movements. These politics was born in the late 1960s but survived well past Stonewall and actually propelled a gay and lesbian left that flourished through the end of the Cold War. This left was centered in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where sexual self-determination and revolutionary internationalism came together. Through the 1970s, its activists took on socialist and women of color feminism and crafted queer opposition to militarism and the New Right. In the Reagan years, they challenged U.S. intervention in Central America, collaborated with their peers in Nicaragua, and mentored the first direct action against AIDS. Through archival research, oral histories, and vibrant images, Hobson rediscovers the radical queer past for a generation of activists today. I remember all to well that as I was coming of age and entering the gay world, activism meant radicalism and I suppose that is always the way I will remember it. It is really hard to forget sitting in a jail cell because of protesting for something that had always been due to us.

The LGBT left of that time was vibrant and even though it was centered on the West Coast, its implications were felt everywhere that there were unliberated gay people. In the 70s and 80s the LGBT left saw itself as part of the international left and this certainly changes how we look at our history, not just as activists, but in general. For whatever reason, what we knew about the LGBT left was lost to history until Hobson resurrected so much of it in this book. This is a deeply researched account of the ways a politics of affiliation can expand forms of organization, practices, vision and impact. The stories we get here give us new new historical narratives as well as resources that can certainly change our futures just as it did our pasts.

LGBT activists n the 1960s were committed to ending U.S. imperialism, militarism, racism, and all forms of oppression and exploitation. They fought not only to be accepted by the mainstream society but also to overturn it. Emily Hobson revises the history of the American Left and shows through a political and intellectual history that “queer radicals understood and re-fashioned anti-imperialist, nationalist, feminist, and Third World thought to imagine new meanings for sexuality, community, and emancipatory politics”. Contrary to what many believe, gay liberation was a force before Stonewall.

The gay liberation and lesbian feminist movements linked sexual liberation to radical solidarity including the mobilizations against imperialism, capitalism, and racism, demanding universal health care and ‘money for AIDS. LBGT activism was NOT a single issue and it was not racially whitewashed as many would believe. This is exactly why I find what happened at Chicago’s 2017 Dyke March so reprehensible. The lesbian organizers used anti-Semitism to prevent three Jewish women from marching and carrying rainbow flags with Stars of David and this is not just shocking, it is inexcusable and the repercussions have been very strong. Here an apology hardly suffices and we can only wonder how our leftist activists would have reacted to this.

Below is the book’s Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations




  1. Beyond the Gay Ghetto: Founding Debates in Gay Liberation
  2. A More Powerful Weapon: Lesbian Feminism and Collective Defense
  3. Limp Wrists and Clenched Fists: Defining a Politics and Hitting the Streets
  4. 24th and Mission: Building Lesbian and Gay Solidarity with Nicaragua
  5. Talk About Loving in the War Years: Nicaragua, Transnational Feminism, and AIDS
  6. Money for AIDS, Not War: Anti-militarism, Direct Action against the Epidemic, and Movement History





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