Leslie Feinberg, transgender warrior
Leslie Feinberg spoke today at the ONE Institute in Los Angeles. The Institute is the largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) library on the planet. Founded in 1952, it has 20,000 books, 600 periodicals, and 2 million other LGBT documents, as well as a museum and art exhibits. The photo is of Leslie Feinberg and Stuart Timmons, Executive Director of the Institute.
While perusing the collections before Leslie spoke I discovered they have the original infamous “No fagots allowed” signs that used to hang in Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood. The owner of Barney’s, which is in a heavily gay area, was a hate-filled homophobic thug who preached killing homosexuals. In about 1982, in a major victory for gay organizers, he was forced to remove the signs. The ONE Institute now has both of these historically significant, if grotesque, signs. (And yes, “faggots” was misspelled on the signs”).
Leslie is a transgender activist, a women, a lesbian, a Jew, a contributing editor of Workers World, plus author of several books. One book, Transgender Warriors, documents trans people throughout history. It shows how, in more than a few societies, trans people, feminine men, and masculine women were considered to be part of the spectrum of sexuality, and no big deal. In some societies they were honored – certainly not viewed with the suspicion and hatred that some current members of Congress demonstrate.
She spoke of growing up working class in Buffalo NY, and how the gay bars were a major place of refuge where LGBTs could be themselves – when the bars weren’t being invaded by gangs of thugs or the police, that is. “We didn’t have to be told ‘an attack on one is an attack on all’, we already knew it”, she said.
She became Marxist early on, finding it to be a useful framework for her research and activism. Did you know there was a major and influential homosexual movement in Germany starting in the 1880’s? Neither did I. Neither did most Germans when she travelled there a few years ago. She spoke of how homosexuals and socialists formed a working partnership in Germany back then, which achieved serious gains, including the founding of a major library of gay literature and archives. This library was one of the first things the Nazis went after.
To me, that shows a rather direct link between the extreme right and hatred of LGBT’s, and conversely, between the left and acceptance of them. Which demonstrates rather neatly one of her main points – that in our capitalistic world issues of sexuality are always linked to politics. It is clear that repressive right wing governments always go after LGBT’s quickly and harshly.
In late June of 1969, at a gay bar called Stonewall’s in NYC, the police raided it one time too often. Instead of the usual beatings and arrests, LGBT’s, many of them Black and Latino/a took to the streets. There were several nights of pitched battles with the police. As Leslie said, a four inch stiletto heel wielded by a drag queen makes a formidable weapon! This has come to be called the Stonewall Rebellion, and it was the founding of the modern gay movement.
The Stonewall spirit is what Leslie invoked, in her focused, fascinating hour long talk. These are dangerous times, many of the gains of LGBT’s (and others) are under attack. These are the times to speak out, to organize, to get in the streets.
She said she is frequently asked, “are you a guy or are you a girl”? I decided that – she is who she is – and that such questions reflect more on the asker of the question, than on her…