Lifestyles for Liberation?
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from the Workers' Liberty pamphlet, Radical Chains: Sexuality and Class Politics, published in 1999.

From the Stonewall Inn to the Admiral Duncan, the state and the far right have attacked gay venues. Defending our rights has meant defending our right to a social life in public, free from intimidation. To a great extent, the existence of a lesbian and gay 'scene' is a measure of how far we have come since the days of secret meeting places with opaque windows. And potentially, a visible, lively and confident scene can spring into action, mobilising for equality.

However, it has its limitations: handing your pink pound over a gay bar is not going to bring liberation; walking hand-in-hand through the Village is not necessarily going to make it safe to walk hand-in-hand in any other area or along any other street. It's going to take more than that. As the profile of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals has grown, so our activities and events have become subject to a steady trend towards commercialisation. Pride has been sponsored by companies (such as United Airlines) which do not even practise equality for their own lesbian, gay and bisexual employees. The Pride festival is no longer a free event: it is organised not for liberation but for profit. Capitalists have been happy to be gay-friendly when there are pink pounds to be made, and some gay people have been happy to join them. Gary Henshaw, a gay business consultant and cafe owner, readily admits "I am motivated by money and power ... I happen to be a capitalist in the extreme ... I would like to build an empire. Power is very much connected to wealth."

Some people have argued that through the 'pink economy', we can buy into equality. They back this up with claims that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are relatively affluent and economically independent. But the reality is a mirror-image of this picture: affluent, independent people find it easier to come out of the closet. Similarly, an enduring stereotype is of upper-class homosexuality, of same-sex activity as the leisure pursuit of aristocratic men. This image has fed homophobia, perhaps especially amongst working-class people. The idea of achieving change through lifestyle is not, however, unique to the more conservative wing of gay politics. Even some left-wing lesbian, gay and bisexual activists, who claim to reject 'pink pound' arguments, still take a 'lifestylist' approach. The manifesto of the London Gay Liberation Front put forward a theory that "linked with this struggle to change society there is an important aspect of gay liberation that we can begin to build here and now - a NEW, LIBERATED LIFESTYLE which will anticipate, as far as possible, the free society of the future."

Although GLF at least linked their lifestyle ideas to a struggle for change, time proved that this strategy could not work: it was utopian to believe that islands of liberation could emerge and conquer a sea of repression. GLF's view has a descendant in today's 'identity politics', the idea that merely by asserting our homosexual identity we can overcome oppression. Identity politics can trace its roots through 'radical feminism', even though most lesbian, gay and bisexual people thoroughly reject the politics of guilt and of hierarchies of oppression spread by the rad fems. GLF contended that "Gay shows the way. In some ways we are already more advanced than straight people ..."

Really? But our fight for liberation is not based on our sexuality being superior to any other. Rather, it is about the right of all people to express their sexuality as they choose, free from discrimination. The politics of gay lifestyle can lead to a snobbery not just against heterosexuals, but against members of our own 'community'. Being 'out' as lesbian, gay or bisexual is a statement, in the face of oppression and invisibility, of same-sex desire. It is a proud declaration of sexuality: it should not be a definition of what clothes you wear, what music you like, what drugs you take or where you shop. When lifestyle becomes central to gay identity, then many lesbian, gay and bisexual people are excluded - those who do not look the part, whose faces do not fit. This can give rise to a quite unpleasant, even contemptuous, attitude to people who don't fit the picture of the ideal homo - because they are not pretty enough, don't work out at the gym, or don't drink in the right bars. And that's no way to unite people in active defence of our rights.