Amid the massive May 1968 protests in France, the Homosexual Front for Revolutionary Action (FHAR) was formed. In addition to denouncing the state persecution and discrimination they experienced, the group sought to address the growing workers’ movement of the time, dialoguing with sectors of the Left, and proposing an anti-capitalist perspective for sexual liberation.
In a pamphlet distributed on April 30, 1971, FHAR proclaimed, “We raise the issue of the freedom of each person to dispose of his body as he sees fit; our struggle is therefore political, and to proclaim loud and clear our right to homosexuality is revolutionary.”
The date was no accident. Titled “We Are Homosexual Workers,” the pamphlet had been produced on the eve of International Workers’ Day, May 1, the day the group made their debut. “The other day, a friend of mine was fired because his boss discovered he was homosexual,” began the denunciation written by a group of gays and lesbians who did not expect to generate so much commotion in the following days. Only two years had passed since the Stonewall revolt in the United States that gave rise to the sexual liberation movement.
The reality was that virtually all the capitalist democracies of the time penalized homosexuality. As the pamphlet noted, “In France, the ‘land of freedom,’ the Petainist-fascist law of 1942, corrected and intensified by [President Charles] De Gaulle in 1960, considers us a ‘social scourge’ (along with alcoholism and prostitution).” Three years earlier, workers and students had helped lead the May 1968 protests, marking a before and after for a generation that questioned capitalism and the inequalities it reproduces.
These events not only led to the emergence of FHAR but also influenced the debates of the time. In 1964, out of the 331 people convicted under these laws, not a single one was a company executive. Along the way, French activists wondered about the relationship between sexual repression and working-class oppression.
That May 1, the FHAR decided to march, using slogans like “Queers in the street! We are all a social scourge!” and “Down with the patriarchy!” Having organized in less than two months, their participation did not go unnoticed. The following day, the French Communist Party (PCF) criticized the group’s intervention in its newspaper, calling it a “masquerade.” The PCF still maintained that homosexuality was a petty-bourgeois perversion, with its presidential candidate that year even responding to members of the FHAR at a rally by saying, “Go get cured, pedophiles, the PCF is healthy!”
At the time, the French labor movement and trade unions were heavily influenced by Stalinism. For this reason, in the face of the criticisms from different sectors of the Left, the FHAR began to spread its positions and generate polemics:
The working class does not belong to the leadership of the PCF, nor does Marxism. That is why we have no reservations about systematically denouncing and fighting the sexual orthodoxy that it wants to impose on us. We say fuck the heteronormative male chauvinists within the PCF apparatus just as we say fuck all the heteronormative male chauvinists. What we do know is that there are dykes and faggots in the PCF, as everywhere, and we are in solidarity with them.
In this response published in the first issue of Antinorm, the FHAR’s newspaper, as well as in the denunciation of discriminatory firing under the laws criminalizing homosexuality, the group attempts to show the complex reality of a capitalism that, while exploiting, takes advantage of oppressions for its own benefit. “For us, class struggle also passes through the body, [which] sexual repression, alienated labor, and economic oppression have systematically imprisoned,” FHAR wrote. “There is no separating our sexual struggle and our daily struggle for the realization of our desires from our anti-capitalist struggle, from our struggle for a classless society, without master or slave.”
Even half a century later, FHAR’s reflection hits the nail on the head about a problem that persists, and is both amplified and invisibilized on a large scale. Neoliberalism pursued a policy of tolerance towards LGBTQ+ people, limiting their struggle to the conquest of some basic rights, which had a great impact mainly in the Western world. Neoliberalism also sought to exploit gay and lesbian identities as a niche market, creating specific products and services for queer people with purchasing power.
However, at the same time, social and economic inequalities have deepened. The working class faces job insecurity and rising costs of healthcare and education, and inflation is eating into our paychecks. Poverty is increasing while the fortunes of the world’s wealthiest have reached unprecedented heights. This reality leaves just a minority of LGBTQ+ people with the capacity to consume and fully enjoy the rights they have won, while the vast majority who work to survive lead precarious lives marked by long hours, physical exhaustion, burnout, and discrimination.
Sectors of young people are beginning to see this contradiction. Like the FHAR’s anti-capitalist perspective in the 1970s, these young workers don’t see artificial divisions between oppression and exploitation. Some of this is expressed in the phenomenon of unionization of young workers in the United States at Starbucks, where LGBTQ+ people are at the forefront of organizing against discrimination and for improved working and living conditions. These workers bravely present a collective struggle that questions all the inequalities that sustain capitalism.
Originally published in Spanish on May 1 in La Izquierda Diario.
Translation by Olivia Wood and Otto Fors