A Compelling Idea – Gays as a Cultural Minority

“With the full realization that, in order to earn for ourselves any place in the sun, we must with perseverance and self-discipline work collectively…for the full first-class citizenship of Minorities everywhere, including ourselves.”

Harry Hay 1950

In writing those words back in 1950 (lifted from Radically Gay edited in 1996 by Will Roscoe) Hay was beginning to make the argument that we queer folk were actually a cultural minority. Those words could also I suppose be a very early clarion call for minority coalition politics and perhaps even a harbinger for the acknowledgement of the reality of intersectionaltiy.

As stated by Roscoe in the introduction to Radically Gay “… without the idea of Gays as a cultural minority there would be no Gay identity and no Gay/Lesbian movement today.” Lest other components falling under the rubric of “queer” today feel left out remember Hay was writing in 1950 and he does say “minorities’ everywhere”.  In 1950 we as the multifaceted community we have come to be had no above ground identity other than sick, mentally ill perverts. Roscoe also writes that the cultural minority thesis has been Hay’s most significant and resilient contribution to Queer political theory.

In an attempt to make this relevant I would venture out on a limb, something I have perfected over many years, and say that we are in no small part here sharing our stories today because of this cultural minority thesis and its profound impact on so many aspects of Queer liberation. Not to get too far into the weeds here, in just a short piece for Monday afternoon story telling with like minded comrades, let me acknowledge that the minority model has been roundly tossed out the window by many queer theorists today espousing a social constructionist theory for gay identities: in other words we all became queer as a result of social pressures, oppression and prejudice.

 I however fall squarely into the camp, strongly influenced by Hay and Roscoe, believing that there is a profoundly essential component to our Queerness, an ongoing motivation making itself known at a very early age and that almost always proceeds any form of sexual behavior. We are often different in many ways from our same sex/gender peers right out of the box. This is not to dismiss the reality that certainly parts of who we are today have been shaped by the oppression we may have individually experienced. Anyone interested in the battle of the queer theories I would strongly encourage you to find a copy of Radically Gay (1996) and read Will Roscoe’s Introduction and Afterword, actually read the whole book if you have an interest in how we got to where we are today.

In furtherance of the argument that it is important to know our history let me toss out one more compelling idea. This one again from Will Roscoe and his writings in the Hay biography I have been heavily referencing for this piece. After all it was not stated that the “compelling idea” had to be our own.

In the Introduction to Radically Gay Roscoe is opining the sad fact that Harry Hay is a name recognized by very few Queer activists these days. He believes this is due in part to the fact that for many LGBTQ activists, attitudes about the movement date to their own involvement often lacking much of a historical consciousness beyond the occasional bone thrown to Harvey Milk or the Stonewall Riots. I do not want to put too many words into Will’s mouth here remembering of course that Radically Gay was written over 22 years ago now. That said I think his observation that accessible, accurate sources of queer history are still quite hard to come-by even in 2018. Oh there are some Universities offering a course in Queer Theory or Gender Studies most probably with a strong constructionist bent. And as far as Queer history making into any high school texts forget it. Really, Texas high school curriculum planners are trying to remove historical mention of Hilary Clinton from their textbooks. Fat chance then that Harry Hay and the early Mattahcine Society will ever see the light of day. So there is lots of work to still be done my fellow travelers. Our agenda is yet to be fulfilled.