While Black Panther Party founder Huey Newton was a controversial figure in the civil rights movement, he was also a surprisingly early supporter of gay rights.
On August 15, 1970, Newton delivered a speech in New York, titled “A Letter to the Revolutionary Brothers and Sisters About The Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements.”
Coming only a year after the Stonewall Riots, his address pointed to the intersectionality of racism, sexism and homophobia.
Whatever your personal opinions and your insecurities about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals and women (and I speak of the homosexuals and women as oppressed groups), we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion.
He declared, to an audience that might not have been totally sympathetic, that “the women’s liberation front and gay liberation front are our friends, they are our potential allies, and we need as many allies as possible.”
At the time, mainstream society treated LGBT people like pariahs. But Newton urged his fellow activists to be compassionate and inclusive.
I do not remember our ever constituting any value that said that a revolutionary must say offensive things towards homosexuals, or that a revolutionary should make sure that women do not speak out about their own particular kind of oppression. As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite: we say that we recognize the women’s right to be free.
We have not said much about the homosexual at all, but we must relate to the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and through my life experience and observations, that homosexuals are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society.
They might be the most oppressed people in the society.
Newton was surprisingly progressive, even by today’s standards: He called on his followers to examine the roots of their own homophobia.
We want to hit a homosexual in the mouth because we are afraid that we might be homosexual; and we want to hit the women or shut her up because we are afraid that she might castrate us, or take the nuts that we might not have to start with.
We should be willing to discuss the insecurities that many people have about homosexuality. When I say “insecurities,” I mean the fear that they are some kind of threat to our manhood.
I can understand this fear. Because of the long conditioning process which builds insecurity in the American male, homosexuality might produce certain hang-ups in us. I have hang-ups myself about male homosexuality. But on the other hand, I have no hang-up about female homosexuality. And that is a phenomenon in itself.
And he had no time for anti-gay slurs.
We should be careful about using those terms that might turn our friends off. The terms “faggot” and “punk” should be deleted from our vocabulary, and especially we should not attach names normally designed for homosexuals to men who are enemies of the people, such as [Richard] Nixon or [John] Mitchell.
Homosexuals are not enemies of the people.
Power to the people. Thank you, Huey.
Read the full text of his speech here.
h/t: Cypher Avenue