I have a friend who's a socialist. And when I say socialist, they can quote Marx, Gramsci, Adorno, Marcuse, Luxemburg, and more. They, as an American, went to college in a communist country to get their degree in that nation’s history. Now they’re working on an advanced degree in history focusing on the history of colonialism and communism. They were in the Democratic Socialists of America before it was cool and have written for a lot of socialist websites. They’re about as socialist as you can get.
Even though we have a lot of ideological differences, we still get along great because we both share an interest in history, respect each others beliefs, and share a dislike of ahistorical and blind ideology. More than once we’ve aired our frustrations to each other about people who nominally align with each of our beliefs, and agree that there’s more than a few problems with some socialists having really wrong takes that hurt their movement. One of those topics is LGBTQ issues.
My friend has run afoul of some very hardcore types who have gone so far as to use racial slurs when they’ve criticized socialist and communist countries for basically not living up to their own hype. My friend is an American-born ethnic minority, who went to college in the country their family is from, and did some serious research into the history of that communist country’s treatment of LGBTQ people; they were amazed at how so many white socialist LGBTQ people went out of their way to distort the truth about it when even the leaders of that country have admitted to their oppressive failures. My friend loves his “home country” and steadfastly believes socialism is the best system for equality, but he will be first in line to criticize its failures. Why? Because he believe socialism is the best system for equality, but he knows that any socialist system is run by people, and that economic systems aren’t a magic cure for prejudice and discrimination.
I say all of this, because a lot of LGBTQ people lately have taken to the media to say that socialism is the answer to LGBTQ oppression and all I can say to that is, “Bullshit.” Every last bit of history proves otherwise. Now, I’m not arguing that socialism/communism is anti-LGBTQ, but it hasn’t been the best system for LGBTQ people in all cases. Yet, neither has capitalism. In fact, the social progress of LGBTQ rights in different countries under different systems has been so haphazard that it’s impossible to argue who has been better for LGBTQ rights. The only logical conclusion, and I know this may sound crazy to a lot of folks, is that somehow, and this is crazy, systems of economics and government don’t actually have a lot to do with social values. In fact, and I may be going out on a limb here but I’m feeling crazy, it seems that governments and economic systems reflect what society values. Woah, mindblowing ain’t it?
Take for example the idea of decriminalizing being homosexual as a foundational example. The first countries that decriminalized it back in the 19th century were monarchies like the Empire of Japan and the Ottoman Empire, but also Bolivarist revolutionary states in Central and South America. Later during the Cold War of the 20th century, some communist countries were decriminalizing at the same time as capitalist ones. In fact, for as much dominance as the Soviet Union had over Eastern Europe, countries like East Germany and Hungary were far more progressive than the Soviets who kept any and all LGBTQ behavior and expression oppressed all the way to the end. In fact, the East German government ran the country's gay bars and Poland was allowing gender marker changes in the 1960s, while the Soviets were still arresting LGBTQ people. In comparison to the west, the U.K. was decriminalizing while in the United States, the Stonewall Riots were two years away. In the Soviet Union, they initially decriminalized homosexuality in a repudiation of Tsarist laws and their scientists declared it natural, but within a few years they recriminalized it because of social backlash. Not unlike what happened in Weimar Germany when the Nazis took over. And we all know Nazis and Bolsheviks did not like each other one bit, but they did share an attitude toward homosexuality.
With other issues such as same-sex marriage and legal protections, it’s all haphazard and disjointed. Like in Japan, there is no marriage equality, but there is recognition of gender markers. Communist China only legalized homosexuality in 1997, while no prohibitions have ever existed in Taiwan. In fact, the Chinese province of Hong Kong was more open than the rest of China due to their autonomous state and history as a British possession. In Thailand, where there has been a widely known transgender population and is one of primary destinations of transition surgery, only now in 2020 is there a bill to allow gender marker changes. Pakistan is very weird in that they ban transgender discrimination but will still imprison you for gay sex. Palestine, Jordan, and Israel all have decriminalized homosexuality, while Iran and Saudi Arabia could execute you.
Look, I won’t argue that LGBTQ people would benefit from increased government benefits like universal healthcare, higher minimum wage, and college affordability. But guillotining all the billionaires and giving all their money to the poor isn’t going to make the poor less prejudiced. All you’re doing is making poor bigots into slightly wealthier ones. Capitalism doesn’t make people bigoted, but bigoted people can weaponize capitalism just as they can with socialism. In fact, there are some arguments that the racism we experience here in the United States was a way to justify the exploitation of slavery and the effect long lingered on after its end.
Yet, if capitalism is so oppressive, then why have minorities experienced some social gains (I’m not so clueless as to think everything’s great)? In fact, while the wealth gap in America has expanded, so have LGBTQ rights. Some companies went about creating nondiscrimination policies and providing insurance for domestic partners as well as transition coverage long before most states legalized same-sex marriage and passed nondiscrimination ordinances. Why? Because of changing social values as well as market pressure to be more progressive. These corporations still will provide nondiscrimination policies in states where there are none because not every state in our country has protection laws.
Bigotry is a social construct; so are systems of economics and governance. Much of the world values democracy and has fought bloody wars to achieve government by the people. But tearing down monarchies and oligarchies doesn’t change how people feel about sex and gender. The much vaunted French Revolution and the Jacobins silenced and oppressed women in their movement, arguing that women belonged in the home raising families and not the banner of revolution, just like the monarchal system they just overthrew. Cuba’s terrible history towards LGBTQ people came from Cuba’s cultural tradition of machismo and was utilized by Castro to consolidate his revolution, which he later denounced. In fact, anyone who studies the history of Cuba and its culture, instead of fawning over it from afar and taking week-long fandom vacations, knows how strong a force machismo has played in its history and society through colonial times, through independence, and into its communist period. The reason why East Germany was more progressive on LGBTQ issues than Soviet Russia was because of German cultural values, not communism.
So feel free to advocate for universal healthcare. Champion the $15 minimum wage and fight to get student debt eliminated. I’m for a lot, if not most economic social justice issues just like the reddest of red roses. But don’t tell me that socialism will cure issues like racism, sexism, and homo-, bi-, and transphobia. That’s just not true. There is no evidence of that. You in fact do a disservice to your cause and beliefs by arguing otherwise, because it calls into question your ability to rationally judge clear objective facts, and that makes people distrust you.