The Black Panthers and Gay Rights

Angela Davis and Jean Genet at a party at the home of Dalton Trumbo

Photo Credit: Robert Carl Cohen, www.radfilms.com.

In 1970 the Black Panther Party invited Jean Genet, the famous French gay writer and activist, to the U.S., as many black Americans already considered him an ally because of his play The Blacks. In 1991 in Paris, lesbian Panther Angela Davis spoke about this time, recalling her first meetings with Genet. 

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Davis also recalls a speech Genet gave at the University of California, Los Angeles, in support of releasing black political prisoners: “Genet had made some proposals 20 years before that we just started to develop — for instance, the white participation in the struggle against racism. After a quarter of an hour, many members of the audience started to get upset and to whisper and, suddenly, someone even interrupted Genet asking him to speak, at last, of himself and his work! Genet answered, ‘No, I'm not here to talk about literature or my books. I came to defend the Black Panther Party.’”

Angela Davis charted the important links between black political consciousness and gay rights in that same speech:

“One last important point: It was Genet who heightened the Black Panther Party awareness to the homosexual rights issue. David Hilliard told me that when they were traveling together from state to state, from one university to another, some members of the party were using very rude and homophobic words to insult Nixon or (U.S. Attorney General John) Mitchell. Genet was hurt by these words and told them they should not use such vocabulary.

One night, he even showed up at the hotel — there used to be four or five men per room during these trips — dressed in a sort of pink negligee, and a cigar in his mouth. Well, they all thought Genet was going crazy! He had just wanted to bring about a discussion on the similarities between the struggle against racism and the struggle against homophobia. 

Genet Hilliard

Above: Jean Genet, left, with David Hilliard, Black Panther chief of staff, holds a news conference in Black Panther National Headquarters in Berkeley, Calif., March 23, 1970. 

After these trips in 1970, David Hilliard and his mates largely spoke of the matter with Huey Newton (the Black Panther Party's president, in jail at the time) and later published an important article in the party's newspaper ,saying:

"Whatever your personal opinions and your insecurities about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals and women (Genet also had spokenabout women's liberation during his stay, according to Davis), we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion. I say: 'Whatever your insecurities are' because as we very well know, sometimes our first instinct is to want to hit a homosexual in the mouth, and want a woman to be quiet. 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. ... Remember, we have not established a revolutionary value system; we are only in the process of establishing it. 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 particular kind of oppression. ... 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."

Quotes above from an unpublished Angela Davis speech at the Odeon seminar in Paris, organized by Albert Dichy for IMEC, May 1991, via Sisterezili.blogspot.com.

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