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Communists in Closets: Queering the History 1930s–1990s Author Talk (SF)
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The Communist Party in the US banned lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from membership beginning in 1938 when it cast them off as “degenerates.” It persisted in this policy until 1991. During this 60-year ban, gays and lesbians who did join the Communist Party were deeply closeted within it, as well as in their public lives as both queer and Communist.
By the late 1930s, the Communist Party had a membership approaching 100,000 and tens of thousands more people moved in its orbit through the Popular Front against fascism, anti-racist organizing, especially in the south, and its widely read cultural magazine, The New Masses.
Based on a decade of archival research, correspondence, and interviews, Bettina Aptheker explores this history in Communists in Closets: Queering the History 1930s–1990s, also pulling from her own experience as a closeted lesbian in the Communist Party in the 1960s and ‘70s. Ironically, and in spite of this homophobia, individual Communists laid some of the political and theoretical foundations for lesbian and gay liberation and women’s liberation, and contributed significantly to peace, social justice, civil rights, and Black and Latinx liberation movements.
Bettina Aptheker is Distinguished Professor Emerita, Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz where she taught for more than 40 years. An activist-scholar she co-led the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964, and the National Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. She played a leading role in the international movement to Free Angela Davis. Bettina was a member of the Communist Party from 1962-1981 and has been part of the LGBT movement since the late 1970s. She has published several books including, The Morning Breaks: The Trial of Angela Davis, Tapestries of Life: Women’s Work, Women’s Consciousness and the Meaning of Daily Experience, and a memoir, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech & Became A Feminist Rebel that was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in 2006. She and her wife, Kate Miller, have been together since 1979. They live in Santa Cruz.
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