Womens Magazine

Bettina Aptheker on Communists in Closets

This Monday on KPFA Radio’s Women’s Magazine we talk to feminist activist and scholar Bettina Aptheker and we have a special limited number of gift premiums available as an ebook of the new book by scholar and activist Bettina Aptheker which is called “Communists in Closets: Queering the History 1930s–1990s” “Communist in Closets”explores the overlooked and forgotten history of gay, lesbian, and non-heterosexual people in the Communist Party in the United States. This history is largely hidden because The Communist Party 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, 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’s parents Herbert and Fay Aptheker were both well known communist party members and activists and her father was a well respected historian and scholar of marxism and in particular about African American history. Bettina Aptheker joined the CP as a teenager, and went to college at University of California Berkeley, where she was a leading member of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964-65. Later, she was a key member of the defense team for Angela Davis, another Communist Party member active in the black freedom movement, who had been charged by the government with kidnapping and murder. She eventually broke with the CP and, affected by the growing feminist movement, came out as a lesbian. Aptheker has taught in the Feminist Studies department at the University of California Santa Cruz for more than thirty years.

photo: Pixabay


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