In 1980 the collective of gay men that had produced Gay Left since 1975 announced that they were going to ‘pause’ publication whilst they considered the best way forward.
Perhaps that decision to suspend publication took away an important motivational focus. Or perhaps it was just a lot more difficult to get things re-started once they’d stopped. Either way, the collective drifted apart shortly thereafter and Issue 10 – produced in the summer of 1980 – proved to be the last. As such, it marked the end of a particular train of political thought that had its roots in the early British gay liberation movement and took in a broad range of radical thought from anarchism and communism to feminism and anti-racism.
In his short history of Gay Left, sociologist Jeffrey Weeks argues that one of their significant weaknesses was the absence of women and people of colour: the Gay Left collective consisted entirely of white men.
Quite what role that had in the publication’s demise is debatable: by 1980 the political game had changed drastically with the election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the USA. That in itself placed enormous strains on the ‘old’ Left politics: they just didn’t seem to be having an impact.
But the one thing that did have an impact – in the worst possible way – was the emergence of HIV/AIDS from 1981. Suddenly we had different, more real and more immediate priorities to deal with. Political theory was all very well but seemed like a bit of a luxury when we were fighting a rear-guard action, quite literally in defence of our lives.
We may no longer see the relevance of publications like Gay Left but, like so many other elements of our history, it played a role in getting us to where we are now. For that reason alone it’s good to see that there’s an online Gay Left archive. Read it and laugh or read it and weep. But if you want to understand a bit of our history, you owe it to yourself to have a look at it.