Maurice Flood

One of My Dead Friends
by Stephen Arod Shirreffs

I've written at some greater length about Maurice in my piece "Three Deaths in Vancouver" for Bad Subjects. Our close political relationship and friendship went radically sour in 1983; we never mended the fences. Maurice was not much for phony bonhommie, and I was not about to capitulate! You can see the problem!! That said, I spend no time focussing upon the ultimate collapse of our friendship, but rather remember Maurice only as he played a profound and creative role both in my life and in the history of the gay liberation movement in the 70s.

I have any number of photos of him that just needs scanning. For now, I republish this position paper, presented to the first conference of the Gay Alliance Toward Equality (G.A.T.E), Vancouver, in January, 1973. Maurice wrote this with Bob Cook, presently living in Toronto, and Ian Mackenzie who lives upstairs from me and is my best friend. I didn't arrive in Vancouver until September 1974. The piece may seem bland in these post Gay Liberation days, but its syntax and focus speak directly to the key issues in the early gay movement. It remains one of the most succinct statements of what motivated the pioneer gay activists.

Now that I have finished my dissertation, I plan to mount as many writings from GATE as I can. There'll be a link here when I've done that.

Position paper submitted by Maurice Flood, Bob Cook, Ian Mackenzie

a. Gays are oppressed. Although many seek to deny it, one has to be blind not to see that gays constitute one of the most oppressed groups in society.

b. Laws against us are the most obvious example of our oppression. It is illegal for gays to immigrate. If you are under 21, gay sex is a criminal offense. Vague charges such as "gross indecency" are used to victimize us.

c. The B.C. [British Columbia] Human Rights Act, by not mentioning us, makes it perfectly legal for employers to refuse us jobs or fire us, for landlords not to rent to us, for businessmen to refuse us service.

d. People such as labour minister William King say that they can't understand how we could be discriminated against, unless we "flaunt" our sexual orientation. Actually, there is a grain of truth in this argument. If we stay in the closet and manage to "pass" as straight, we do avoid much of society's overt discriminatino. But does this mean we are less oppressed? Hardly. By staying in the closet, we avoid overt discrimination, ridicule etc. -- but at the price of a far more pernicious form of oppression. In any situation where we are "in the closet" we feel the constant strain of hiding our true selves, and feel permanently apprehensive about being found out or just suspected. To the extent we are in the closet, we must live schizophrenic lives -- playing the "normal" role in front of associates, while hiding and separating our sex lives form that "normal" existence.

e. And we all remember what it was like to be completely in the closet, knowing no other gays, having no sex lives, thinking of ourselves as sick or abnormal, in short living an oppressive lie -- yet this is the way most gays still live.

f. Thus the importance of "coming out" as the first fundamental step toward personal acceptance as a gay person. G.A.T.E. encourages gays to "come out", while at the same time considering it a point of principle that nobody be pressured to be out. We affirm that GAY IS GOOD. because of the anti-gay attitudes fostered by society, and the resultant feeling of self-hatred on the part of many gays, we work toward creating a feeling of gay pride among our members and in the gay community.

g. G.A.T.E. is working toward complete equality and liberation. We demand all the same rights as straights, forall gays. In this demand we do not exclude any of our brothers or sisters, whether it be for reasons of personal life-style or age. It is thus that we take a principled stand affirming the sexual rights of youth.

h. In order to achieve the aims of Gay Liberation, we see the necessity for political organization. We do not believe that gay oppression will just evaporate, through some magical transformation of society's attitudes, or that it can be persuaded to disappear through a little education. The suppression of homosexuality plays a role in this society. The enforcement of compulsive [sic] heterosexuality is necessary to maintain the nuclear family. And people who are sexually repressed comply much more easily to authoritarian institutions. Thus the status quo has a stake in gay oppression and consequently our struggle toward equality is going to be long and difficult. To win we must be able to organize the gay community as a political force. And the best education we can do will be through our political fight.

i. The political task at hand is the struggle for gay civil rights. We don't have a fetish about civil rights, or see them as an end in themselves: we do see them at the centre of the struggle right now and for some time to come. The winning of civil rights will give a new impetus and confidence to the movement. It will permit many more gays to come out, which will have a "snowballing" effect on Gay Liberation. The struggle for civil rights is the logical focus of Gay Liberation, around which we can build a real social movement.

j. It is short-sighted to assert that civil rights are irrelevant, or have somehow been "bypassed." In fact, such argumentation goes in the direction of elitism, coming as it often does from that small minority of gays who have been able, in their own lives, to minimize the disadvantage of having no civil rights. Our concern is the vast majority of gays, to whom the threat of losing their jobs is of major importance. It's quite academic to talk about being liberated when you still have to conceal your pricate life from your employer and your associates at work.

k. Nor is the struggle for civil rights merely "reformist", as many gay militants assert. In fact, the era of liberal reform in this field is already over, with the 1969 amendment to the criminal code. Any further changes to laws will only come as the result of an organized movement which will force such changes. Least of all can one call "reformist" the civil rights issue of sexual freedom for youth. The right of sexual freedom of youth cannot be granted by the present authoritarian school system, nor can it be realized with the continued existence of the compulsive nuclear family. These institutions will have to be turned completely upside down for this simple "civil rights" demand to be realized.

l. Civil rights is the struggle, but what is the best way of conducting it? G.A.T.E.'s successes in the past have vindicated its consistent approach to issues.

m. First of all, the organization has been public. No amount of behind-the-scenes lobbying or letter writing can substitute for public actions -- for the simple reason that politicians can always throw leters in the garbage and politely listen to lobbyers the better to disregard them. They can do so, precisely because it takes place behind the scenes, with the public never knowing the difference.

n. Pure lobbying is the closet approach. This is not to say we are against meeting with politicians or writing to them -- quite on the contrary -- but it does mean that we don't compromise our programme in behind the scenes "negotiations." We have certain just demands, which we aren't going to throw out the window in unprincipled compromises. And we make public out dealings with politicians and officials.

o. Public action -- whether it be a simple press release or a public demonstration -- has the effect of gaining sympathy from the public at large and building support in the gay population. There is no more effective way of educating than through such public actions. And, ultimately, they will build the movement up to a level of strength that the powers that be will not be able to ignore.

p. Secondly, G.A.T.E. is organized in a way that best allows it to carry out its aims. We don't reject all organization as being authoritarian, and have a structureless group, because we realize that leadership automatically fills a political vacuum -- and without democratic structures such leadership is self-appointed. Nor do we allow some bureaucratic executive committee to assume all decision making power, as that too leads to the degeneration of an organization. Rather, we have that degree of structure and leadership that is necessary, given all the factors -- size of the hgroup, taks at hand, etc. -- And that leadership is responsible to the general meeting, where most decisions are made.

q. Even more important in terms of the growth of the group is its single-issuism. We don't require of potential members that they attain a certain degree of consciousness, or be radical, before they can join. Nor do we require that they "work within the system." We rather seek the single common ground of Gay Liberation and gay rights, and exclude no-one on the basis of other political beliefs. It follows that the programme of the organization concerns itself only with gay issues. Through single-issuism, we create the broadest possible base for gaining new members and for winning suppert.

r. This does not exclude the organization from discussing other social questions, and taking positions on them, if such social questions are relevant to Gay Liberation. We are also open to allying ourselves with other organization working toward social justice.

s. G.A.T.E.'s approach and policies, summarized above, have proven themselves in action, and have resulted in a growth of the organization and an increase in support and sympathy for Gay Liberation. Ouir intervention in the election campaigns is the best example of the success of our approach. It is with this approach and these policies that we must tackle the issues of the coming period. Concretely, the task before us can be outlined as follows:

1/ We should continue our campaign for inclusion of the category "sexual orientation" in the Human Rights Act, for a Human Rights Commission made up of representatives of oppressed groups, including gays, and for penaltied that will have a real deterrent effect. We should set up meetings with the labour minister et al., try to arrange public presentations of our views at hearings and so on, and be prepared to organize some kind of public manifestation if circumstances warrant it. It's too early now to decide on a picketing or demonstration around this issue, but such action should be our perspective. We should recognize that this may be a long and difficult fight, but in our actions around the issue we can contribute inestimably to a growing general consciousness of and support for Gay Liberation.

2/ The federal government has shown signs of wanting to rewrite the Immigration Act. This would give us much the same opportunity as the B.C. governments's decision to rewrite the Human Rights Act. We should be prepared to take up this issue again, on a cross-country basis, with the same methods and approach as with the H.R.A.

3/ Speakers -- Our providing speakers to various organizations or institutions has been very successful in the past, and part of the educative role we are playing. We should continue it, and especially have an eye out for chances to speak in high schools. Our involvement in the Metromedia television programme is part of this aspect of G.A.T.E.'s activities, and in fact a very valuable extension of it. it will help pose us to the public as a serious group.

4/ As another election seems to be on the horizon, we should be prepared to renew out participation in the National Gay Rights Coalition. We are informed that groups across the country are likewise prepared if another election is called.

5/ Publication -- G.A.T.E. should start putting out its own publication before too long. Although we have been publishing articles in the GRAPE, and prior to that in the Straight, we have always had difficulties with these papers, due to their unco-operativeness, mutilation of copy, etc. Even with our own publication we should still get articles into the underground press: but our own publication will provide us with the autonomy we need, and more importantly, publicity in the gay community, as we would distribute in clubs etc. The practical details of a publications will have to be worked out in discussion and in practice. We will want to elect a publications committee.

This is not intended as a definitive list of proposals for G.A.T.E.'s future activities, but is rather an outline of the ones seen most important at this time. Needless to say we maintain the flexibility to respond to new issues as they arise..

This position paper is submitted for adoption in whole or in part by the conference..

--January 22, 1973

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Copyright (c) 2007 by Stephen Arod Shirreffs, all rights reserved.
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| Created: May 6, 1996 | Updated: May 17, 2007 |