Queers for Capitalism
by Ari Armstrong
[This article originally appeared in the December 18, 2003 edition of Boulder Weekly.]
I was enjoying a balmy day December 2, waiting for the bus, when a car full of young kids drove past. A guy stuck his head out the back window, leered at me, and shouted, "Fuck you, you fucking faggot!"
I don't know if the kid really thought I was gay, or if he was using that term as a generic pejorative. Regardless, it occurred to me that, if I were gay, I likely would have endured those sorts of insults all my life.
Coincidentally, the evening before my bus ride, I had started reading Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation, a new monograph by Chris Matthew Sciabarra initiated by Sense of Life Objectivists (www.solohq.com).
The release of Sciabarra's newest work is perfectly timed with the debate over gay marriage. While he deals with the struggle of homosexuals to find acceptance within one particular intellectual community, surely the stories he describes mirror the wider movement.
Both left and right would benefit from reading the monograph, because it helps break down stereotypes of homosexuals fostered by both left and right. As Sciabarra describes, many gays have come to appreciate Objectivism -- the philosophical system founded by Ayn Rand -- because it encourages independent thinking and personal happiness. At the same time, Rand (who was born in Russia) rejected the socialism of the left and "advocated laissez-faire capitalism, which barred coercion and the initiation of force in social relations."
That doesn't mean it's appropriate to conflate Objectivist homosexuals with the "gay right." While some gay groups (Log Cabin Republicans) and writers might be considered to be on the "right," it's a stretch to so count other groups that champion causes such as economic liberty. Pink Pistols, a gay self-defense group, promotes a cause I have argued is profoundly liberal. The Rattigan Society was created to discuss Objectivism and push for acceptance of gays within the Objectivist community.
As Sciabarra notes, libertarian intellectuals "seek to transcend left and right, overturning a tired politically correct framework, which has no tolerance for genuine diversity." According to Sciabarra (also the author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical), Rand's "literary and philosophical legacy... offers a fundamentally radical alternative: an uplifting portrait of the human potential for greatness, unencumbered by personal, cultural, or political forms of oppression."
Sciabarra takes to task Richard Goldstein for his 2002 book, The Attack Queers, which itself attacks the "gay right." Sciabarra believes Goldstein paints a "monolithic" portrait of the gay movements that is "oblivious to their individualist roots in classical liberalism." Goldstein "labels himself 'progressive,' but there is nothing 'progressive' about the collectivism, tribalism, or statism that he reveres."
In a 2000 address to the Libertarian Party of Colorado, David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, helped motivate me to stick up for gay rights. Boaz, who is gay, is one of the leaders of the free-market movement.
In Colorado and nationally, we tend to see the reaction against gay rights as led by the religious right, as represented by Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave and State Representative Dave Schultheis. Sciabarra's work demonstrates that animosity toward gays is limited neither to the religious nor to the right.
Objectivists are atheists, yet Rand herself, to her discredit, once said homosexuality is "disgusting" and rooted in "psychological immorality." Yet Sciabarra has also run across Marxist homophobes. He points out "it was the Marxists who once argued that homosexuality was some sort of aberration," and "Communists used gulags and psychological 'reconditioning'... to stamp out homosexuality."
At the same time, many Christians are openly accepting of homosexuality. For example, Terry Zimmerman of the First Christian Church in Boulder is involved with Colorado Clergy for Equality in Marriage. He distanced himself from the right: "I don't want people to think that all [Christian] people and all churches necessarily feel that way."
However, while both the Old and New Testaments condemn homosexuality, Objectivism's promotion of reason and self-actualization has made for a quicker, more complete acceptance of homosexuals. Sciabarra describes the shift from Rand's anti-gay comments in 1971 to the wide (but not universal) acceptance of gays among Objectivists today.
In his foreword, Lindsay Perigo, the openly gay founder of Sense of Life Objectivists, wonders of Rand's anti-gay statements, "How could this arch-advocate of reason say something so monstrously unreasonable? How could this arch-advocate of objectivity -- of applying logic to empirical evidence -- so blatantly ignore both and give such boorish vent to such ill-informed nonsense?"
Sciabarra provides some good answers to why a substantial number of homosexuals take an interest in Rand's ideas even as they dismiss her homophobia. At least Rand opposed any law that would discriminate against homosexuals. Rand championed individualism, the right to personal happiness, independent thinking, and reasoned rebelliousness. At the same time, Rand created complex and intimate relationships among male characters in her novels.
Sciabarra summarizes, "Rand's heirs include... even those who have 'disowned' her formal philosophy or her 'homophobia,' for the very assertion of individual authenticity remains an expression of core Objectivist principles."