Life

Where Are the Radical Queers?

An Outward special issue explores the place and purpose of radicalism in queer life today.

"No Justice No Pride" protesters disrupt the 2017 Capital Pride Parade, carrying a banner that reads "NO PRIDE IN: Prisons, Pipelines, Deportations."
“No Justice No Pride” protesters disrupt the 2017 Capital Pride Parade on June 10, 2017, in D.C. The group believes the event has become too corporate and marginalizes minorities.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images.

This piece is part of the Radical issue, a special package from Outward, Slate’s home for coverage of LGBTQ life, thought, and culture. Read more here.

October brings LGBTQ history month, and with it, an invitation to reflect on where we’ve been as a people and a movement. There are a number of grand arcs one can read in the breadth of queer history—from closets to pride parades; from societal outcasts to political power brokers; from cultural iconoclasts to white-picket fence builders; from sexual liberation to gender revolution, and more besides.

The arc that I think about most concerns radicalism. Stonewall was a riot, we’re often reminded, and after that riot came an explosion of queer social and political theory, separatist movements, manifestos intent on joining with other oppressed peoples in the wholesale overthrow of the racist, heteropatriarchal capitalist state. Back then, we had a lot of ideas and even more sex. Back then, we were radical. But the AIDS crisis and concurrent national move rightward pushed our activism and energies in arguably more urgent, practical directions, and—so this particular narrative goes—eventually we taught ourselves to find victory in institutional inclusion, rather than overthrow. In these post-Obergefell days, then, “radical queer” is mostly an anachronism.

Then again, perhaps that particular arc doesn’t tell the whole story. While the Gay Liberation Front is no more, perhaps radicalism manifests in queer life today in different and—under the Trump administration—more timely ways. Maybe today’s radicalism is so radical we don’t yet have eyes to see it! In this Outward special issue, published over the next week, we’ve convened more than a dozen writers from identities and communities across the LGBTQ spectrum to help us find and define today’s radicalism, from our activism and families to our art and community spaces. And in the Outward podcast this month, my co-hosts and I meet the radicals currently trying to remake Pride in a less corporate image, hear the voices of radicals past courtesy of our friends at Making Gay History, and sort out what the hell “radical” even means in the first place. We hope you’ll join us—it’ll definitely be rad.

Read all of Outward’s special issue on Radicalism. And queer your ears with a special radical-themed episode of the Outward podcast.