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A Tamiment Book Talk with Bettina Aptheker

November 2, 2022 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm  |  Virtual Event


Presented by NYU Libraries – Join scholar activists Bettina Aptheker and Judith Smith as they discuss Aptheker’s most recent book Communists in Closets: Queering the History 1930s–1990s.


Communists in Closets: Queering the History 1930s–1990s explores the history of gay, lesbian, and non-heterosexual people in the Communist Party in the United States.

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 is Distinguished Professor Emerita, Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz where she taught for more than 40 years, and had over 17,000 students in the course of her career. An activist-scholar she co-led the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964, and the National Student Mobilization Committee To End the War in Vietnam. She was a member of the Communist Party from 1962-1981. She has been part of the LGBT movement since the late 1970s, She has published several books including, The Morning Breaks: The Trial of Angela Davis, Tapestries of Life: Women’s Work, Women’s Consciousness and the Meaning of Daily Experience, and a memoir, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech & Became A Feminist Rebel that was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in 2006. She and her wife, Kate Miller, have been together since 1979. They live in Santa Cruz.

Judith Smith is Professor of American Studies Emerita at University of Massachusetts Boston, where she taught cultural history since 1945 and history of media and film. She is the author of Becoming Belafonte: Black Artist, Public Radical (2014) and Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940-1960 (2004). Her published essays explored how writers on the left addressed popular audiences on radio in the 1930s and 1940s, live television drama in the 1950s, and in film from the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s. She served as researcher/consultant for the recent documentary, Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart: Lorraine Hansberry (2018).

Live closed captioning will be available.


November 2, 2022
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm