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.

This book will be of interest to students, scholars, and general readers in political history, gender studies, and the history of sexuality.

chapter 1|46 pages


What Is Found There: In the Archives and in Life

chapter 2|34 pages


Gay Liberation and Communist Silence

chapter 3|23 pages

Harry Hay (1912–2002)

“Welcome, My Dears”: A Communist, Radical Faerie in a Revolutionary Quest

chapter 4|37 pages

Elizabeth (Betty) Boynton Millard (1911–2010)

A Passion for Women and a Global Sisterhood

chapter 5|30 pages

Eleanor Flexner (1908–1995)

Living the Unnamed: Scholarship, Activism, and a Boston Marriage

chapter 6|49 pages

Lorraine Hansberry (1930–1965)

Freedom in Mind

chapter 7|27 pages

The Communist Party Ban Ends

Stories of the 1990s and 2000s