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Marvin Liebman (July 21, 1923 – March 31, 1997) was an American conservative activist and fundraiser, and later in his life, a gay rights advocate.
Liebman was raised in Brooklyn, New York, by his parents, Benjamin "Benny" Liebman and Rose Schorr. His parents were Ashkenazim (Yiddish-speaking Jews) from Galicia, a region that at the time was part of Poland and is today part of Ukraine. Liebman recalled his youth as growing amid "a polyglot collection of middle class families". Like many other young people who came of age in the Great Depression, Liebman believed the Depression proved the failure of capitalism, causing him to be interested in Communism as an alternative. While in high school, he became interested in left wing politics and joined both the American Student Union and Young Communist League. At the same time, Liebman discovered his homosexuality, which he felt deeply ashamed of, causing him to remain in "the closet".
At age 19, Liebman was drafted and served in Naples and Cairo during the final years of World War 2, serving in the Army Air Corps. By his own admission, an incompetent soldier who failed in his duties as a cook, Liebman never saw action. However, like many other gay Americans in World War II, his military service was a "national coming out" as he discovered other gay men for the first time, easing his feelings of shame and self-disgust. In Italy, homosexuality was not illegal, through it was considered to be shameful, and Liebman enjoyed being part of the gay subculture in Naples, where he first had sex. While in Cairo at an Air Corps base, his commanding officer discovered a series of love letters written by Liebman that revealed his homosexuality. The officer subjected Liebman to repeated private and public humiliations, forcing him to appear before the other soldiers in his unit while his officer called him a "faggot" and a "cocksucker". Liebman was finally given a blue discharge for homosexuality in 1944. Due to his blue discharge, he was disqualified from collecting veterans' benefits.
In July 1990, Liebman shed a lifetime of closeted living after writing a coming-out letter to William F. Buckley, Jr., who was then editor-in-chief of the National Review. "I am almost 67 years old," he told Buckley. "For more than half my lifetime I have been engaged in, and indeed helped to organize and maintain, the conservative and anti-communist cause...the Conservative Party of New York...the Goldwater and Reagan campaigns...All the time I labored in the conservative vineyard I was gay." Liebman contended to Buckley that his efforts to detoxify American conservatism had not been entirely successful as he wrote "political gay bashing, racism and anti-Semitism" were continuing "even in this golden period of conservatism's great triumphs". Liebman's personal letter to Buckley was followed up by an interview printed in The Advocate, where he expressed his disgust at the increasing influence of the Religious Right within the Republican Party as the Cold War came to an end. He believed that homophobia was becoming the new basis for organizing conservative groups in the U.S., now that anti-communist sentiments were becoming less relevant. His autobiography, Coming Out Conservative, was published in 1992. In the book, he said that within the Republican Party he had begun to "feel like a Jew in Germany in 1934 who had chosen to remain silent, hoping to be able to stay invisible as he watched the beginning of the Holocaust." Over the next five years he became an outspoken advocate of gay and lesbian rights in the U.S., writing numerous articles and traveling the country to speak at various meetings and rallies. Although he initially labeled himself a moderate Republican and worked to support gay-friendly conservative groups, including Log Cabin Republicans, he eventually concluded that he could no longer self-identify as a fund raiser for or supporter of any conservative group because of the increasingly anti-gay rhetoric of the political right. Liebman stated in 1992 that: "To be gay, conservative and Republican is not a contradiction. I'm proud to be all three. One of the more important slogans of the gay and lesbian community is, 'We are everywhere.' We are everywhere – except as an open and accepted presence in the Republican Party. As far as some Republicans are concerned, we exist not as human beings but rather as symbols of unspeakable evil and objects of hatred, bigotry and fear." Liebman also later renounced his ties to Catholicism, arguing that the homophobia of the Catholic Church meant he could not in good conscience continue to subscribe to Catholic dogma. In the final years of his life, he chose to describe himself as an "independent". In a 1995 column, Liebman wrote: "I cannot associate myself with Rush Limbaugh and other new "conservative" leaders, nor with Pat Robertson and his "Christian" brigades, nor with Jesse Helms and his new "Republican" majority. The only identity of which I am absolutely certain is that I am a homosexual in a country which has little patience with us gay folk...In the past-and sometimes to the consternation of my African-American friends-I have compared the gay rights movement to the black civil rights movement of the 60s. I still believe that they are comparable, and we have much to learn from the history of this great quest, both from its setbacks and its victories. Now, however, I believe it even more urgent to draw a comparison between our community and the Jews and homosexuals of Europe in the 30s and 40s. Then, as now, the majority cried out that those who predicted death and misery were crazy, that such things as mass extermination could not happen, that hysteria was dangerous. Until the very last, until they choked on the lethal gas in the extermination "showers," they did not accept the fact that the Nazi state despised them to the point of eradicating them from the face of the earth".
He died of heart failure on March 31, 1997. His papers are held by the New York Public Library.
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