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Dual biography of David McReynolds and Barbara Deming, two out pioneers of the left

(excerpt from) Gay City News
Lives of Courage and Commitment
Barbara Deming, David McReynolds: two out pioneers of the left

by Doug Ireland / March 2, 2011

Martin Duberman, known as “the father of gay studies,” is a distinguished historian, playwright, essayist, novelist, and public intellectual, and any new book by him is an event in queer culture to which attention must be paid.

Such is certainly the case with “A Saving Remnant: The Radical Lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds,” an unusual dual biography by Duberman just published by the New Press…

With his new book, “A Saving Remnant,” Duberman returns to the preoccupation with social movements that has been at the heart of much of his work. And in choosing to recount the lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds, Duberman has picked two openly queer Americans who devoted their lives to the struggles for peace and social justice…

McReynolds, born in 1929 and still going strong today, was raised in Los Angeles as a devout Baptist by conservative Republican parents. But while in high school he read muckraker Lincoln Steffens’ autobiography and underwent a political conversion…

By this time, 1951, McReynolds had become deeply involved with the Socialist Party. Founded in 1901 under the leadership of labor leader Eugene Victor Debs, the party reached its peak of influence in 1912, when, with Debs as its presidential candidate, it won 6 percent of the vote; had 100 elected public officials, including several members of Congress; and a press with a readership in the millions. But the party’s principled pacifism during World Wars I and II brought it government persecution and decimated its membership, and by the early ’50s the party, for decades led by Norman Thomas, was a shadow of its former self.

As a well-known, “outspoken and magnetic” campus radical “on the non-Communist side,” the handsome young McReynolds became a leader of the Socialists’ left wing, all while being open about his homosexuality with his party comrades in its somewhat Bohemian LA local, but “never taking any flack for it.”…

There are also fresh insights into the history of the Socialist Party and the debates and splits with which it has been riven over the last half-century. McReynolds went on to become the first openly gay presidential candidate as the Socialists’ standard-bearer twice, in 1980 and 2000…

Complete Information:


The Radical Lives of

Barbara Deming and David McReynolds

By Martin Duberman

The New Press

298 pages; $27.95


  1. paulie paulie March 7, 2011

    Kimberly, thanks for the article.

    If you get a chance, please make the Green Party connection explicit in the article if you tag it Green Party.

  2. Kimberly Wilder Kimberly Wilder March 8, 2011

    I did not want to insert my own commentary onto the article clip. Though, it says in the summary that he ran as a Green Party candidate.

  3. paulie paulie March 8, 2011

    I did not want to insert my own commentary onto the article clip. Though, it says in the summary that he ran as a Green Party candidate.

    I just meant that I would have mentioned that, even as a brief mention, you don’t have to opinionate to say that. But I won’t press it.

  4. Gene Berkman Gene Berkman March 8, 2011

    David McReynolds was involved in left-wing fringe politics for a remarkably long period of time. His longest affiliation was with the Socialist Party.

    He was the Socialist Party candidate for President in 1980, receiving under 7,000 votes compared to 5,700,000 for John Anderson (Independent) and 920,000 for Ed Clark (Libertarian).

    He was the Socialist Party candidate for President in 2000, receiving 5,600 votes, compared to 2,900,000 for Ralph Nader (Green) 450,000 for Pat Buchanan (Reform) and 385,000 for Harry Browne (Libertarian)

    Mr McReynolds ran for U.S. Senator from New York on the Green Party ticket in 2004, and he received 37,000 votes.

    Much earlier, in 1968, David McReynolds ran for Congress from Manhattan on the Peace & Freedom Party ticket, coming in 4th out of 5 candidates, ahead of the Conservative candidate, ex-Communist Bella Dodd.

    In 1968 the New York Peace & Freedom Party ran a number of candidates for Congress, and there were little PFP groups in several other states. It was believed that PFP would become a national party of the New Left, but after 1968 the PFP survived only in California.

  5. paulie paulie March 8, 2011

    Mr. Berkman,

    Thanks for the history.

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