Comparative and Transnational Perspectives on the History of Gay and Lesbian Organizing

AHA Session 122
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 5
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Room 205 (Hynes Convention Center)
Felicia A. Kornbluh, University of Vermont
John A. D'Emilio, University of Illinois at Chicago

Session Abstract

Recent literature on organizing around sexual minority status in the homophile movements of the 1950s and the early gay and lesbian liberation movements of the 1970s points to a more complex understanding of the impetus and nature of movements in different parts of the world.  The standard story, based on the U.S. experience, is that homophile movements emerged in the post-Second World War period as a result both of the growth of gay and lesbian communities during wartime and the severity of repression under McCarthyite attacks on the “lavender menace,” and that the conservative accommodationist politics of the homophile movement then gave way to a radical liberationist perspective after the Stonewall riots of 1969.

Exploration of movements outside the United States and across national boundaries, as well as new research on the U.S. homophile movement, challenge this story.  The Second World War, in most places, and certainly in Nazi-occupied Europe, forced gay and lesbian communities underground.  In Europe after the war, although homosexuality remained illegal and arrests of gay men picked in many places, the impact of right-wing movements was not as strong as in the United States.  And we have increasingly come to see that a polarized view of homophile movements as conservative and liberationist movements as radical is not that simple.

The papers in this session address these issues, turning from the first comprehensive analysis of the International Committee for Sexual Equality, a transnational homophile organization founded in Amsterdam in 1951, to a reconsideration of the U.S. homophile movement through the biography of activist Frank Kameny to an exploration of organizing by lesbians and gay men in Argentina in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Together, these papers suggest that the history of gay and lesbian organizing is usefully viewed from transnational and comparative perspectives.

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