Race-ing the Sexual Revolution

Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 8
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Michigan State Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Cathy Cohen, University of Chicago
Marc Stein, York University

Session Abstract

This panel examines how racial politics were implicated in, and transformed by, the shifts in American sexual values and beliefs in the second half of the twentieth century. The term “sexual revolution,” according to the historian Beth Bailey, was already “in general use” by 1963 as a way of understanding profound cultural shifts that arose out of “tensions between private behaviors and the public rules and ideologies that were meant to govern behavior.” Racial transformations, too, reorganized the boundaries of public and private space, and this panel seeks to examine the linkages that tie and hold together these two developments by examining social movements both left and right and their engagements with sexual and racial politics. This panel places the question of racial politics at the center of the story of changing sexual values, asking how race and sexuality intersected historically in particular local, national, and transnational contexts. The individual papers investigate various ways in which racial politics were central to the sexual revolution and the two social movements—feminism and gay liberation—with which it was most closely associated. Topics will include: U.S.-supported experiments in using contraceptives for birth control in Japan; the connections between conservative anti-abortion and anti-busing politics in Michigan; and the racial dynamics of newly visible and highly commercialized gay communities in Chicago.

Each presenter focuses on sites and struggles where sexual meanings and practices in public and private were undergirded by racial politics: the boundaries of urban neighborhoods and the formation of sexual communities, access to abortion and desegregated schools, sexual education and the distribution of contraception. The papers cover different time periods, from the 1950s to the 1990s, and illuminate how the intersection of racial and sexual politics has been crucial to reproducing or challenging social norms. Timothy Stewart-Winter’s paper, “Making the Second Gay Ghetto: The Whitening of Queer Chicago from Daley to Daley” analyzes how the gay liberation movement engendered ethnic-style mobilization and gay residential concentration in Chicago, a process that dovetailed with and also buttressed residential racial segregation. In “Experimenting Contraceptive Technologies in Asia, 1950s-1960s,” Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci examines how racial and imperialist ideologies undergirded the United States government’s investment in and implementation of new reproductive technologies—the pill and IUD’s—in population control projects in Asia. Gillian Frank’s paper, “The Racial Origins of Family Values Politics: Abortion and Busing in Michigan, 1970-1980" examines how grassroots struggles over reproductive rights were animated by contemporaneous struggles over racial integration and the coalescence of anti-abortion and anti-busing struggles fueled the formation of powerful conservative social movements nationwide.

The panel thus traces the contours of race relations and sexual politics from multiple perspectives, across different time periods, within and outside of the United States. By historicizing the process in which the “sexual revolution” was racialized even as racial politics was sexualized, this panel seeks to contribute to the understanding of “networks” and interconnections that have formed the contours of present-day political concerns.