Oppression, Sickness, and the State: Conflicting Forms of Resistance in 1970s Los Angeles

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM
Truman Room (Marriott Wardman Park)
Katie Batza, Macalester College
The Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center emerged directly out of gay liberation and a larger radical health politics in Los Angeles in 1971. The concept of “oppression sickness” lies at the heart of the intersection of these two forces. Coined by Center founders the term defined sickness and health broadly to include any economic, emotional, interpersonal or physical harm done by homophobia. Under this umbrella term every program of the service center was a health program created in response to “oppression sickness.” While the term was unique to the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center, many other local groups established the practice of portraying physical, economic, and mental ailments within a community as outgrowths of their political oppression. This paper charts the ways in which the political framing of health by the Black Panthers, Chicano movement, American Indian movement, and women’s movement in Los Angeles laid the foundation for Los Angeles’ gay community to create and make effective use of “oppression sickness” in addressing gay community needs. From there, the paper traces the Center’s internal battles over its future as well as its relationships to radical politics and the state. While the founders themselves often personally subscribed to a more radical politics that would be more in line with their patron’s visions, they chose to create a hierarchical agency with strong ties to local and federal government funds because to the founders this seemed the best way for the Center to flourish and endure. However, many of the volunteers, staff members, and patrons of the center saw this plotted course as in direct opposition to their own political beliefs, the critiques of the state and society inherent in the “oppression sickness,” and the political origins of the Center.
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