Queer Migrations, Part 7: Traversing Boundaries: Sexual Citizenship, Trans/National Identities, and Political Movements

AHA Session 281
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 10
Sunday, January 10, 2016: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Crystal Ballroom B (Hilton Atlanta, First Floor)
John Howard, King's College London
Jerry Watkins, Georgia State University

Session Abstract

This panel draws together several local, transnational, and international contexts as a means to explore the bounds of community formation and activism. This panel examines the movement of people, ideas, and memories across borders to assess how motion and the transcendence of boundaries have affected the formation of identities in LGBTQ communities since the 1970s. 

First, Jake Newsome considers the impact that the transfer of memories across the Atlantic Ocean had on international gay rights movements beginning in the 1970s.  Only one year after gay rights activists in West Berlin voted to use the pink triangle (the badge worn by homosexual inmates in Nazi concentration camps) as the symbol for their activism, gay activists in the United States also donned the symbol in demonstrations. Within a decade, the pink triangle had become the most important symbol of the international gay rights movement.  Newsome argues, however, that although the pink triangle represented an originally German memory, it was not until the Americanization of the symbol and the attached memories that the pink triangle gained such prominence.   Furthermore, he argues that this migration of memories back and forth across the Atlantic was fundamental in establishing an international gay history and identity.

Second, Julio Capó, Jr. traces the role the Cuban-American community in Miami, Florida played in establishing the political legitimacy of the American gay rights movement. Capó traces how the 1977 political debate surrounding Metro Dade County Commission’s ordinance forbidding discrimination against homosexuals brought Cuban-Americans to the ballot box in record numbers. This immigrant group forged new partnerships with conservative groups—including Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children”—in a successful attempt to overturn the landmark ordinance. While Cuban-Americans celebrated this victory as a sign of their successful transition into urban politics, many Miami residents immediately pushed back, working to curtail the Cubans’ progress. Capó argues the ordinance represented a wedge issue that pronounced inter- and intra-ethnic hostilities in the city, as several communities competed to enter mainstream politics vis-à-vis the controversial ordinance.

Last, Elisabeth George’s paper explores some of the ways in which moments of social unrest may act as flashpoints, ushering in transitions in claims to normalcy.  Studying the moral panic surrounding the 1989 performance of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart at Southwest Missouri State University, George demonstrates that gays, lesbians, and their allies used the opportunity to move from the margins to center stage in order to occupy public spaces they had previously been denied.  George also argues that while the Christian Majority had a stronghold in the ‘buckle of the Biblebelt,’ the region’s queer population pushed back in a myriad of ways. 

Considered collectively, the papers in this panel demonstrate how specific instances, such as political debates and clashes over the ownership of the public sphere, or memorials as sites of remembrance, have transformed established spaces, notions of citizenship, and senses of belonging. Indeed, working on this year’s theme of “Global Migrations,” this panel enriches the growing literature that seeks to bridge concepts of sexual citizenship across localities.

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