"This Was My Utopia": Transgressing the Nuclear Family in the Sexual Freedom League, Black Panther Party, and Committee for Homosexual Freedom

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
Andrew Lester, Rutgers University at Newark
During the postwar era, the United States government weaponized the normative nuclear family to discipline marginalized communities that deviated from the dominant culture. The “straight state” equated sexual and gender transgression with national disloyalty and pathologized, criminalized, and withheld federal employment and benefits from homosexual communities. In 1965 the leaked Moynihan Report also pathologized black communities for deviating from heteropatriarchal normativity and recommended state intervention to align impoverished black communities with mainstream gender and sexual norms. Black power and gay liberation organizations defied state discipline by creating political cultures that offered insurgent alternatives to the nuclear family model. Key movement leaders such as the Black Panther Party’s Huey P. Newton and the Committee for Homosexual Freedom’s Leo Laurence participated in the early sexual experimentations that coalesced into the East Bay chapter of the Sexual Freedom League (SFL) and ultimately the wider Bay Area sexual revolution. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Newton, Laurence, and others then translated elements that came to typify the SFL’s culture into their respective movements’ critiques of state discipline and enactments of utopian alternatives to the normative nuclear family. By analyzing the historical connections between East Bay’s SFL, Oakland’s Black Panther Party, and Berkeley’s Committee for Homosexual Freedom, this poster illuminates the intertwined histories of sexual revolution, black power, and gay liberation in the Bay Area. It identifies these organizations’ tensions between loyalty to the dominant culture’s model of normativity and transgressive experimentations with gender and sexuality that forged new kinship models and defined novel visions of community.
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