Spies, Homophiles, and Race in the Americas, 1940–70

AHA Session 278
Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Crystal Room (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Nicholas Syrett, University of Kansas
Nicholas Syrett, University of Kansas

Session Abstract

This session brings together work that intersects Cold War ideas of race, ethnicity, around the AHA’s annual theme of “Loyalties” and the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender History’s supplemental theme, “Queer Loyalties.” Presenters will explore how same-sex-attracted individuals crossed national, racial, sexual, and gender boundaries while seeking to form or expand new communities and exploring new queer subjectivities. Two authors focus specifically on the work and representation of American homophiles, and a third explores official U.S. deployment of homophobia to combat defection to the USSR. Nikita Shepard, a graduate student at Middle Tennessee State University, explores how American homophile activists structured their emerging political identities through analogies between sexuality and race, as well as appropriations of African American civil rights discourses and tactics in the 1950s and 1960s. Building on some of these points, Macías-González, a scholar of the history of sexuality in Mexico, analyzes the important role that Latino activists played in homophile groups’ efforts to expand beyond their West Coast beginnings to the U.S. Midwest, East Coast, and Latin America. They also mediated in homophiles’ international projection through increased sales and distribution in Latin America, as well as to organize readers in Mexico City to better protect safeguard their civil rights. Finally, Gusella, a graduate student at Mississippi State University, explores how the American state and media sensationalized and represented two American intelligence officers’ defection to the Soviet Union in the 1960s, exploring the sexual and gendered motivations of two NSA cryptologists and adding new dimensions to the era’s “lavender scare.” These papers build on the past decade’s significant work on the transnational nature of the homophile movement, as well as contribute to the growing scholarship on gender and sexuality and the Cold War, while refocusing our efforts to produce accounts of the queer past that are more inclusive of communities of color.
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