VISIBILITY, RESPECTABILITY AND SEXUAL CITIZENSHIP: THE STRATEGY OF THE AMERICAN GAY RIGHTS MOVEMENT FROM 1950-1987
This thesis investigates the strategy of the American Gay rights movement from the homophileera in the 1950s to the formation of ACT UP in 1987. Focusing on visibility as a strategyreveals how homophiles and Gay liberationists debated coming out and its potential merits forimproving the situation of Gays and Lesbians. The first chapter discusses why homosexualsdecided that emphasising respectability and dedication to their citizenship provided the bestoption for making social and political gains in the 1950s, often keeping their identitiesconfidential. Homophiles sought protections against police entrapment and harassment,discrimination in housing and employment, and other legal repression seeking recognition oftheir rights which were denied on the basis of their sexuality leading up to the Stonewall riotsin June 1969 as the New Left, feminism, and the Civil Rights movement provided a newemphasis on activism. The second chapter explores the changes that occurred after Stonewalland the emergence of Gay Liberation which had brought new attention to the question ofvisibility and being ‘out and proud’. In the 1970s, visibility became the dominant modusoperandi for Gay liberation, homophile organising, but also Gay consumers who pursuedpleasure instead of activism. Gay liberation’s coming out strategy made some advances onsexual citizenship rights for Gays and Lesbians including the passage of local anti-discrimination laws in cities where they could exert political clout, but also resulted in acounter-mobilisation from the Christian Right. The Christian Right contributed to a growingpublic backlash to Gay and Lesbian visibility leading to some loss of the sexual citizenshipgains that Gays and Lesbians made in the 1970s through campaigns against anti-discriminationstatutes and laws. The last substantive chapter deals with the impact of the AIDS epidemic,which disproportionately affected Gay men and gave the Christian Right a powerful rhetoricalweapon, forcing Gay and Lesbian activists to reconsider their visibility strategy and itspotential risks to achieving sexual citizenship. In this period, calls to come out and increasedvisibility had to be weighed against the increasing discrimination on the basis of AIDSinfection, which many perceived as a “Gay disease.” Gay and Lesbian activists increased theircommitment to working within established political systems and adhering to the respectabilitystrategy as a result of the AIDS epidemic. Attaining the rights granted by citizenship such asprivacy through same-sex marriage activism and sodomy law repeal became intimately tied tothe respectability strategy, driven in part by the negative association between Gays and AIDS,setting the stage for the next phase of the struggle.