The Role of Intersectionality in the Gay Liberation Movement (by Helen Norcini)

Standards

  • Students analyze the new wave of gay rights movements that formed after the Stonewall Riots of 1969
  • Students evaluate the differing points of view of two prominent LGBT+ movements (the Gay Liberation Front, and STAR) on what queer issues are a priority over others by analyzing the text and tone of various primary sources
  • Students integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of gay rights movements after Stonewall, noting discrepancies among sources
  • Students cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole

Overview

            The goal of this class is to help the students understand and interact with the way that intersectionality is at play in queer activist movements like the Gay Liberation Front and Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries. The more “mainstream” GLF shared many overarching goals with STAR like ending police brutality and harassment, as well as promoting social acceptance and legal protection. However internal biases such as racism and transphobia left members of STAR feeling often just as oppressed by members of GLF as they did by members of straight, “mainstream” society. Through the class activities, the students will be able to understand the way that these differences divided these activist groups (and other activist groups at this time).

            Through this class the students will analyze primary and secondary source documents and use them to aid in a type of simulation in which they act as members of either the GLF or STAR. They will cite these documents to deepen their own understanding of their own groups’ goals and beliefs and will also be able to convey those goals and beliefs to the other group. After the activity, students will be able to reflect on the primary and secondary sources and gain a nuanced understanding of the dynamics of gay rights movements during this time.

Essential Understanding

            Students will analyze and interact with primary source documents in order to understand the ways in which race and gender identity divided queer activists.

Questions

  • How do race and gender played a role in the goals and dynamics of gay rights movements that formed following the Stonewall Riots?
  • What were the stated goals of the movements and how to they reflect their constituency and leadership?

Glossary

  • Transvestite: a person who dresses in clothing that is typically thought to belong to the “opposite” gender (eg. men wearing dresses, women wearing suits, etc)
  • Half-sister/half-brother: (as used by Sylvia Rivera) people who identify as one gender, but are “trapped in the body” of the other (today, these people are often referred to as transgender)
  • Intersectionality: the idea that social categories like race, class, and gender overlap to create unique identities and experiences of privilege and oppression. For example, the experience of a black woman is a unique experience from being only black or only a woman

Introduction

            The Stonewall Riots, a result of queer individuals fed up with oppression and police harassment, is widely considered the catalyst of the gay rights movements that we see today. Two prominent movements that emerged during this time were the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) who was made up of and most vocally advocated for gay and lesbian individuals and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) which focused more on trans people, particularly trans people of color. Although many goals overlapped between the two groups, biases and oppressive experiences had these two groups often seeming more like antagonists than allies. During this class you will split up into two groups and analyze primary source documents from members of each queer activist group. From your analysis of these documents you will come together in a “meeting,” acting as members of the group whose documents you read (for example if you read the GLF documents, you would act as a member of the GLF in this meeting). The purpose of the fictional meeting is to interact with and understand the goals of each activist group to try and arrive at some sort of cooperation between them (thought note that this may not be possible). Pay close attention to how each groups’ positions in terms of race and gender identity as well as their previous experiences with each other could inform how the groups could or could not cooperate.

Materials

Activities

  • Section II of “Stonewall: the Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution” is assigned for the day of class
  • Begin the class with a short lecture reviewing the readings for that day, describing the context and events of the Stonewall Riots as well as the movements/groups that developed from the riots. Focus particularly on the Gay Liberation Front and STAR (15 minutes)
    • Use Section I of “Stonewall,” Chapter 1 of “Law and the Gay Rights Story,” and Chapter 6 of “The Routledge History” to inform your lecture
  • Introduce the “Meeting” activity. Split the class into two groups, giving one group the GLF primary source(s) and the other the STAR source(s). Students will then have 20 minutes to prepare themselves for a fictional “meeting” between the GLF and STAR to try to come together as a unified LGBT+ movement with common goals. Guide the students to analyze/infer their movements’ position related to race, gender, and the ideas of intersectionality and the queer spectrum (20 minutes)
  • The “Meeting”. Students participate in a fictional meeting, representing either the GLF or STAR. Each group has their own sets of goals and biases, but the purpose of the “meeting” is for the two groups to hash out these differences and see if the students (within the frameworks of their supporting documents) can unite the groups under one unified movement or remain separate. (20 minutes)
  • Reflection/Closer (depends slightly on the outcome of the meeting)
    • If the students unite their groups, have them create a name and statement of intent for their new group (10 minutes)
    • Facilitate a text-based discussion as to why the groups never did merge, focusing on aspects of racism, sexism, and assimilation (10-20 minutes)

Additional Sources:

Carter, David. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York, NY: St.

Martin’s Press, 2004.

Frank, Walter. Law and the Gay Rights Story: The Long Search for Equal Justice in a Divided

Democracy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2014.

Romesburg, Don. The Routledge History of Queer America. New York, NY: Routledge, 2018.

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