From 'Black People are Not a Homosexual Act' to 'Gay is the New Black': Mapping White Uses of Blackness in Modern Gay Rights Campaigns in the United States

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This paper examines the ways in which rhetorics of Blackness and civil rights have been deployed by Whites positioned on both sides of modern gay rights discourse in the United States. The authors argue that the contemporary deployment of Blackness by both gay and anti-gay movements concurrently is linked to the longstanding use of race on both sides of anti-gay referendum and initiative campaigns since the late 1970s, as well as to the even longer history of the racialization of homosexuality in Europe and the United States. The paper offers a brief history of the late nineteenth-century racial construction of homosexuality, which sets the stage for the later pairing of political discourses linking Blackness and homosexuality in the twentieth-century. Drawing on research of gay rights referendums and initiatives from 1977 to 2000, the paper then demonstrates how White religiously-motivated anti-gay activists relied upon divisive arguments about whether homosexuality is 'like race' to secularize and legitimize their campaigns. Furthermore, the authors show that White gay activists have adopted varying strategies as the lesbian and gay movement has evolved - from coalitional approaches that refused simplistic 'like race' arguments at the height of the gay liberation period, to color-blind 'human rights' frameworks in the 1990s, and more direct uses of race in the 2000s that mirror religious right rhetoric. The paper concludes with a discussion of the origins and effects of 'gay rights versus Black rights' discourses more broadly, and their implications for contemporary gay marriage debates.




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