Black Gay Lives Matter: Mobilizing Sexual Identities From Chicago to London, 1980s
Against all odds, in the face of pervasive cultural stigma, immobilizing individual isolation, and routine physical violence, as well as the disproportionate impact of the AIDS crisis, into the 1980s black gay men pioneered a new sphere of identity. Appearing almost as if out of nowhere afterJames Baldwin’s meteoric rise, and disappearing almost as suddenly, the new generation drew on a longer activist tradition that fought against insult and denial, and discovered (and borrowed) a range of tactics with which to raise their voice in a culture increasingly hostile both to diversity projects and cultural agendas for social change. Speaking directly to a pervasive power of normalization that silenced and erased, queer people of color defended against both psychological and bodily violence through joining organizations, withdrawing from white institutions, and exercising the black gay imagination, broadly defined.
Despite powerful conservative pressures on several fronts—indicated by the rightward turn toward family values and against civil rights in the Reagan Era as well as the struggle over gay age of consent laws and racial immigration restriction leading up to the Thatcher era in Britain—neither rightward mobilization produced a total backlash. Rather, a variety of factions, organizations, and collectives joined together to fashion alternative positions or definitions of black and queer identity. n this search for brotherhood and stewardship, building upon inherited and shared concepts of black power and sexual liberation, African American as well as Afro-British and Asian-British activists challenged conservative conventions, while interacting, conflicting, cooperating with each other across the Atlantic. This paper surveys the output of several groups at the tail-end of the long civil rights movement, debates around immigration, and new definitions of cultural identity to understand the broader range of masculinity politics that unsettled, intervened into, and resisted the hegemony of 1980s conservative conventions of nationhood and manliness.