A New Queer Liberation Movement

After several decades of tensions and battles within the gay rights movement, a new radical queer liberation movement has emerged.  Queer grassroots organizations across the country, led by people of color, immigrants, transgender activists, and low-income people, can no longer be viewed as the “left wing” of the gay rights movement, as they have often been considered.  Rather, a new queer liberation movement has split off from the mainstream gay rights movement, in pursuit of a very different political agenda.

This paper (an academic presentation) will highlight the existence, goals, and current activism of a distinct queer liberation movement, comprised of grassroots organizations across the country that are led by the most marginalized LGBT people (people of color, low-income, and/or immigrant). This new queer liberation movement exists in tension and contrast to the well-documented, well-funded, and politically dominant gay rights movement (e.g., Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, statewide equality groups), led by white, middle-class gays and lesbians. The paper draws on my recent research into this new movement, highlighting the organizational structures, politics, and aims of its constituent member entities and contrasting these with the dominant gay rights movement. It incorporates social movement theories, queer theories, and feminist theories, to suggest that these queer liberation organizations constitute a distinct social movement and, as such, that the movement presents new possibilities for intersectional, multi-issue political and social organizing extending well beyond single-issue or identity politics.

The dominant gay rights movement (GRM) has been well documented, in both the scholarly and grey literature, and many scholars have published important critiques of the movement. However, little has been written about the existence of queer liberation organizations that have operated around the edges of the GRM for decades. My recent research focuses these organizations and the distinct movement they comprise by differentiating them from the GRM, grounding them and their organizing strategies in social movement and feminist theories, and highlighting what this movement has to offer other social organizing and activism.

My recent research explores the limitations of single-issue politics and associated limitations of the GRM while also highlighting the intersectional organizing and radical activism of the grassroots queer liberation organizations over the past 40 years in the United States. Queer liberation organizations from across the country are highlighted, as is the distinct social movement they constitute.  The paper will conclude with the implications of this queer liberation movement and explores what its aims and strategies may hold for political and social movement organizing moving into the 21st century.

My research makes three central contributions to the scholarly literature. First, it presents the history and contemporary position of intersectional and multi-issue queer organizing that complicates the dominant narrative that the mainstream gay rights movement represents or speaks on behalf of all LGBTQ people and their interests. Second, it draws on existing social movement theories to locate these queer liberation organizations within a larger theoretical context and articulate their position as a distinct movement in itself, with constituents, aims, and practices that differ significantly from those of the GRM. Finally, it draws on queer theory, critical feminist theory, and critical race theory to suggest that these organizations not only constitute a distinct movement but also present a significantly different model of organizing that contradicts long-held understandings of identity politics and single-issue organizing.

In a post-marriage world, the new queer liberation movement has the potential to put forward a radically different agenda for LGBT people.


Part of panel Building Movements: New Forms of Coalition and Solidarity
October 2, 2016, 11:00–12:45