Created In Its Image: The Race Analogy, Gay Identity, and Gay Litigation in the 1950s-1970s
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Existing accounts of early gay rights litigation largely focus on how the suppression and liberation of gay identity affected early activism. This Note helps complicate these dynamics, arguing that gay identity was not just suppressed and then liberated, but substantially transformed by activist efforts during this period, and that this transformation fundamentally affected the nature of gay activism. Gay organizers in the 1950s and 1960s moved from avoiding identity-based claims to analogizing gays to African-Americans. By transforming themselves in the image of a successful black civil rights minority, activists attempted to win over skeptical courts in a period when equal protection doctrine was still quite fluid. Furthermore, through this attempted identity transformation, activists replaced stigmatizing medico-religious models of homosexuality with self-affirming civil rights-based models. This identity transformation through analogy cemented gay rank-and-file perception of the social treatment they faced as unjust, and helped determine what remedies gays would seek. For example, defensive gay litigation of the 1950s soon gave way to the affirmative impact-type litigation of the civil rights movement. Similarly, in the image of the 1960s racial justice movement, 1970s gays began to pursue legal acceptance of gay marriage rather than first seeking intermediate relationship recognition. Thus, analogies and identity claims can be useful tools for perceiving and remedying oppression. They should, however, be tools that unite, not divide groups: gays and blacks, especially, should recognize their (contingent) commonalities, created as gays remade themselves in the image of blacks.