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Freedom indivisible: Gays and lesbians in the African American civil rights movement

Jared E Leighton, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This work documents the role of sixty gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals in the African American civil rights movement in the pre-Stonewall era. It examines the extent of their involvement from the grassroots to the highest echelons of leadership. Because many lesbians and gays were not out during their time in the movement, and in some cases had not yet identified as lesbian or gay, this work also analyzes how the civil rights movement, and in a number of cases women's liberation, contributed to their identity formation and coming out. This work also contributes to our understanding of opposition to the civil rights movement by examining the ways in which forces opposed to racial equality used the real or perceived sexual orientation of activists against the civil rights movement. Given the primacy of religion in the civil rights movement, this work also looks at the ways religious conviction did and did not motivate lesbians and gays in the movement. It also assesses the long-term influence of religion in their lives as many of these activists went on to women's liberation and gay liberation and various denominations responded to these movements. Finally, this dissertation reveals how activists in the civil rights movement used the consciousness and strategies they acquired during their time in the civil rights movement in subsequent efforts for LGBT equality. This work employs oral history, archival records, existing secondary literature, and other sources to add a new piece to our understanding of the long civil rights movement. These sources encourage us to think more broadly about the intersections of various freedom struggles and more deeply about major issues in the civil rights movement. Finally, assessing the role of these activists should help us better evaluate the long-term impact of the civil rights movement. Beyond inspiring other movements, the African American civil rights movement was the training ground for many activists in other struggles. Efforts for black civil rights helped lay the foundation for gay and lesbian liberation.

Subject Area

African American Studies|American history|GLBT Studies|History

Recommended Citation

Leighton, Jared E, "Freedom indivisible: Gays and lesbians in the African American civil rights movement" (2013). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3558862.