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Open Access Thesis

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Salar Mohandesi


Pride parades today celebrate the Stonewall riots of 1969 as the first time homosexuals fought back. They mark Stonewall as the beginning of the gay rights movement. While many historians take care to show that Stonewall was part of a longer history of gay rights organizing, few highlight the tension and division surrounding the 1969 riots. The celebration of Stonewall was not a foregone conclusion. In fact, leading gay rights organizations at the time denounced the riots and pleaded for calm in the gay community. The celebration of the anniversary of Stonewall was the result of concerted effort by radical gay activists and a sign of their consolidation of power within the movement in the early 1970s. This thesis seeks to reframe Stonewall as a key moment of transition for radical activists and part of a central divide in the gay rights movement between liberal and radical organizers. This thesis traces the tension between liberals and radicals through three important transfers of power in the gay rights movement: Stonewall; the liberal response to Anita Bryant in 1977 and 1978; and the eruption of radical organizing through ACT-UP during the AIDS crisis. By studying these three essential moments of tension and transition, I find that the division between the radical and liberal gay organizers was not a mere difference of tactics or political attitudes, but a division over two fundamentally different and opposing definitions of homosexuality.

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