Crafting Queer Identity and Envisioning Liberation At The Intersections: A Rhetorical
Analysis of 1970s Lesbian-Feminist Public Discourse
This dissertation project examines the tension between identity and coalition politics
as lesbian-feminist activists participated in social movements throughout the 1970s,
including women’s liberation, gay liberation, black liberation, and anti-war movements.
Within the study, I draw upon a wealth of archival materials to explore how self-identified
lesbian-feminists negotiated identity, difference, and the pressures associated with
coalition-politics in oratory and other public discourse that circulated in lesbian-feminist
periodicals. I argue that in addition to division and conflict, such challenges generated
significant possibilities for political activism that both deepened a sense of national
lesbian-feminist community while speaking back to sexism, racism, classism and homophobia
from within concurrent social movements and broader U.S. culture. Lesbian-feminists
rhetorically cultivated a wide range of coalitional relationships with other groups
pursuing social justice, and in the process, crafted numerous, often conflicting,
identity formations. They created spaces for liberal lesbian-feminists, separatist
lesbian-feminists, non-separatist radical lesbian-feminists, black lesbian-feminists,
lesbian-feminists aligned with gay liberation, and more. As I seek to expand the boundaries
and possibilities for defining lesbian-feminism, I also interrogate the silencing
practices and exclusionary politics that accompanied the process of identity formation.
Lastly, as lesbian-feminist coalitional identities were further complicated by competing
social movement activities and identification, I explore how their rhetoric shifted
to confront the rising conservative opposition in the late 1970s.
University of Maryland