Department of Communication
Public Address Conference
Alyssa Samek

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.

Alyssa Samek
University of Maryland 

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