First Advisor

Ben Anderson-Nathe

Date of Publication

Summer 8-13-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work and Social Research




Gay liberation movement -- United States, Sexual minorities -- Political activity -- United States, Gay rights -- United States, Social movements -- United States, Sexual minorities -- United States -- Identity, Minority gays -- United States, Minority lesbians -- United States



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 585 pages)


In the last forty years, U.S. national and statewide LGBT organizations, in pursuit of "equality" through a limited and focused agenda, have made remarkably swift progress moving that agenda forward. However, their agenda has been frequently criticized as prioritizing the interests of White, middle-class gay men and lesbians and ignoring the needs of other LGBT people. In their shadows have emerged numerous grassroots organizations led by queer people of color, transgender people, and low-income LGBT people. These "queer liberation" groups have often been viewed as the left wing of the GRM, but have not been extensively studied. My research investigated how these grassroots liberation organizations can be understood in relation to the equality movement, and whether they actually comprise a separate movement operating alongside, but in tension with, the mainstream gay rights movement.

This research used a qualitative content analysis, grounded in black feminism's framework of intersectionality, queer theory, and social movement theories, to examine eight queer liberation organizations. Data streams included interviews with staff at each organization, organizational videos from each group, and the organizations' mission statements. The study used deductive content analysis, informed by a predetermined categorization matrix drawn from social movement theories, and also featured inductive analysis to expand those categories throughout the analysis.

This study's findings indicate that a new social movement - distinct from the mainstream equality organizations - does exist. Using criteria informed by leading social movement theories, findings demonstrate that these organizations cannot be understood as part of the mainstream equality movement but must be considered a separate social movement. This "queer liberation movement" has constituents, goals, strategies, and structures that differ sharply from the mainstream equality organizations. This new movement prioritizes queer people in multiple subordinated identity categories, is concerned with rebuilding institutions and structures, rather than with achieving access to them, and is grounded more in "liberation" or "justice" frameworks than "equality." This new movement does not share the equality organizations' priorities (e.g., marriage) and, instead, pursues a different agenda, include challenging the criminal justice and immigration systems, and strengthening the social safety net.

Additionally, the study found that this new movement complicates existing social movement theory. For decades, social movement scholars have documented how the redistributive agenda of the early 20th century class-based social movements has been replaced by the demands for access and recognition put forward by the identity-based movements of the 1960s New Left. While the mainstream equality movement can clearly be characterized as an identity-based social movement, the same is not true of the groups in this study. This queer liberation movement, although centered on identity claims, has goals that are redistributive as well as recognition-based.

While the emergence of this distinct social movement is significant on its own, of equal significance is the fact that it represents a new post-structuralist model of social movement. This study presents a "four-domain" framework to explain how this movement exists simultaneously inside and outside of other social movements, as a bridge between them, and as its own movement. Implications for research, practice, and policy in social work and allied fields are presented.


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