The Languages of Sexual Equality in Western Europe, 1950-1970

Wednesday 20 June 2018 at 5:00 PM – Seminar Room 2, Badia Fiesolana ‘ Presentation organised by the LGBTIQ Interdisciplinary Working Group

Speaker: Julia Maclachlan (University of Manchester)

Abstract: Julia’s PhD project investigates the transnational flows of scientific and social knowledge, which shaped the understanding and experience of sexually dissident masculinities in Britain in a period of west European reconstruction and Cold War politics, between 1945 and 1970. Focusing on male homosexuality, her research traces how European sexual knowledge was translated into a British context, with its distinct national legislative and discursive framework. Placing homosexuality within networks of European sexological research, international political activism and subcultural activity, she seeks to establish how these influences reshaped the self-conception of gay men in Britain. While the Gay Liberation Movement of the 1970s and 1980s engaged in radical direct action and was committed to increasing the visibility of LGBT people in the public sphere, the interventions of the homophile movement were primarily text-based and often highly intellectualised. During the postwar decades, attempts to promote the acceptance of homosexuality and reposition gay men within society did not occur through the claiming of public space, but in the pages of homophile newsletters and publications such as Arcadie, ICSE Newsletter, Man & Society, Spectrum, Der Kreis, Freundschaft, Hellas, or Humanitas, as well as pamphlets and petitions to public organisations and government bodies. This presentation will explore the languages of sexual equality deployed by homophile activists across Europe, paying particular attention to the contemporary themes of equality, rights and citizenship. These languages constituted a prime site for the contestation of oppression and discrimination against homosexuals and can also reveal how homophile activists constructed their own identities in relation to the state and wider society. A comparative reading of influential publications from homophile organisations across Europe, which projected distinctive ideals of male homosexuality and civic integration, will establish how linguistic and narrative forms were circulated and adapted across western Europe, as well as providing an understanding of how the language of rights and citizenship offered key impulses for reordering and contesting the relationship between states and marginalised groups.