Investigative Question

What is the story of our community? In what ways have members of my community engaged in political activism?

LGBTQ communities include individuals who identify themselves as African American, Asian, Latinx or other traditionally marginalized group. For this reason, a case study on the political activism of LGBTQ communities is particularly valuable to the 9th grade Ethnic Studies course. In this case study, students “document the experiences of people of color in order ... to construct counter-narratives and develop a more complex understanding of the human experience.” By studying the political activism of LGBTQ communities, students “[take] into account the intersectionality of identity (gender, class, sexuality, among others), to challenge racism, discrimination, and oppression and interrogate the systems that continue to perpetuate inequality.” They consider documents from differing perspectives and communities within and/or opposed to Civil Rights for individuals identifying as LGBTQ. Students read sources to study “multiple perspectives” and “investigate the relationship between race, gender, sexuality, social class, and economic and political power.” After students “study how different social movements for people of color, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities have mutually informed each other,” they write their own accounts of political activism in LGBTQ Communities.

These documents reveal the multiple voices and nuanced layers of identity that have characterized the modern LGBTQ community in the United States, particularly in California. It is a community in which race and sexuality have intersected in powerful, complex ways, shaping the meaning of both individual identity and collective action. As newly emergent LGBTQ communities sought greater community and visibility during the 1970s, they often fractured along lines of race and ethnicity found in other aspects of American life. While some activists forged useful multiracial LGBTQ coalitions, others found that bigotry and racial exclusion were all too common within the LGBTQ community and prevented meaningful alliances. Others encountered homophobia within their own minority communities. Ultimately, certain voices became privileged while others were silenced. These sources recover some of these silenced voices and examine the shared struggles for power that make up the stories of our community from a number of vantage points. The theme of coalition building is prominent in Sources 2 and 4, which both look to deeper concepts (shared oppression, human rights) as a way of uniting different groups and making social activism more impactful. Source 2 along with Sources 3, 7, and 8, emphasize the particular complexity of LGBTQ / African American intersectionality, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. The documents provide glimpses of this unique intersectionality at three distinct moments in time: Rustin as an early-1960s closeted activist, Newton’s “revolutionary” call for solidarity in 1970, and greater black acceptance of gays in 1983. Cumulatively, the three documents represent tangible progress that can be dissected and analyzed in the classroom in a number of ways. In the cases of other racial groups, as shown in Sources 5 and 6, we see more readily the pangs of exclusion from mainstream, white-dominant LGBTQ institutions of the time. It is notable how these forms of racism mirror those in the rest of society and how they have played out so similarly in other contexts. In response, some LGBTQ people of color seek to forge greater bonds within their own community (Source 5) or employ allies to help combat discrimination when it is encountered (Source 6). Meanwhile, as Source 1 reminds us at the outset, the mainstream LGBTQ community is beginning to find greater acceptance among mainstream society as a whole during this period, moving these conflicts more brightly into the public spotlight. It is worth remembering the broader historical context underlying many of these documents. During the 1960s, a broad range of social and political movements galvanized young people across the country, causing them to think more deeply about questions of identity, community, and power. The LGBTQ movement came along a bit later than the other 1960s-era movements, right as the 1960s were coming to a close. As the LGBTQ movement grew into a major political movement during the 1970s, its growth was heavily influenced and shaped by earlier movements for social justice, such as the Black Power and anti-Vietnam War movements. In important ways, the LGBTQ movement carried forward many of the questions raised during the 1960s well into the 1970s and 1980s. By the late 1970s, gay rights was one of the most visible — and divisive — issues in American society and politics
California’s English Language Development Standards highlight three foci to facilitate students’ understanding of topics, ideas, and concepts as well as growth in English proficiency. In this lesson sequence, teachers allow students to interact with documents and thus history concepts in “meaningful ways” (see California’s English Language Development Standards). In particular, the teacher asks students to read one document and reconstruct the content in that particular document. By reconstructing this document, students answer the inquiry set question, What is the story of our community? Materials: Copies of Source 3, the essay by John Victor Soares, “Special Report: Black & Gay: Problem and Possibilities” in two parts Part 1: Paragraphs 1 – 3 with a word bank Part 2: Whole document Lesson Sequence Step 1 Engage: Ask students to answer the following question: How does your racial, gender, LGBTQ or other identity influence how you are treated? First have students think about their responses, then write their responses, and finally share their responses in a group (think-write-pair-share). After students have shared, ask them to share as a group. Teachers write student responses that relate to the reading on the board/wall/screen. If students bring up issues of racism and discrimination, write the terms on the board/wall/screen and define them. If the terms do not come up in conversation, write them on the board and explain that people with multiple identities face discrimination differently in multiple contexts. Step 2 Explore: Next ask students to read the first three paragraphs of the essay by John Victor Soares, “Special Report: Black & Gay: Problem and Possibilities” (The Advocate, Los Angeles, Nov. 17, 1976). Ask students to read the document and first look for terms or words that are unfamiliar or unclear. Depending upon the students’ English proficiency level (emerging, expanding, or bridging), include a word bank of the words they may not know that are not important to building understanding toward the lesson’s learning goal. In the margins of the text include definitions for words such as subtle, subculture, implausibly, insulated, unwarranted, stationed, professional, acquired, posture, and nullify. John Victor Soares, “Special Report: Black & Gay: Problem and Possibilities.” Whether subtle or not, racism in the gay sub-culture is a reality that all black gay people deal with, unless — perhaps implausibly — they have insulated themselves with a closed circle of close friends. … It would be unwarranted, given the facts, to assume that because gay people are members of a minority group themselves, they are free of the racism that pervades American society in general. Just as gay people have stationed themselves in the full range of professional and life styles found through-out the nation, so also have they acquired attitudes and behavioral patterns — also found throughout the nation — which go to make up racism. To those who have moved in both straight and gay circles, it does in deed appear that for every racially colored posture that is found in straight society, there is a corresponding one in gay society… In spite of this, it must be remembered that racism is not necessarily a critical issue for black gay people in every situation. Obviously, there is a way to nullify it as far as gay-centered activities are concerned, and this way is though interaction in the black gay community. Of course, the extent to which such a community is available depends on the place one finds oneself. Step 3 Explain: After the students read the text, ask them to discuss with their groups misconceptions or terms that need clarification. After students have time to make clarifications with their groups, the teacher will ask students to share unclear terms with the class. The teacher will define unclear terms and put definitions on the board/wall/screen. At this point the teacher may want to give historical context around the term integrated and possibly clarify the terms gay and straight if needed. The teacher must take care in making the thinking of the class about the document visible to support deeper reading of the text. Step 4 Elaborate (ELD Strategy: Text Reconstruction): In this part of the lesson, the students will read the rest of the essay by Soares. At this point the students should not have access to the written document. To elaborate on their learning they will reconstruct the text verbatim by listening to the teacher read the text. The purpose behind this strategy is to help students interpret the text, collaborate around the text (they will have to negotiate the exact verbiage with a partner), and produce language by writing the text as they heard it. To engage in the text reconstruction strategy, the teacher selects a short portion of the text to read aloud. The teacher tells students that they will write the text exactly as it sounds. Then the teacher reads the text three times aloud. During the first read, students listen. During the second read, students listen for key words and phrases. During the third read, students take notes. After the third read, students pair up and tell their partner what they heard. The students add to their notes. Then as a team students rewrite/write the text as they heard it. During this process, students use language to develop and negotiate around their responses. They must use precise language to reconstruct the text and interpret both the teacher’s reading and their peer’s thinking. After students have written their responses, a few groups will share out their products. John Victor Soares, “Special Report: Black & Gay: Problem and Possibilities.” Chances of finding an active and productive social life in the black gay community are far better in key cities with large black populations than in cities and areas sparsely populated by black people. Often too, there may be an important black population in a certain area, but for various reasons black gay social life is not highly organized and intense as in such black gay super-centers as New York; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; Atlanta and Chicago. Although Detroit and St. Louis for example have sizeable black populations, black gay social life simply does not muster up to the standards of sparkle, lavishness and frequency of entertainment that are so strikingly observable in the super-centers… The integrated gay community, where blacks, whites and other mingle, is where racism can become an issue, and its importance as an issue depends largely on where one lives… Step 5 Evaluate: The teacher passes out the document in its entirety, and students reread the entire document to answer the lesson question, What is the story of our community? The teacher may reword the question to read, What is the story of LGBTQ communities and communities of color? Once they are done reading, have students think about their response, then write their response and finally share their response in a group (think-write-pair-share). Ask students to add to and revise their responses after the discussion. Their responses will be the lesson assessment. Depending upon the students’ English proficiency level (emerging, expanding, or bridging), expectations about the length of writing will vary.
  • The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.
Depending on the ethnic studies course and group of students, one might teach a lesson on gender labels and identity before teaching a lesson sequence on political activism in LGBTQ communities ( Because this text set includes topics relating to “homosexuality,” students may need teaching around the origins of this term as well as appropriate terminology for individuals identifying themselves as LGBTQ. Teachers may want to explain person-first language and discuss the ways that sex and sexuality are differing concepts. In addition to discussions around terms like “gay,” “transgender,” “queer,” and “gender non-conforming,” teachers may want to start the discussion by giving students the context of the 1950s and 1960s. More specifically, explain that acceptable labels for people from LGBTQ, African American, Asian, Latinx, and traditionally underrepresented communities differ from current labels.