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social sciences

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Queer Nation  

Queer Nation erupted into being in the summer of 1990, when militant AIDS activists at New York's Gay Pride parade passed out to the assembled crowd an inflammatory manifesto, printed on both sides of a single newspaper-sized piece of newsprint, bearing the titles I Hate Straights! and Queers Read This! Within days, in response to the brash, "in-your-face" tone of the broadside, Queer Nation chapters had sprung up in San Francisco and other major cities.

Described by activist scholars Allan Bérubé and Jeffrey Escoffier as the first "retro-future/postmodern" activist group to address gay, lesbian, bisexual, and concerns, the short-lived organization (lasting only two years) made a lasting impact on sexual identity politics in the United States. To a significant degree, the relative frequency and acceptability of glbtq representation in mass culture in the 1990s and early twenty-first century can be dated to the emergence of Queer Nation.

Sponsor Message.

Queer Nation had no formal structure or leadership and relied on large, raucous, community-wide meetings to set the agendas and plan the actions of its numerous cleverly named committees and sub-groups (such as LABIA: Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action, and SHOP: Suburban Homosexual Outreach Project). Queer Nation's style drew on the urgency felt in the AIDS activist community about the mounting epidemic and the paucity of meaningful governmental response, and was inspired largely by the attention-grabbing direct-action tactics of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).

Rather than launching long-term campaigns to create social change, Queer Nation favored short-term, highly visible, media-oriented actions, such as same-sex kiss-ins at shopping malls. Their political philosophy was succinctly summed up in the now-cliched slogan, "We're Here. We're Queer. Get Used to It."

A signal accomplishment of the group was to reclaim a set of positive associations for an old epithet, "," and to assert that queer people had a right to take up cultural space--right here, right now--with no apologies and no arguments.

Just as importantly, "queer" became an important concept both socially and intellectually, helping to broaden what had been primarily a gay and lesbian social movement into one that was more inclusive of bisexual and transgender people. Rather than denote a particular genre of sexual identity, "queer" came to represent any number of positions arrayed in opposition to oppressive social and cultural norms and policies related to sexuality and gender. The lived political necessity of understanding the nexus of gender and sexuality in this broadening social movement in turn helped launch the field of "queer studies" in higher education.

Use of the term "queer" was never universally embraced by all segments of the constituencies that the concept of "queerness" could potentially represent; indeed, the term often evoked intense hostility. Queer Nation chapters were rife with dissension over issues of race, gender, and class, and they ultimately collapsed under the weight of their own internal contradictions--"queer," after all, means "diversity," whereas "nation" implies "sameness."

Still, in spite of its shortcomings, the shift in perceptions and tactics marked by the emergence of Queer Nation is an important foundation of the current notion of an inclusive gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

Susan Stryker


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   Related Entries
social sciences >> Overview:  AIDS Activism

In the United States, glbtq people have played an integral and often leading role in AIDS activism, greatly influencing AIDS treatment and advocacy.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Studies

Gay, lesbian, and queer studies are separate but related fields of cultural inquiry that attempt to establish the centrality of gender and sexuality within a particular area of investigation.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay Rights Movement, U. S.

The U.S. gay rights movement has made significant progress toward achieving equality for glbtq Americans, and in the process has become more inclusive and diverse, but much remains to be done.

social sciences >> Overview:  Identity Politics

Not limited to activity in the traditionally conceived political sphere, identity politics refers to activism, politics, theorizing, and other similar activities based on the shared experiences of members of a specific social group, often relying on shared experiences of oppression.

social sciences >> Overview:  Parades and Marches

Both parades and marches have served to render the glbtq community visible; whereas marches typically attempt to effect political change, parades and pride events affirm identity and community.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender Activism

Since the late nineteenth century, transgendered people have advocated legal and social reforms that would ameliorate the kinds of oppression and discrimination they suffer.

social sciences >> ACT UP

Using bold images and confrontational tactics, ACT UP worked to promote awareness of AIDS and challenge the complacency of politicians and government officials in the early years of the epidemic.

literature >> Cooper, Dennis

Controversial writer Dennis Cooper is best known for his series of strikingly original, critically acclaimed, albeit transgressive and contentious, novels exploring the nature of sexual obsession, alienation, brutality, and death.

social sciences >> Empire State Pride Agenda

The Empire State Pride Agenda, which lobbies New York governments at both state and local levels for equal rights, is recognized as among the strongest statewide glbtq political organizations in the United States.


Anon. Queers Read This!/I Hate Straights! New York: n. p., 1990.

Bérubé, Allan, and Jeffrey Escoffier. "Queer/Nation." OUT/Look: National Lesbian and Gay Quarterly no. 11 (Winter 1991): 13-14.

Chee, Alexander. "Queer Nationalism." OUT/Look: National Lesbian and Gay Quarterly no. 11 (Winter 1991): 15-19.

Cosson, Steve. "Queer." [Interviews with Justin Bond, Miguel Gutierrez, Jason Bishop, Rebecca Hensler, Peggy Sue, Ingrid Nelson, Laura Thomas, Adele Morrison, Gerard Koskovich]. OUT/Look: National Lesbian and Gay Quarterly no. 11 (Winter 1991): 14-23.

Halperin, David. Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Maggenti, Maria. "Women as Queer Nationals." OUT/Look: National Lesbian and Gay Quarterly no. 11 (Winter 1991): 20-23.


    Citation Information
    Author: Stryker, Susan  
    Entry Title: Queer Nation  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 31, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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