Originally published on Feb 23, 2016
Timothy Stewart-Winter, PhD'09, assistant professor of history, Rutgers University, returned to Chicago to discuss his first book, Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics (Pennsylvania, 2016). He appeared on Chicago Tonight and the Morning Shift and discussed his research with Kathleen Belew, assistant professor of history, at the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture at the University of Chicago.
Queer Clout enriches our understanding of political activism in the 1970s and '80s by examining the strategies that gay Chicagoans used to build political power in a major inland city. Gays adopted the tactics of civil-rights activists and Vietnam-war protesters to demonstrate against police raids of gay bars, to address the courts for civil damages, and to build a political voting block that was recognized and courted by city hall. "Today," as Stewart-Winter explained in 2014, "America's largest cities, even in so-called red states, all have openly elected gay officials and antidiscrimination laws that cover gays and lesbians, and a growing number cover transgendered citizens as well."
Stewart-Winter delved into Chicago archives and conducting oral histories to determine three key findings. First, local gay political mobilization was not strongly indebted to national gay "watershed" moments, such as the Stonewall protests in New York City or Harvey Milk's election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Second, gays formed alliances with the progressive black political establishment, such as Anna Langford, Danny K. Davis, and Jesse Jackson, to legitimize their rights. Third, in cities like Chicago, with powerful political machines and religious majorities, eliminating police harassment took much more organizational, political, and legal pressure.
As explained in the WTTW feature, "these fragile alliances [with black leaders] ultimately foundered in part because in the very years when policing and punishment in black neighborhoods began to increase the policing of predominantly white gay establishments and neighborhoods became far less systematic." Stewart-Winter's second book will consider how these fragile alliances might be regained through a study of the first fifteen years of the AIDS crisis in the United States, which effected both gay and black communities.
Queer Clout is based on Stewart-Winter's dissertation, which George Chauncey directed; Amy Dru Stanley, William Sewell, and James Sparrow were readers.
Chicago Seed 4, no. 12 (1970)
By Joanne M. Berens, MFA'93