Bad Queers: LGBT People and the Carceral State in Modern America

Scott De Orio, Northwestern University

My presentation examines the history of what I call the war on sex offenders—an American campaign against sex crime that began in the 1930s—and argues that that war produced, criminalized, and hierarchized multiple new LGBT legal subjects during the pivotal era of the long 1970s. While historians have examined the policing of multiple queer behaviors in the early twentieth century, their examinations of the post-1945 period have been concerned primarily with the consolidation of a starker social and legal binary between homo- and heterosexuality. The closer their narratives get to the present, the most stigmatized “bad” queers become more and more tangential. At least in part, this has been because historians have been under the same pressure as LGBT activists to distance LGBT identity from the stigma of sexual “deviance” in order to promote the political project of LGBT rights. Writing “bad” queers into historical narratives about the late twentieth century reveals their centrality to the trajectory of LGBT politics and rights, and ultimately the expansion of the carceral state. In making this argument, I am engaging the archive of 1970s social movements of youth and minor-attracted people—found among other places in the pages of periodicals such as the *Gay Community News,* the *Advocate,* the newsletter of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), and *Pan.* These materials have been underutilized by LGBTQ historians, probably because it has been especially controversial to count minor-attracted people among the legitimate subjects of queer history. Yet as these archives reveal, in the long 1970s political struggles over youth sexuality and minor attraction were a particularly salient historical episode that helped facilitate the decline of the LGBT movement’s defense of the most stigmatized bad queers.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 123. Divining Desires through Institutions: The Possibilities and Limits of Data