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Queering the borders: Lorraine Hansberry’s 1957 Letters to The Ladder
Unformatted Document Text:  Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 7 government expanded its screening procedures.” 22 Gay and lesbian bars were routinely raided and patrons were not only arrested on morals charges, but also had their names and addresses published in the next day’s newspaper. According to D’Emilio, arrests “in the District of Columbia exceeded 1,000 per year during the early 1950s. Washington police frequently resorted to entrapment by plainclothesmen in Lafayette Park and downtown movie houses to arrest male homosexuals. In Philadelphia during the 1950s, misdemeanor charges against gay men and women averaged 100 per month.” 23 Ironically, however, it was during this same period that the self-titled “homophile movement” first took shape in the form of three different gay and lesbian organizations based in California: the Mattachine Society (founded in 1951 by and for gay men) the Daughters of Bilitis (founded in 1955 by and for lesbians) and One (an organization that began as a magazine started by Mattachine but which split off becoming its own organization around 1953). Each of these organizations built subaltern counterpublics to resist and find respite from the oppressive mainstream public. 24 The organizations built previously nonexistant communities through face-to-face semi-public social interactions, public meetings, and national publications. In 1957, the organization One also undertook both an undergraduate and graduate school as well as a homosexual news service. Although each of the three organizations emphasized different aspects of and strategies for liberation, each was committed to overcoming the isolation and persecution of gay men and lesbians. The Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) was founded in 1955 by eight women from San Francisco “with a vague idea that something should be done about the problems of Lesbians, both within their own group and with the public.” 25 One year later, they began 22 John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States 1940-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 44. 23 Ibid., 49-50. 24 The notion of subaltern counterpublics derives from work by postcolonial, feminist, and critical theorists seeking to describe a) the existence of multiple (rather than singular) subordinate (rather than dominant) counterpublics in democratic societies, b) the centrality of these counterpublics for developing and articulating political voice, critique, and identity, and c) how ostensibly democratic societies appropriate, marginalize, and occasionally accommodate the voices of the oppressed minority groups who comprise these counterpublics. See, for example, Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” in Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994) 109-142. 25 The Ladder, October 1956, 2. The founders of DOB took the organization’s name from the title of a fictitious ancient Greek lesbian love poem written by Pierre Louys in 1894.

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 7
government expanded its screening procedures.”
22
Gay and lesbian bars were routinely raided and
patrons were not only arrested on morals charges, but also had their names and addresses published in the
next day’s newspaper. According to D’Emilio, arrests “in the District of Columbia exceeded 1,000 per
year during the early 1950s. Washington police frequently resorted to entrapment by plainclothesmen in
Lafayette Park and downtown movie houses to arrest male homosexuals. In Philadelphia during the
1950s, misdemeanor charges against gay men and women averaged 100 per month.”
23
Ironically, however, it was during this same period that the self-titled “homophile movement”
first took shape in the form of three different gay and lesbian organizations based in California: the
Mattachine Society (founded in 1951 by and for gay men) the Daughters of Bilitis (founded in 1955 by
and for lesbians) and One (an organization that began as a magazine started by Mattachine but which
split off becoming its own organization around 1953). Each of these organizations built subaltern
counterpublics to resist and find respite from the oppressive mainstream public.
24
The organizations built
previously nonexistant communities through face-to-face semi-public social interactions, public
meetings, and national publications. In 1957, the organization One also undertook both an undergraduate
and graduate school as well as a homosexual news service. Although each of the three organizations
emphasized different aspects of and strategies for liberation, each was committed to overcoming the
isolation and persecution of gay men and lesbians. The Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) was founded in 1955
by eight women from San Francisco “with a vague idea that something should be done about the
problems of Lesbians, both within their own group and with the public.”
25
One year later, they began
22
John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States
1940-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 44.
23
Ibid., 49-50.
24
The notion of subaltern counterpublics derives from work by postcolonial, feminist, and critical theorists seeking
to describe a) the existence of multiple (rather than singular) subordinate (rather than dominant) counterpublics in
democratic societies, b) the centrality of these counterpublics for developing and articulating political voice, critique,
and identity, and c) how ostensibly democratic societies appropriate, marginalize, and occasionally accommodate the
voices of the oppressed minority groups who comprise these counterpublics. See, for example, Nancy Fraser,
“Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” in Habermas and
the Public Sphere
, ed. Craig Calhoun (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994) 109-142.
25
The Ladder, October 1956, 2. The founders of DOB took the organization’s name from the title of a fictitious
ancient Greek lesbian love poem written by Pierre Louys in 1894.


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