First and Last Chance: Looking for Lesbians in Fifties Bar Cases

Review of Law and Women's Studies, Vol. 5, 1995

MSU Legal Studies Research Paper

20 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2012

See all articles by Joan W. Howarth

Joan W. Howarth

William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV; Michigan State University College of Law

Date Written: 1995

Abstract

Do all of us who choose members of our own sex as objects of desire and as sexual partners share some meaningful common identity, such as “homosexual,” “gay” or perhaps “queer”? The classifications “homosexual” and “gay” claim for themselves just that kind of inclusiveness; that is, that the gay world includes people of all races, all classes and any possible gender identity. You, me, James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, J. Edgar Hoover: we are all gay together. In this way “homosexual” or “gay” is a generic term, like, for example, “human being.” But we know that the alleged inclusiveness masks just the opposite: the classification “homosexual” or “gay” highlights sexual orientation related to object choice and simultaneously submerges race, class and gender. By common understanding, the classification “lesbian” reveals gender, but race and class remain erased, hidden.

This essay explores a specific site in gay legal history, as reflected in four appellate cases from California's efforts during the fifties to shut down gay bars by revoking liquor licenses. My goal is to peel back the generic “gay” in those cases to reveal the omnipresent sexual orientation, gender, class and racial identities that determined what it meant to be “homosexual” in California during the fifties, and that intersect within each of us today.

Keywords: gay, lesbian, LGBT, California, fifties, mid-century, generic identity, inclusiveness, class, race, gender

Suggested Citation

Howarth, Joan W., First and Last Chance: Looking for Lesbians in Fifties Bar Cases (1995). Review of Law and Women's Studies, Vol. 5, 1995, MSU Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2184881

Joan W. Howarth (Contact Author)

William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV ( email )

4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States

Michigan State University College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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