The Cold War and Queer Liberation - Oklahoma Center for the Humanities

The Cold War and Queer Liberation

“My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love” by Dmitri Vrubel, 1990, eastern side of Berlin Wall

The Cold War marked an important shift in global politics. Divisions were erected between first, second, and third “worlds” (which were historically based on political and economic distinctions). There were several postcolonial movements and burgeoning nation states in the wake of dissolving European empires. And, of course, there were international tensions between USSR and the United States, much of which was based on the potential for nuclear war.

While these issues were playing out on a global stage, American politics had its own share of complex changes during the Cold War era. The Civil Rights movement legally ended Jim Crow segregation and moved the US towards racial equality with advancements in voting rights, education, employment, and housing. Second wave feminism fought against, among other issues, discrimination in the workplace and domestic violence. Anti-Vietnam War sentiments and protests abounded. And then there was the “Reagan Revolution”– towards the end of the Cold War era– that marked a conservative backlash against the social change of the preceding decades.

GerShun Avilez’s work probes directly at the intersection of global and American politics during this time: How did international politics during the Cold War era shape our national culture? What role did Gay Rights and Queer activists play in national debates over equality, freedom, and identity? What does “freedom” mean in a time of paranoia and social conflict? In this talk, University of Maryland professor GerShun Avilez will explore how the Cold War conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union led to a tremendous reorganization of how Americans thought about identity, especially queer identity. Avilez will discuss the activism of homosexual organizers who worked against state repression and then will trace the shifting ways Cold War-era novels, plays, and poetry take up the subject of queerness and re-imagine the social possibilities for the homosexual citizen. Ultimately, this talk will illustrate how ideas of queer freedom arise and transform in the shadow of repression.

Join us Thursday, September 29, 7-8:30p in Tyrell Hall to hear Avilez’s work. This event will be in-person at the Tyrrell Hall auditorium at TU and online on Zoom. To join the Zoom stream, please click here.

GerShun Avilez is a cultural studies scholar who specializes in contemporary African American and Black Diasporic literatures and visual cultures. His teaching also covers 20th century US literature. Much of his scholarship explores how questions of gender and sexuality inform artistic production. In addition, he works in the fields of political radicalism, spatial theory, gender studies, and medical humanities. He serves as the Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland. His first book, Radical Aesthetics & Modern Black Nationalism (Illinois), appeared in 2016 as a part of “The New Black Studies” Series. His second book, Black Queer Freedom (Illinois), explores Black Diasporic queer artists and questions of social space. He edited a special issue of the journal Women’s Studies (2019) and recently co-edited the 10th edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1945-Present (2022). He has written articles and book chapters on a range of historical and cultural subjects, including the Cold War, segregation narratives, early African American writing, race & terror, social death, queer life, experimental poetry, Black women’s writing, literary & cinematic satire, the Harlem Renaissance, Black Power Politics, and the Black Arts Movement.