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Excerpted from: Theresa Raffaele Jefferson, Toward a Black Lesbian Jurisprudence, 18 Boston College Third World Law Journal 263 (Spring, 1998) (Note) (197 Footnotes) (Full Document)


TheresaRaffaeleJeffersonBlack lesbians are everywhere and nowhere all at once. Throughout history we have been made invisible. This invisibility serves as a constant reminder that our culture, and indeed our very lives are considered at best illegitimate. At the same time, our identity as Black lesbians has been made hyper-visible when we have tried to remain in the wings. In these instances hyper-visibility becomes a means of punishment-a penalty for not understanding or refusing to abide by societal mandates. The experiences of Black lesbians in law and society illustrate this seeming invisibility/hyper-visibility paradox. Yet the tools of invisibility and hyper-visibility serve the same purpose-the legitimation of dominant cultural control. Invisibility and hyper-visibility compliment each other. They act in concert, as a dual cultural strategy of distortion, suppression, and punishment. A consistent Black lesbian jurisprudence has emerged whereby Black lesbians and our rights are erased at the intersection of our race, gender, and sexual orientation. This Note is an attempt to explore the lives of Black lesbians, to uncover law and society's desire for us to remain seen or unseen depending on the context, and to provide a starting point for others to conduct future research.

Black lesbians are in a moment of collective self-recognition. A number of Black lesbian organizations have formed, Black lesbian literature is written with increasing frequency, and researchers are collecting archival materials focused on the lives and experiences of Black lesbians. Together these factors aid in combating our invisibility, and prompting our visibility through the process of naming our shared reality.

Various theoretical frameworks have been used to analyze the subordination of classes of people based on their sexual orientation, race, gender, and outsider status. These theories provide valuable insight into the societal and legal status of Black lesbians as well.

Part II of this Note will discuss how these concepts and frameworks can be used to analyze Black lesbian jurisprudence.

Part III documents the varied narratives of Black lesbians, with the goal of bringing our experiences to the forefront.

Part IV will present evidence of a specific Black lesbian jurisprudence by analyzing two cases involving Black lesbians.

[ . . .]

The implications of the subordination of Black lesbians are profound. Identifying the cultural tools of invisibility and hyper-visibility is an initial step in developing a strategy of resistance. This Note serves as part of the process of defining the apparatus that has made Black lesbians both invisible and hyper-visible. There is power in merely naming the dynamic.

There is also an intense power in marginality. If we are in a moment of newly emerging self-consciousness, we need to work toward improving visibility amongst ourselves and as a community on our own terms. We need to further explore what it is about the normative needs of our society that enables others to determine when we are present and when we are not, when we are invisible and when we are hyper-visible. We need to develop strategies that will afford us personal control over the uses of our identity. Finally, we need to further examine our particular social construction as Black lesbians, and continue to uncover the history and experiences of Black lesbians who came before us.  

Editor in Chief, Boston College Third World Law Journal