Lorraine Hansberry: LGBT Politics and Civil Rights

In this lesson, students will examine the battle over how history has remembered one of America’s important mid-20th century playwrights.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to

  • Analyze the connection between civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights.
  • Examine the role African-American women played in the movements for racial, gender, and sexual equality.
  • Explore the overlap and interplay between the ideas and activism that shaped the multiple political movements that materialized after World War II.
Essential Questions
  • What is the relationship between the civil rights movement, women’s rights, and gay rights activism?
  • How have individuals been “straight-washed” throughout history?
  • Enduring Understandings
    • The civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, and gay rights activism are related because they are all struggles for equality.
    • To “straight-wash” a historical figure means to present a person as straight, leaving out information that he or she identified as homosexual.


condemnation [ kon-dem-ney-shun ] (noun)  the act of expressing strong disapproval 

homophobia [ hoh-muh-foh-bee-uh ] (noun)  prejudice against people who are homosexual

LGBT (adjective) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender

prolific [ pruh-lif-ik ] (adjective)  producing a large quantity of something

provocative [ pruh-vok-uh-tiv ] (adjective)  causing a strong reaction


Suggested Procedure

1. Ask students to read the “Lorraine Hansberry Biography” and use the information in the biography to fill in the blanks in this handout — a timeline of Hansberry’s life and achievements. Review possible answers with students using this List of events included for instructor.

2. After reading the “Lorraine Hansberry Biography” and completing the timeline, ask students to use the document and context that is provided to discuss and define the following terms: A Raisin in the Sun; Hansberry v. Lee; Daughters of Bilitis; The Ladder. 

3. Have students read “Lorraine Hansberry’s Gay Politics,” independently. While reading, ask students to highlight passages where the writer discusses Hansberry’s thoughts about race, gender and sexuality. Tell students to ask themselves the following questions: “How does the author use the term ‘straight-wash’? Is the term applicable to Hansberry’s life and legacy? What does the term ‘straight-wash’ mean or imply?” After students have finished reading and highlighting, discuss the questions using evidence from the text. Tell students to be ready to explain why they chose the passages they selected.

4. Pair students up and have each pair read “Lorraine Hansberry: To The Ladder.” Ask them to discuss the connection Hansberry makes between sexual and gender oppression: “How does she differentiate between the two? What similarities does she acknowledge? Do you think that Hansberry was a LGBT person or simply an ally to the LGBT community?” Tell students to use the text to support their answers.

5. After reading and discussing , invite students to select a quote from the text to share with the class. Have them write a brief explanation of why they selected the quote, as well as what it reveals about Hansberry’s political beliefs. 

Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS R.1, R.2, R.3, R.4, R.10, W.1, W.2, W.3, W.4, W.9, SL.1, SL.2, SL.3, SL.4, L.1, L.2, L.5


Extension Activity

Based on the sources in this lesson, ask students to write a brief biography of Lorraine Hansberry. Tell them to use the biography they read as a model, but add the information learned from the newspaper article and primary source. Ask: “Do the three documents paint the same portrait of Hansberry, or are they different? What explains the inconsistencies you identify?” Explain to students that the biography should capture Hansberry’s complexity and include a discussion about her sexual politics. It should also discuss the connection that Hansberry saw among civil rights for African Americans, women’s liberation, and gay and lesbian rights. Ask and discuss the following questions: “Should we consider Hansberry’s sexual politics to be ahead of her time? Where would Hansberry’s political beliefs fit in today’s society? If Hansberry were still alive, do you think she would be a controversial figure? Why or why not?” 


Do Something

Create a History Walk.

Have students conduct research about African-American LGBT people in history and compile a list based on what they discover then have students choose 10 individuals from the list and write one-paragraph biographies of each person—including information about birth, death, organizational affiliations, life accomplishments and historical contributions. Students should also select an image to accompany each biography. Post the final biographies with accompanying image in a visible location in your school or classroom.

Invite members of the school and community on a History Walk to see the posted biographies. Students can act as tour guides or create a short, interactive quiz that participants complete as they read about each individual.

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