Liberationism vs assimilationism is a historically important dichotomy, which dates back to the gay liberation movement of the 1960s. It put a name to certain political disagreements among LGBT/queer people that persist to the present day. That said, in the present day, liberationism/assimilationism is less relevant, just one lens of many that we may apply whenever it seems particularly apt (e.g.). And often, when we do talk about the dichotomy, we feel the need to re-explain what the dichotomy even is.
Ahem… In a contemporary context, assimiliationism refers to the desire to blend in with mainstream culture, to emphasize “we’re the same”; while liberationism refers to a desire for more radical change. A somewhat longer explanation is available here.
A recent video by Rowan Ellis revives the liberation/assimilation dichotomy for the purpose of understanding different forms of queer representation. I hate it, and it illustrates how the liberation/assimilation lens can go so wrong.
The primary problem, is that “liberation vs assimilation” has largely been collapsed into “good vs bad”, while explicitly denying it. Rowan Ellis says,
It’s not necessarily that assimilation films are bad and liberation films are good. […] In the way in which it deals with LGBT stories and identities, for me, the liberation stuff comes up top. (14:23)