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LGBT Rights and Theoretical Perspectives  

Francis Kuriakose and Deepa Kylasam Iyer

The question of LGBT rights was first examined as part of gender and sexuality studies in the 1980s, predominantly in the United States. This was a result of the LGBT movement that had articulated the demand for equal rights and freedom of sexual and gender minorities a decade before. Since then, the examination of LGBT rights has traversed multiple theoretical and methodological approaches and breached many disciplinary frontiers. Initially, gay and lesbian studies (GLS) emerged as an approach to understand the notion of LGBT identity using historical evidence. GLS emphasized the objectives of the LGBT movement in articulating its identity as an issue of minority rights within the ambit of litigation and case law. However, the definition of LGBT identity as a homogeneous and fixed category, and the conceptualization of equality rights as the ultimate project of emancipation, was critiqued on grounds of its normative and assimilationist tendencies. Queer theory emerged in the 1990s as a counter-discourse to GLS, using the individual-centric postmodern technique of deconstruction as the method of analysis. This approach opened up scope for multiple identities within the LGBT community to articulate their positionality, and reclaim the possibilities of sexual liberation that GLS had previously obscured. Subsequent scholarship has critiqued GLS and queer theory for incomplete theorization and inadequate representation, based on four types of counter-argument. The first argument is that queer theory, with its emphasis on self as an alternative for wider social interaction, concealed constitutive macrostructures such as neoliberal capitalism, as well as the social basis of identity and power relations. The second argument highlights the incomplete theorization of bisexual and transgender identities within the LGBT community. For example, understanding bisexuality involves questioning the universalism of monosexuality and postmodern notions of linear sexuality, and acknowledging the possibility of an integrated axis of gender and sexuality. Theorization of transgender and transsexual rights requires a grounded approach incorporating new variables such as work and violence in the historiography of transgender life. The third critique comes from decolonial scholarship that argues that intersectionality of race, gender, class, caste, and nationality brings out multiple concerns of social justice that have been rendered invisible by existing theory. The fourth critique emerged from family studies and clinical psychology, that used queer theory to ask questions about definitions of all family structures outside the couple norm, including non-reproductive heterosexuality, polyamorous relationships, and non-marital sexual unions. These critiques have allowed new questions to emerge as part of LGBT rights within the existing traditions, and enabled the question of LGBT rights to be considered across new disciplinary fronts. For example, the incorporation of the “queer” variable in hitherto technical disciplines such as economics, finance, and management is a development of the early-21st-century scholarship. In particular, the introduction of LGBT rights in economics to expand human capabilities has policy implications as it widens and mainstreams access of opportunities for LGBT communities through consumption, trade, education, employment, and social benefits, thereby expanding the actualization of LGBT rights.