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Article

The Political Economy of LGBT Rights  

Scott N. Siegel

Equal treatment for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community has improved at a rapid pace around the world since the gay rights movement first rose up to become a salient global force for change. With important regional exceptions, laws criminalizing same-sex sexual relations have not only come down in multiple countries, but same-sex couples can now also construct families in many advanced industrialized countries. Public acceptance of homosexuality, even in some non-Western countries, has increased dramatically. Yet, within those general trends hides the remarkable unevenness in the spread and adoption of policies fostering legal, social, and economic equality for LGBTQ communities around the world. Policy change toward more equal treatment for sexual minorities is concentrated in the developed world and within the cisgender gay and lesbian communities in particular. The existing literature in policy change shows the importance of transnational activists, changing international norms, and increasing levels of secularization have made this possible. But the effectiveness of these factors rests on an underlying foundation of socioeconomic factors based on economic and social development that characterizes advanced industrialized states. There is an uneven distribution of resources and interests among pro and anti-LGBT activist groups alike, and the differing levels of economic development in which they operate that explains the decidedly uneven nature of how LGBTQ human rights have advanced in the past 50 years. In addition, new political parties and activist organizations have emerged to lead the backlash against LGBTQ rights, showing progress is neither inevitable nor linear. In addition, serious gaps in what we know about LGBT politics remain because of the overwhelming scholarly focus on advanced industrialized states and policies that benefit the cisgender, gay and lesbian middle class in primarily Western societies. The study of LGBT politics in non-Western and developing countries is woefully neglected, for reasons attributed to the nature of the research community and the subject area. In the developed world, greater attention is needed to inequality within the LGBTQ community and issues beyond same-sex marriage. Finally, issues of intersectionality and how different groups within the LGBT community have enjoyed most of the benefits of the gay rights movement since its takeoff more than 50 years ago.

Article

Queer Liberation Theory: A Genealogy  

Cameron McKenzie

An emerging critical theoretical framework, queer liberation theory attempts to understand the relationship between queerness and capitalism, and more specifically, anti-capitalist movements. It seeks to update and reinvigorate the structural analysis of the earlier gay/queer liberation movement (1960s and 1970s) with the benefit of the insights of queer theory and empirical queer experiences of neoliberal capitalism. Queer liberation theory recognizes and celebrates diverse sexual orientations and gender identities or expression, including essentialist identities such as gay, lesbian, and trans. Within a realist, structural framework, queer liberation theory is interested in how social movements can move beyond identity formation to produce progressive, structural change. To date, three main tenets of the theory have been noted: anti-assimilationism, solidarity across social movements, and the political economy of queerness. The use of the word “queer” signals a progressive, critical, sex-positive, anti-assimilationist, liberationist perspective as opposed to an assimilationist perspective that strives for respectability, acceptance, prestige, and monetary success on capitalism’s terms. The second tenet, solidarity across movements, is an attempt to transcend to the divisiveness of single-issue politics without sacrificing intersectionality. For example, queer liberation theory seeks to recognize, expose, and dismantle social structures that oppress all communities, albeit in different ways. The political economy of queerness refers to a class analysis of structural inequalities. A genealogy of queer liberation theory’s development shows where it reflects, incorporates, or rejects aspects of various theories including a social constructionist perspective, with its debates about essentialism and identities; social movement theory, with its political tensions between recognition and redistribution; queer theory, with its focus on fluidity and ambiguity; materialism, with the strengths and shortcomings of its class analysis; and intersectionality with its focus on a matrix worldview of interlocking systems of oppression; and feminist political economy, with its focus on social reproduction, but adequate recognition of queer sexuality. Indeed, feminist political economy offers something of a pink road map to discover what aspects of the economy will be important for queer liberation theory to explore. Feminist political economy is helpful in the development of queer liberation theory because it has long claimed sexuality and identity as legitimate, as opposed to frivolous, sites of scholarship and political struggle. Feminist political economy, like queer liberation theory, seeks to understand oppression based on sexuality in everyday life. However, the feminist political economy road map takes us only so far, because the focus of the analysis can be seen as gendered, and often cisgendered, lives. Queer liberation theory attempts to draw from these theories to better understand the relationship between queerness and capitalism and provide a basis for political action.