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Article

Party Politics and LGBT Issues in the United States  

Melissa R. Michelson and Elizabeth Schmitt

Political parties are a core feature of the American political system, and partisan identification is a major determinant of both individual attitudes and political behavior. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the major political parties in the United States have become increasingly polarized, and partisan affect has intensified, with individuals more hostile toward the opposing party. This increased polarization and tendency to follow elite cues has also affected LGBT politics. Among openly LGBT candidates for political office, almost all have run as Democrats. In June 2018 only 2.9% of openly LGBT elected officials in the country were affiliated with the Republican Party. Outreach to LGBT voters by Democratic candidates has increased over time; in contrast, Republican candidates have been generally hostile to LGBT people and issues. This growing gap in outreach is reflected in vote choice patterns. Since 1988, at least two-thirds of LGBT voters have supported the Democratic nominee for president. In the 2016 election, 78% of LGBT voters supported the Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, while only 14% supported Republican Donald Trump. In the 2018 midterm elections LGBT voters favored Democratic candidates by a margin of 82% to 17%. LGBT interest groups also tend to be affiliated with the Democratic Party, with the notable exception of the Log Cabin Republicans. Until the 1990s, most straight Americans were not interested in or aware of LGBT public policy issues, but today the members of both political parties reflect the increased partisan polarization of the country. Democrats are more likely to support same-sex relationships and marriage, laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, transgender rights, and other supportive policies; Republicans, in contrast, are more opposed to those policies and support religious exemptions from antidiscrimination laws. This increased sorting among the LGBT public reflects an increasingly salient national divide between the two major political parties, including their understandings of LGBT identity. Democrats have for several decades understood LGBT identity as permanent (that people are born that way) and thus deserving of maximum legal protection. In contrast, many more Republicans understand LGBT as a choice or as a result of one’s upbringing and environment and thus not a basis for claims for equal rights. This represents a shift over time; in 1977, only 13% of Americans believed that homosexuality was something that people were born with. As more Americans became familiar with the science demonstrating that being gay is genetic and not a “lifestyle choice,” a partisan split emerged. Scholarship suggests partisanship is likely driving acceptance of the science. Regardless of the cause of the partisan split on the nature vs. nurture debate on LGBT identity, that split is reflected in the increasingly large differences between representation of LGBT people in elected office, in party support for LGBT policies, and in LGBT partisanship.

Article

Attitudes Toward LGBT+ People and Policies: Political Tolerance and Egalitarianism  

Lauren Elliott-Dorans

Political tolerance and commitment to egalitarianism have long been examined as possible contributors to attitudes toward LGBT+ people and policies. Since the 1970s, American attitudes toward LGBT+ issues have changed drastically. During this period, public policy and measures of public opinion toward LGBT+ rights have focused on a variety of areas, such as nondiscrimination laws, gay military service, and family matters such as adoption and marriage. Interestingly, although support for equality has remained the same in the United States, individuals have become rapidly more supportive of LGBT+ people securing equal rights in a variety of domains. There are three primary reasons for this shift: elite messaging, attributions of homosexuality, and contact with members of the LGBT+ community, both direct and indirect. These factors have led to an environment in which the value of equality is more readily applied to LGBT+ issues, therefore increasing support for these rights over time. Elite messaging has played a key role in this shift. Across LGBT+ issues, equality frames are often countered with moral traditionalism, thus leading to an increased propensity for individuals to associate LGBT+ issues with these values. The effectiveness of equality frames has been bolstered by the growing belief that homosexuality is a fixed rather than chosen trait, which yields a greater reliance upon egalitarianism when evaluating LGBT+-related issues. At the same time, both direct and indirect contact with the LGBT+ community increased following the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Americans were first introduced to gay characters on television in the 1970s. LG characters gained more prominent roles throughout the 1990s on shows such as The Real World and Will and Grace. Following Stonewall, LGBT+ activist organizations also advocated that members of the community “come out of the closet” and reveal their sexual orientation to the people in their lives. Thus, the chances of Americans knowing—or at least feeling like they knew—an LGBT+ person increased. Consistent with Allport’s Contact Theory (1954) and Zajonc’s work on “mere exposure effects” (1968), affect toward LGBT+ individuals has generally grown more positive with greater interaction and familiarity. These various factors interacted with underlying predispositions to drastically move public opinion in favor of greater equality for LGBT+ people.

Article

LGBT Candidates and Elected Officials in North America  

Joanna Everitt and Manon Tremblay

The representation of LGBTQ individuals has improved substantially in Canada, Mexico, and the United States in the past few decades; however, the numbers holding elected office are still quite small. Several factors have contributed to the level of success of these candidates, including: changes in public opinion toward LGBTQ individuals and LGBTQ candidates in particular, their own levels of political ambition, their alignment with different political parties and the support that they receive from these organizations, media coverage of their candidacies and their policy positions, and finally their support from institutions of civil society such as political action committees or other social movement organizations. It is clear that in all three countries these candidates, when elected, contribute symbolically, through serving as role models to other LGBTQ individuals and increasing levels of acceptance among their non-LGBTQ colleagues. They also promote substantive representation through their support and promotion of policies that address LGBTQ issues and concerns.

Article

Global Anti-LGBT Politics  

Barry D. Adam

Anti-LGBT politics around the world have undergone a major transformation over the last half century. While European powers once held themselves up as defenders of Christian morality and patriarchy, characterizing Asia, Africa, and the Americas as locations of sexual disorder, in the 21st century many of the countries of the Global South construct LGBT sexualities as pathological, threatening, or criminal, while many countries of the Global North incorporate sexual orientation in a discourse of human rights, democracy, and individual freedom. Many of the social forces of nationalism and populism of the early 21st century place the well-being of LGBT citizens in jeopardy, and conflicts between these divergent visions of the good society continue to have grave consequences for LGBT people around the world.

Article

Progressive Christian Communities as Sites for LGBTQ Collective Action and Civic Behavior  

Barrett Scroggs and Debra McKnight

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals have historically been considered non-religious. This disconnect has typically been due to the anti-LGBTQ stances that many religions have taken. However, as many Christian denominations begin to take more open and progressive stances on issues related to sexuality, gender, and identity, there are some in the LGBTQ community who desire and are able to reconcile their LGBTQ and religious identities. This is especially true for members of the LGBTQ community who grew up in Christian spaces. Prior research has explored LGBTQ participation in religious communities and has found that participation in these activities has positive implications for the well-being of the LGBTQ community. However, despite the growing number of Christian churches welcoming members of the LGBTQ community, the literature has not explored the implications for LGBTQ collective action and civic behavior within the context of progressive church communities. Participation in social justice work, whether in formal or informal ways, can offer individuals an altruistic outlet to become actively involved in causes impacting the world around them. This social justice work may include attending a justice-themed rally, volunteering for an organization promoting equality, or engaging in dialogue with others to promote a justice-themed cause. Social justice work like this can be a form of activism, which has been found to be an important stage of LGBTQ identity development. Prior research has found that higher levels of minority group identification are associated with a higher likelihood of participation in collective action and that higher levels of church attendance are associated with higher levels of civic participation. The church has historically been a space for social justice behavior and thus can connect LGBTQ individuals to a deeper passion for social justice and civic behavior. Members of the LGBTQ community are able to reconcile their LGBTQ and religious identities. And through the connection to a church, they can engage in collective action connected to LGBTQ-related and other issues (e.g., women’s rights, the environment, poverty, immigration, and housing).

Article

Transgender Rights Interest Groups in the United States  

Anthony J. Nownes

Although the Trump Administration has been decidedly unfriendly to transgender Americans, there is no question that transgender people have made substantial policy, political, and societal gains in recent years. These gains are the result partially of the activities of political organizations that advocate on behalf of transgender Americans. As of 2019, there were approximately 20 nationally active transgender rights interest groups in the United States, including several relatively well-resourced professional organizations. There are also dozens of active state, local, and regional transgender rights organizations. What have we learned about transgender rights interest groups? First, transgender rights organizing began in the mid-1960s but did not really get off the ground until the mid-1990s. Second, there are probably more transgender rights interest groups operating in the United States today than there ever have been. Third, as the number of stand-alone transgender rights groups has grown, so has the number of broad-based LGB groups who have “added the T,” that is, added advocacy for transgender rights to their missions. Although the scholarly literature on transgender rights interest groups is severely limited, a number of sources, including primary source materials available through transgender and LGBT archives, historical treatments of transgender politics, and the writings and works of transgender activists, shed light on the history and activities of these groups.

Article

Coming Out and Political Attitudes Among Sexual Minorities  

Douglas Page

A nascent body of research is growing on the issue of disclosing one’s sexuality, also termed “coming out,” and the implications for attitudes, behavior, and health. This research engages (a) the political attitudes of those reporting their sexual identity, and (b) the social conditions that lead people to express different forms of sexual identity. Four main findings help to characterize the relationship between coming out and political attitudes among sexual minorities. First, people who come out tend to be socially liberal, but the reasons behind this pattern remain unclear. Second, tolerant social conditions correlate with coming out; expressions of tolerant attitudes; and political engagement on behalf of lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights. Third, the reverse holds as well: Intolerant, homophobic social conditions correlate with the concealment of one’s homosexuality and the expression of homophobic attitudes. Fourth, homophobic social conditions also may lead to worse mental health outcomes, which in turn reduce political efficacy and participation. However, the causal relationships between social conditions, coming out, political outcomes, and health outcomes elude existing research. Future research can unpack these relationships and include more cases outside Western Europe and North America, where most research on this topic is conducted.

Article

LGBT People as a Relatively Politically Powerless Group  

Andrew Proctor

As a group engaged in struggles for representation and inclusion, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have vied for access to social and political power. There is little dispute that LGBT people are a relatively powerless group in society, but the extent to which the group is powerless is subject to debate in political science. Scholars disagree over the extent of powerlessness because the definition of power is contested among political scientists. As such, scholars have examined the powerlessness of LGBT people in varying ways and reached different conclusions about the success the group has had in achieving rights and visibility. LGBT powerlessness emerges from the group’s status as sexual and gender minorities. Over time, the boundaries that constitute the group have shifted in response to power asymmetries between LGBT people and cisgender, heterosexuals who control access to political and social institutions. In addition, power asymmetries have emerged within the LGBT community at the intersection of race, class, and gender as well as across subgroups of the acronym LGBT. Thus, the distribution of power and powerlessness vary within the group as well as between the group and dominant groups in society. These within- and across-group variations in power shape LGBT group boundaries, representation and public opinion, and voting behavior. The powerlessness of LGBT people must be understood in relation to these contingencies that define the group’s boundaries, and the ways in which power is distributed within and across groups.

Article

The Special Role of Religion in LGBT-Related Attitudes  

Abigail Vegter and Donald P. Haider-Markel

Religious tradition and religiosity affect attitudes toward LGBT people, their rights, and their position within religious communities. There is significant variability within the American context concerning how religious traditions approach issues related to sexuality and gender identity, with monotheistic religions holding more conservative positions. These positions and the elites who hold them often influence the attitudes of their congregants, but not always, as some congregations diverge from the official positions of their denominations in terms of attitudes toward LGBT rights, religious leadership, and congregational membership. As the religious landscape is consistently changing in terms of attitudes toward sexual minorities, understanding the special role of religion in LGBT-related attitudes remains important and an area ripe for future scholarship.

Article

Political Behavior of Sexual and Gender Minorities  

Royal G. Cravens III

From the late 20th and into the early 21st centuries, scholars in the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) politics have produced a substantial body of literature that explores and explains the political attitudes and behavior of sexual and gender minorities. The interdisciplinary nature of the field is reflected in the broad range of approaches and theories that attempt to explain political phenomena among LGBTQ people. The majority of the literature reveals sexual minorities to be politically distinct from heterosexuals, in that sexual minorities are more ideologically liberal and, in the United States, more likely to support Democratic partisans. Largely because of heterosexism, sexual and gender minorities are also more likely to participate in political activities that directly implicate their sexual orientation or gender identity, such as volunteering with LGBTQ interest groups or attending “Pride” events, although sexual orientation and gender identity are significant predictors of a variety of attitudes and behavior. Recent research has demonstrated that LGBTQ people also participate in politics by running for office, mounting legal challenges to discriminatory laws or government actions, and collectively organizing locally, nationally, and internationally. Explanations for LGBTQ political distinctiveness have concentrated in three broad areas: selection, embeddedness, and conversion theories. While studies have provided supportive evidence for each hypothesis, the field has also increasingly turned to intersectional evaluations that admonish researchers to interrogate intragroup LGBTQ behavioral and attitudinal heterogeneity more fully. The infusion of intersectional theory into LGBTQ political research has revealed attitudinal and behavioral distinctions among sexual and gender minorities centered on axes of race and ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, and income, among others. The critical importance of disentangling the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity, the recognition of cross-cutting structures of oppression such as homophobia, sexism, and racism, and the emergence of subfields of LGBTQ political behavior are indicative of a burgeoning field of study. Looking to the future of LGBTQ political research, the political successes of the LGBTQ movement and evolving conceptions of sexual and gender identity have necessitated a reevaluation of LGBTQ political behavior in the 21st century. The continued diffusion of same-sex marriage, the electoral capture of LGBTQ voters, and the destabilization of identity categories that has been demanded by queer theory all pose unique challenges to the future of LGBTQ politics and political mobilization around the globe.

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LGBT Politics and the Legislative Process  

Donald P. Haider-Markel and Abigail Vegter

National, state, and local legislatures develop and debate most of the LGBT-related public policy in U.S. legislatures, which is also where LGBT groups can often best represent the interests of their community, even if the outcomes are not always ideal. Most of the progress on legislation that expands protections for LGBT people has occurred when advocates can garner at least some bipartisan support, and some issues, such as HIV/AIDS, have attracted significantly more bipartisan support. Although Democratic legislators have tended to be more supportive than Republican legislators, legislator behavior is influenced by a variety of forces, including constituency opinion, interest groups and lobbyists, and religious traditions, as well as personal and family experience.

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Mobilizing the Invisible: Power and Marginality in the Black LGBTQ Community  

Ravi K. Perry and Aaron D. Camp

Symbolic and structural inequities that seek to maintain White supremacy have sought to render Black LGBTQ Americans invisible in the body politic of powerful institutions that govern society. In the face of centuries-long oppression at the hands of the state, Black LGBTQ Americans have effectively mobilized to establish visibility on the national policymaking agenda. Members of this community have demonstrated a fierce resilience while confronting a violent anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ mainstream agenda narrative in media and politics. This sociopolitical marginalization—from members of their shared demographic, or not, is often framed in partisan or ideological terms in public discourse and in the halls of American political institutions. Secondary marginalization theory and opinion polling frame how personal identity and social experience shape the Black LGBTQ political movement’s expression of what participation in politics in the United States ought to earn them in return. Double-consciousness theory contextualizes the development of Black LGBTQ sociopolitical marginalization in the United States and the community’s responsive mobilization over time—revealing the impact of coalition building and self-identification toward establishing political visibility necessary to improve the lived conditions of the multiply oppressed.

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HIV/AIDS Politics and Policy in Europe  

Paul DeBell

HIV/AIDS in Europe highlights the centrality of politics at local, state, and international levels to the successes and failures in fighting transnational, global threats. Though several European states have led the international struggle against HIV/AIDS and have made great strides in treatment and prevention, others host the fastest-growing epidemics in the world. Even in states with long histories of treatment, specific subpopulations, including many LGBTQ communities, face growing epidemics. This variation matches trends in public policy, the actions of political leaders, and social structures of inequity and marginalization toward affected populations. Where leaders stigmatize people living with HIV (PLHIV) and associated groups, the virus spreads as punitive policies place everyone at increased risk of infection. Thus, this epidemic links the health of the general public to the health of the most marginalized communities. Mounting evidence shows that a human rights approach to HIV/AIDS prevention involving universal treatment of all vulnerable communities is essential to combating the spread of the virus. This approach has taken hold in much of Europe, and many European states have worked together as a political force to shape a global human rights HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention regime. Despite this leadership, challenges remain across the region. In some Eastern European states, tragic epidemics are spreading beyond vulnerable populations and rates of transmission continue to rise. The Russian case in particular shows how a punitive state response paired with the stigmatization of PLHIV can lead to a health crisis for the entire country. While scholars have shed light upon the strategies of political legitimization likely driving the scapegoating and stigmatization of PLHIV and related groups, there is an immediate need for greater research in transnational social mobilization to pressure for policies that combat these backward political steps. As financial austerity and defiant illiberalism spread across Europe, key values of universal treatment and inclusion have come into the crosshairs along with the European project more generally. Researchers and policymakers must therefore be vigilant as continued progress in the region is anything but certain. With biomedical advances and the advent of the “age of treatment,” widespread alleviation from the suffering of HIV/AIDS is a real possibility. Realizing this potential will, however, require addressing widespread political, social, and economic challenges. This in turn calls for continued interdisciplinary, intersectional research and advocacy.

Article

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Political Decision Making  

Ewa A. Golebiowska

Public opinion on LGBT Americans’ rights has become more supportive of equal treatment over time. The movement toward greater egalitarianism has been particularly pronounced on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and gay adoption. Today, the general public is overwhelmingly supportive of laws to protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, and legal recognition of same-sex marriages. It is also overwhelmingly supportive of legal protections for gay and lesbian employees, although we do not know whether abstract support for equality in the workplace translates into support for the hiring of gays and lesbians in all occupations. Yet, many questions concerning LGBT Americans’ rights remain controversial. The general public is especially polarized on the questions of whether transgender individuals should be able to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify and whether business owners in the wedding services industry can discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds. Systematic research on political attitudes of LGBT individuals using probability samples is practically nonexistent, although there are many studies of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals’ attitudes, identities, and behavior that use convenience samples. The existing studies demonstrate that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals tend to identify as ideologically liberal and favor the Democratic Party in their affinities and votes. LGBT Americans are far more supportive of equality in all issue domains although bisexuals—compared to lesbians and gay men—are more lukewarm in their embrace of equality on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Scholarship on LGBT Americans in public opinion has primarily explored attitudes toward gays and lesbians and has tended to focus on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and adoption. It examines psychological, political, and demographic correlates of public opinion regarding LGBT individuals and explores links between interpersonal contact with LGBT individuals and attitudes toward them. Generally speaking, moral traditionalism, gender role conceptions, and attributions for the existence of homosexuality are especially important psychological predictors of attitudes toward sexual and gender identity minorities. Partisan and ideological identities play an important role too as do cues from ideologically compatible political elites. Of the several demographic attributes that researchers have included in their models, religion-related variables stand out for their predictive prowess. Finally, interpersonal contact with sexual and gender minorities, as well as community exposure to LGBT individuals, is associated with more favorable views toward them. Another yardstick by which commitment to equal treatment for LGBT Americans could be measured is whether and how sexual orientation and gender identity influence political fortunes of candidates for electoral office. Scholarship to date suggests that sexual orientation and gender identity function as important heuristics that influence voters’ thinking about LGBT candidacies. Some scholarship mines survey questions that inquire about respondents’ willingness to support hypothetical LGBT candidates for office. Others use experimental design to isolate the influences of sexual orientation and gender identity on political evaluation. Altogether, these studies demonstrate that LGBT individuals do not face a level playing field when they launch campaigns for office.

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Attitudes Toward LGBT People and Rights in Africa  

Jocelyn M. Boryczka

Capturing the nuanced attitudes toward LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people and rights in Africa involves examining them from within and outside the African context. Constructions of the entire African continent as holding negative attitudes toward LGBT peoples and denying them any rights remain quite commonplace across the Global North. However, closer analysis of specific nation-states and regions complicates our understanding of LGBT people and rights in Africa. Advances in the global study of LGBT attitudes through tools such as the Global LGBTI Inclusion Index and the Global Acceptance Index survey African peoples’ beliefs about LGBT communities. These measures locate African attitudes about LGBT peoples within a comparative context to decenter assumptions and many inaccurate, often colonialist, constructions. Attitudinal measures also expose the gap between legislation securing formal rights and the beliefs driving peoples’ everyday practices. These measures further specify how African governments can, often in response to Western political and economic forces, leverage homophobia on a national level to serve their interests despite a misalignment with the population’s attitudes toward LGBT peoples. Nongovernmental organizations and advocates raise awareness about LGBT rights and issues to impact socialization processes that shape these attitudes to generate political, social, and economic change. A rights-based approach and research on attitudes emerging from the African context represent shifts critical to better understanding how LGBT peoples and rights can be more effectively advanced across the continent.

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LGBTQ Politics in Media and Culture  

Thomas J. Billard and Larry Gross

As the primary vector by which society tells itself about itself, popular media transmit ideas of what behavior is acceptable and whose identities are legitimate, thereby perpetuating and, at times, transforming the social order. Thus, media have been key targets of LGBT advocacy and activism and important contributors to the political standing of LGBT people. Of course, media are not a monolith, and different types of media inform different parts of society. Community media have been an important infrastructure through which gays and lesbians and, separately, transgender people formed shared identities and developed collective political consciousness. Political media, such as newspapers, news websites, and network and cable television news broadcasts, inform elites and the mass public alike, making them an important influence on public opinion and political behavior. Entertainment media, such as television and film, cultivate our culture’s shared values and ideas, which infuse into the public’s political beliefs and attitudes. Generally speaking, the literature on LGBTQ politics and the media is biased toward news and public affairs media over fictional and entertainment media, though both are important influences on LGBTQ citizens’ political engagement, as well as on citizens’ public opinion toward LGBTQ rights and their subsequent political behaviors. In the case of the former, media—particularly LG(BT) community media—have played an important role in facilitating the formation of a shared social and then political identity, as well as fueling the formation of, first, separate gay and lesbian and transgender movements and then a unified LGBTQ movement. Moreover, digital media have enabled new modes of political organizing and exercising sociopolitical influence, making LGBTQ activism more diverse, more intersectional, more pluralistic, and more participatory. In the case of the latter, (news) media representations of LGBTQ individuals initially portrayed them in disparaging and disrespectful ways. Over time, representations in both news and entertainment media have come to portray them in ways that legitimate their identities and their political claims. These representations, in turn, have had profound impacts on public opinion toward LGBTQ rights and citizens’ LGBTQ-relevant voting behavior. Yet, the literature on these representations and their effects overwhelmingly focuses on gays and lesbians at the expense of bisexual and transgender people, and this work is done primarily in U.S. and Anglophone contexts, limiting our understanding of the relationships between LGBTQ politics and the media globally.