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Federalism and LGBT Politics and Policy in the United States  

Jami K. Taylor, Donald P. Haider-Markel, and Daniel C. Lewis

The LGBT policymaking process in the United States is fragmented and LGBT citizens face different policy contexts depending on which local government and state they reside in. With a lack of national consensus on LGBT rights and the country’s federal political system, which allows states to have substantial policymaking authority, policymakers have created a diverse and decentralized set of policies. Indeed, this governmental system significantly shapes the opportunity structure for the adoption of LGBT inclusive policy. It allows for remarkable LGBT rights advances in some states and localities, but little to no progress in others. States in the Northeast and on the West Coast tend to have more LGBT inclusive policies than those in the South or Midwest. In some instances, localities in states that lack inclusive policies engage in compensatory policymaking to provide added LGBT protections. However, the ability of localities to do this is shaped by state law concerning home rule authority and whether the state legislature has decided to proscribe such action. When trying to advance LGBT rights policy, advocates must venue-shop for favorable policymaking circumstances. Favorable circumstances commonly include institutional control by Democrats or municipalities with greater diversity, higher education levels, and more people engaged in management, business, science, and arts occupations. Opponents to LGBT rights are engaged in venue-shopping as well, but they normally hold the defensive advantage of maintaining the status quo. Both proponents and opponents of LGBT rights have used the court systems of states and the national government to shape LGBT rights related policy.

Article

Theoretical Perspectives on LGBT Representation and Party Politics  

Paul Snell

LGBT people have gone from being a “politics” to a “people” from the end of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st. They were mostly excluded from public life, and reduced to their sexuality. And when they weren’t reduced, they were restricted. Legislatures, not only failed to protect LGBT people from discrimination, but created new barriers for them under the guise of “protecting” the presumed heterosexual and cisgender basis of society. In America, the Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA) and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) are the most consequential examples of legislative action that treats LGBT people as morality issues rather than citizens. As LGBT people have gone from the margins to the center of public life, however, their political status changed. LGBT people are no longer a sexuality—but a constituency. There is an undisputed electoral connection. Legislators act on behalf of LGBT constituents in symbolic and substantive ways ranging from membership in LGBT caucuses in their chambers, to voting for bills that clearly help LGBT citizens in specific ways. They also exert pressure on representatives for whom they share no electoral connection, and who are not themselves LGBT. These allies act for LGBT citizens because they it aligns with ideological beliefs in justice and equity. This growth in activity has not only been limited to the US Congress, but has also occurred in US state legislatures and around the world. Activity has not always been synonymous with success, as the US Congress’s long struggle to pass an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that is inclusive of all aspects of the “LGBT” umbrella demonstrates. Nevertheless, LGBT voters are no longer “an issue”, but a part of the polity. Now that “LGBT” is an established political group there are serious questions that need to be addressed about what is being represented—and why it matters.

Article

Executives, Executive Politics, and the LGBTQ Community  

Mitchell Dylan Sellers

Executives in the United States influence politics and policies involving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. While this is more of a modern phenomenon, presidents and governors actively shape politics that directly influence the community. This allows executives to set the tone of discourse and the eventual result of LGBTQ politics. Most presidents in modern times shaped debate surrounding LGBTQ rights in a positive light, but President Trump’s tone and policies go against recent trends. Executives on every level of government can shape, and have shaped, LGBTQ politics using formal powers, such as executive orders, administrative orders, directives, memorandums, and councils. The various executive documents allow executives to directly set policy through orders or to provide guiding philosophy for how policy should operate. Councils and advisory boards inform executives by providing expertise that executives need to create sound policy. Executives rely on each of the policymaking tools to varying degrees, but all presidents and governors have the ability to use the powers. One often ignored way executives influence policy is by setting the agenda by “going public” to bring the issue to everyday citizens. Executives have shaped many policies that directly affect the LGBTQ community, but three policy areas deserve special focus: the ban on gay and transgender service members in the military, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and nondiscrimination protections. In each of these cases, multiple executives have stepped in to shape policy and enforcement of regulations. In some cases, this is for the better. For instance, nondiscrimination policies came about in many states using gubernatorial executive orders. In other situations, executive action, or inaction, worked to the detriment of LGBTQ individuals, such as the failure of the Reagan administration to respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Executives have influenced policy and implementation of policies since the 1970s. This influence is likely to continue for decades to come, not just with these issues, but in many policy areas that affect the lives of LGBTQ individuals.

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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

Regulation of Sexuality in the Global South  

Michelle L. Dion

Government regulation of sexuality includes prohibitions on same-sex intimacy, formation of families, and related rights of LGBT+ people due to their sexual orientation or gender identities. Countries in the Global South tend to lag behind those in the Global North in the recognition of LGBT+ rights, which overall tend to expand incrementally over time in response to LGBT+ activism, diffusion of international norms, and national economic, political and social context. Basic civil rights, including legalization of same-sex intimacy and marriage, are often a necessary precondition for LGBT+ access to the political right to organize and mobilize as an interest group as well as other social rights, such as health care and parental rights. In the developing world, Argentina and South Africa have been regional leaders in LGBT+ rights, and Latin America countries have tended to broaden protections earlier than countries at similar levels of development in Sub-Saharan Africa or Asia. Overall, in the early 21st century, the landscape of LGBT+ civil rights changed rapidly, while some political and social rights still lag behind.

Article

U.S. Military Service and LGBT Policy  

Marissa Reilly, Elizabeth L. Hillman, and Elliot Koltnow

Examining the evolution of U.S military policy reveals how debates about the rights and opportunities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have been shaped by military personnel policies, federal laws, and cultural practices within military units. LGBT individuals have experienced U.S. military service through regulatory regimes that have often defined them as burdensome deviants and denied them civil rights enjoyed by other service members. LGBT people have served as volunteers and conscripts, openly and in the closet. Key periods of U.S. military history for LGBT service include World War II, the Cold War, as well as the Vietnam War era, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) regime (1994–2010), and the post-DADT period (2011 and beyond). During these periods of time, the armed forces and the United States reassessed the regulation of the service of LGBT service members and implemented changes that affected the rights, opportunities, and safety of LGBT military personnel and potential recruits. Those changes traced a path from outright exclusion of open service by LGBT persons to exemption, under which LGBT persons may serve under certain conditions, which often included the threat of expulsion, punishment, and extra-legal violence. In the post-DADT period, inclusion, or open service by some, but not all, LGBT groups, was made legal and safer through changes in law and military regulations and training that protected against some types of gender-identity and sexual orientation discrimination. Because serving openly in the military is a sign of full citizenship in the United States as well as a means of achieving economic security, eliminating limits on LGBT military service has long been a focus of advocates for civil rights. Military service has been perceived as proving a citizen’s loyalty and patriotism as well as offering material and social advancement. With many LGBT people at greater risk of unemployment, homelessness, and premature death as a result of violence and social ostracism, military service has been an especially critical opportunity for political and economic advancement. Honoring this history and identifying existing trends can help the United States, other nations, and international organizations to adapt their policies in recognition of gender and sexual diversity. Even when excluded by formal policy, people have found ways to serve, sometimes at great personal risk. Although their labor is officially lauded as an asset, their contributions and needs have not been fully recognized or appreciated by the state they pledged to serve. As the nation’s largest employer and provider of structural resources, the U.S. military’s support of LGBT military personnel and veterans matters greatly to social equity for a still-vulnerable LGBT population.

Article

State-Level Public Opinion and Public Policy on LGBT Issues  

Sarah Poggione

Initial research at the state level argued that there was little relationship between citizen preferences and policy. Later work successfully contested this view. First using state demographics or party voting as proxies for state opinion and then later developing measures of state ideology and measures of issue-specific state opinion, scholars found evidence that state policy is responsive to public preferences. However, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) policies are often recognized as distinct from other policy areas like economic, welfare, and regulatory issues. Scholars note that LGBT policies, due to their high saliency and relative simplicity, promote greater public input. Research on LGBT policies demonstrates the effects of both ideology and issue-specific opinion, exploring how the linkage between opinion and policy differs across more and less salient policy areas. This work also examines how political institutions and processes shape democratic responsiveness on LGBT issues. Recent research also considers how LGBT policies shape public opinion. While these strands in the literature are critical to understanding LGBT politics in the United States, they also contribute to the understanding of the quality of democratic governance in the U.S. federal system and the mechanics of the linkage between public opinion and policy.

Article

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.

Article

LGBT and Queer Politics in the Commonwealth  

Matthew Waites

The Commonwealth is the international governmental organization of states that emerged from the British empire, and since 2000 it has emerged as a focus for contestation relating to the regulation of same-sex sexualities, gender diversity, and diverse sex characteristics. Following colonial criminalizations focused on same-sex sexual acts, and later formal decolonizations, there have appeared many national movements for decriminalization and human rights in relation to sexuality and gender. The Commonwealth has emerged as a site of politics for some significant actors claiming human rights in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics. This has been led by specific organizations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, increasingly with intersex people and allies, but it is also important to consider this in relation to queer people, understood more broadly here as people in all cultures experiencing forms of sexualities, biological sex and genders outside the social structure of heterosexuality, and its associated sex and gender binaries. A range of forms of activist and non-governmental organization (NGO) engagement have occurred, leading to shifts in Commonwealth civil society and among some state governments. This has required researchers to develop analyses across various scales, from local and national to international and transnational, to interpret institutions and movements. The British Empire criminalized same-sex sexual acts between males, and to a lesser extent between females, across its territories. In certain instances there were also forms of gender regulation, constraining life outside a gender binary. Such criminalization influenced some of those claiming LGBT human rights to engage the Commonwealth. Research shows that a majority of Commonwealth states continue to criminalize some adult consensual same-sex sexual activity. Yet the history of struggles for decriminalization and human rights within states in the Commonwealth has led up to such recent important decriminalizations as in India and Trinidad and Tobago in 2018. LGBT and queer activist engagements of the Commonwealth itself commenced in 2007 when Sexual Minorities Uganda and African allies demanded entry to the Commonwealth People’s Space during a Heads of Government meeting in Kampala. Activism has often focused on the biannual Heads of Government meetings that are accompanied by civil society forums. A particularly significant phenomenon has been the emergence of a “new London-based transnational politics of LGBT human rights,” evident in the creation from 2011 of new NGOs working internationally from the United Kingdom. Among these organizations was the Kaleidoscope Trust, which shaped the subsequent formation of The Commonwealth Equality Network as an international network of NGOs that became formally recognized by the Commonwealth. Significant developments occurred at the London Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April 2018; Prime Minister Theresa May expressed “regret” for past imperial criminalizations while announcing funding for Kaleidoscope Trust and other UK-based groups to use in international law reform work. These developments exemplify a wider problematic for both activists and analysts, concerning how LGBT and queer movements should engage in contexts that are still structured by imperial legacies and power relations associated with colonialism, persisting in the present.

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Europe’s Supranational Courts and LGBT Rights  

M. Joel Voss

Europe has some of the most powerful human rights legal institutions in the world including two supranational human rights courts—the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights and the European Union’s Court of Justice (hereafter, together—the Courts). After decades of relative quiet, the Courts have begun hearing more cases concerning LGBT rights. Judgments of the Courts have advanced some facets of LGBT rights like anti-discrimination in the workplace while disappointing gay-rights advocates in other areas, for example family life and asylum. Scholarship on European courts and LGBT rights is not as developed as scholarship on norm advocacy or policy diffusion within states in Europe. The research that does exist looks at how decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice deal with current European law, how the institutions are designed, or how the supranational courts may act as agents of change or status quo institutions in shaping wider European behavior. This lack of newer research on the Courts presents ample opportunity for new avenues of research that examines not only how decisions are made at the Courts but also how states implement decisions and how states view the legitimacy of each Court.

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The Evolution of Same-Sex Marriage Policy in the United States  

Sarah Poggione

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that same-sex couples have the right to marry, and newspapers across the country declared that gay couples could now exercise this right in all 50 states. While the Obergefell decision was an important moment in history and a significant victory for the LGBT movement, it was not an immediate and complete change in policy. Rather, the change emerged slowly over decades from numerous complex interactions among federal, state, and local governmental actors. These same actors continue to influence marriage equality even after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling. A careful consideration of the path of marriage equality demonstrates the importance of federalism in the evolution of policy in the U.S. context. Not only does the extent of federal involvement influence state decision-making, but state policies also respond to the policymaking processes in other states. Examining the progression of marriage rights for same-sex couples also illustrates how variation in state government institutions shape policy outcomes in the U.S. system. For example, aspects of state courts such as judicial capacity influence the nature of state policy responses on the issue of gay marriage. Finally, focusing on marriage equality provides an opportunity to consider how institutions of government and political actors strategically interact to influence the policymaking process. For example, advocacy coalitions make strategic choices to focus on levels and institutions of government that are more responsive to their interests. Overall, same-sex marriage policy and the scholarship that investigates it highlight the complex and sometimes convoluted development that characterizes the policymaking process on many important issues in American politics and society.

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LGBT Military Service Policies in the United States  

Andrew Goodhart and Jami K. Taylor

For most of its history, the U.S. military has maintained a policy of exclusion toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people serving in uniform. The justifications for these exclusions have included the view that being homosexual or transgender is a psychological disorder, that it undermines military morale and effectiveness, and a fear that LGBT people would be vulnerable to foreign espionage. Explicit policies banning consensual homosexual sex—and excluding from service those who engage in it—date to the period between World Wars I and II, but de facto efforts at exclusion have existed since the early days of the republic. Regulations governing homosexuals in the military came under pressure in the 1970s and 1980s as societal views toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people changed, and those LGB service members discharged under the policy increasingly challenged their treatment in court. (Public pressure to change regulations governing transgender people in the military arose mostly in the 2000s, though litigation efforts date to the 1970s.) In addition to general shifts in public and legal opinion, the debate over LGB people serving in the U.S. military was affected by the experience of foreign militaries that allow LGB people to serve. United States law began to loosen formal restrictions on LBG people serving in uniform with the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in 1994, but it still required LGB people to serve in secret. Changing public perceptions of LGB people and problems implementing the ban galvanized support for eliminating such restrictions. In 2010, President Obama signed legislation repealing DADT and removing all restrictions on LGB people serving in the military. However, transgender people do not enjoy the same rights. The Trump administration has revised Obama-era rules on transgender service members to enable greater exclusion. The issue is being contested in the courts and appears ripe for further political and legal dispute.