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.
Mitchell Dylan Sellers
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.
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.