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North American and Australian LGBT Movement and Interest Groups

Summary and Keywords

A study of the LGBT movement within Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Australia reveals the movement’s youth and vitality. Only since the mid-1900s has there been what one might identify as an organized social movement within any of these four countries. A key similarity across the social movements in these four countries has been the formation of associated interest groups. These groups have transformed the LGBT movement. Scholarly research regarding the movement and its attendant interest groups reveals decades of growth and development. These changes over the years allow scholars to investigate topics such as how the LGBT movement compares to other social movements, how various sexual and gender minority communities have been incorporated into the larger movement, and how movement groups have utilized various strategies in pursuit of movement goals.

In the United States, the gay rights movement was one of a few distinct movements included within a larger new social movement. These various movements shared the fact they were organized around a goal of identity expression. (The extent to which a gay rights movement morphed into a broader LGBT movement is also an important part of the U.S. story.) In Canada, the modern movement for LGBT individuals exemplified a gradual process rising out of the post–World War era; it was attached to a rise in Quebecois nationalism and the growth of First Nations peoples’ rights movements. Conversely, Australia has seen a slower progression than Canada or the United States, in part because Australia has had a relatively inactive set of social rights movements over the same period. (There is evidence that Australian social rights movements came to consciousness more from a global than a domestic narrative.) Finally, with respect to Mexico, one might assume that LGBT successes there have lagged behind those in the United States because of a more vibrant social movement community in the United States and also because Mexicans are assumed by some to be more religious than residents of the United States. However, there is evidence that the LGBT movement has had greater electoral and policy successes in Mexico. This could in part be due to a history in Mexico of LGBT activists identifying with other revolutionary agents who sought broad structural changes in that country.

Keywords: activism/advocacy, AIDS, civil rights, homophobia, LGBT, Stonewall Riots, social reform, LGBT politics

United States

The roots of the LGBT movement in the United States can be traced to the homophile movement that arose after World War II (D’Emilio, 1998). The homophile movement consisted of gay men and lesbians who helped shape an urban gay subculture in the years following the Second World War. “Transformations induced by the war” caused “homosexuals and lesbians” to create “institutions that bolstered their identity” (D’Emilio, 1998, pp. 31–32.) Some of these institutions included the first organized groups centered on issues of interest to these individuals, most notably the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. The seminal work of John D’Emilio discusses this period in fascinating detail, as he uses historical research based upon carefully marshaled evidence (D’Emilio, 1998).

Following the formative years of the homophile movement, the lesbian and gay rights movements developed and can be understood as two of several distinct movements included within a larger new social movement (NSM) of the 1960s. Perhaps of most significance for understanding the topic at hand, the various movements within the NSM were similar because they organized around a goal of identity expression (Johnston, Larana, & Gusfield, 1994) However, there is much more that unites the movements within the NSM.1

Pichardo’s (1997) critical review of the theory and evidence surrounding NSMs is helpful for providing a foundational understanding of the LGBT social movement as well as how it relates to similarly situated social movements. He notes, “NSMs are said to be a product of the postmaterial age” (1997, p. 412). (However, he criticizes NSM theorists for excluding conservative movements from consideration.) In addition to the identity claims referenced by Johnston et al., “NSMs emphasize quality of life and life-style concerns” (1997, p. 414). In terms of tactics, NSMs employ “disruptive tactics and mobilize public opinion in order to gain political leverage” (1997, p. 415). The structure of NSMs tends to be open, decentralized, and nonhierarchical, and the participants tend to emerge from the “new middle class” (1997, p. 416). As will be seen below, these various elements of NSMs are reflected in how LGBT interest groups operate in the four countries under consideration.

Because the gay and lesbian rights movements share features with other social movements, it can be useful for researchers to utilize social-movement theory as a way to appreciate the challenges and successes and failures of these movements. In The Lesbian and Gay Movements: Assimilation or Liberation? (currently in its 2nd edition), Rimmerman (2015) does precisely that. He begins the story by discussing the earliest gay and lesbian interest groups of the 1950s and proceeds to walk the reader all the way through the second decade of the 21st century. In so doing, it becomes clear that gay and lesbian movements share various features in common with other social movements, including the fact that such movements focus on society’s most marginalized citizens and are typically decentralized. Furthermore, we learn that the gay and lesbian rights movements exhibited an assimilationist–accommodationist strategy until New York City’s Stonewall Riots, which occurred during the summer of 1969. This strategy is one that is insider-based; focuses on access to power; and prioritizes visibility, legal reform, and civil rights. The Riots energized a group of activists who believed that a new strategy was needed, one that was based on liberation. These activists prioritized the process of “coming out” (i.e., revealing one’s sexual orientation to family members and friends); a willingness to challenge traditional notions of sexism, family, and gender roles; an impetus to create an LGBT counterculture; and a connection to broader concerns related to economics, race, and gender. One group that manifested this strategy was the Gay Liberation Front. This splintering of the LGBT social movement into one that featured interest groups favoring one or the other of two distinct strategies, similar in nature to what has occurred with other social movements in the NSM, continues to this day.

Of course, it is often not possible to pigeonhole an interest group as having either an assimilationist–accommodationist or a liberation strategy. Hybrid groups do exist, as Haider-Markel (2010) notes in his study of gay and lesbian candidates and their representational activities. The Gay Activists Alliance, during the early 1970s, engaged in tactics derived from both strategies. One manifestation of the then burgeoning movement’s success was an increased number of openly lesbian and gay elected officials and electoral candidates. Haider-Markel uses both qualitative and qualitative methods to trace the development of the electoral success of such candidates and the impact they had in the area of political representation. It is important to note that he finds that as the marginalized members of the LGBT social movement secured electoral and representational success, they did also encounter anti-LGBT policy backlash from opposition groups, such as various elements from the Religious Right.2 The closing chapter of Haider-Markel’s book is useful in terms of guiding researchers toward topics of further research. In it, he acknowledges that his research design did not allow him to capture representational dynamics at the local level, nor did it allow him to understand candidates and legislators who belong to more than one marginalized group. Future scholars with interests related to the LGBT social movement would be wise to follow this guidance.

An overview of the LGBT social movement in the United States needs to incorporate discussion of the AIDS crisis and the movement’s role within it. Chris Bull and John Gallagher, correspondents for The Advocate, undertake an analysis of the rhetoric and strategies used by the gay rights movement and the Religious Right in Perfect Enemies (Bull & Gallagher, 1996). One thing that becomes clear in reading their rhetorical analysis is that the AIDS crisis helped gay rights groups recruit new activists and raise money. (One notable AIDS group was the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP.) The crisis also motivated the formation of new organizations to attend to the needs of sufferers.

The discussion thus far has centered on lesbian and gay rights groups in the United States. However, other elements within the LGBT social movement need to be added to the discussion. These include those who identify as bisexual, transgender, or queer, and the groups that organize around each of their interests. Pierceson uses a social movement framework “to understand how the movement and its opponents build and use grassroots activism and elite-based organizations to further their agendas” (Pierceson, 2016, p. 61). Although he traces a similar arc of development for gay and lesbian organizations to Rimmerman’s, he adds to the discussion by noting the positioning of transgender rights within the larger LGBT movement. Specifically, he notes that transgender rights organizations began forming in the 1950s and 1960s, largely separate from the homophile groups of that era (e.g., the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis). It was during the 1980s and 1990s that transgender rights groups started challenging lesbian and gay rights groups to contest the exclusion of transgender individuals. Pierceson also highlights the intersex movement. The term “intersex” refers to the idea that biological sex is a social construction. The intersex movement is not well developed, at least when compared to the transgender movement. The intersex movement tends to be expert/elite-driven, and it presents a radical challenge to the sex/gender binary.

As perhaps one could infer from the discussion thus far, often bisexuals receive minimal attention in LGBT research. Smith and his colleagues use a mixed-methods approach (surveys, interviews, participant observation, and modified ethnographic studies) to investigate the political attitudes and political activity of the polyamory and BDSM communities. Somewhat unexpectedly, they discovered that the identity of bisexuality intersected with the polyamory and BDSM communities in significant ways. In their survey, 53% of those who identified with the polyamory community and 62% of those who identified with the BDSM community also identified as bisexual. Their analysis suggests that bisexuals “are politically aware, they participate, and they have clear ideas about what direction the political system should take” (Smith et al., 2017, p. 103). Bisexuals “lack formal organizational structure and they lack a broader participation in an interest group sector” (Smith et al., 2017, p. 105). Smith et al. suggest that research questions regarding bisexuals merit greater attention. Such topics might include investigating the extent to which bisexuals are nested within other sexual minority communities, and what tactic bisexuals might use to achieve movement goals, as well as a prioritization of their policy preferences.

As for the transgender rights movement, Nownes explores the “state of transgender interest group advocacy in the United States” (Nownes, 2014, p. 83). He applies political opportunity theory and density dependence theory (borrowed from the disciplines of sociology and biology) to help explain population dynamics within an interest group population. He uses Poisson regression, with the number of groups as the dependent variable. He finds support for density dependence and its focus on competition (in that groups compete for finite resources). He charts the growth in the number of transgender interest groups, plus the LGBT groups that added transgender, from 1964 onward. He finds that there were a small number of groups up until the mid-1980s, then growth for 20 years, then decline. He suggests that the challenges confronting transgender groups include population stasis because of competition from transgender and LGBT groups, backlash, and taking the backseat in multi-issue LGBT groups. “Theories from political science and related disciplines can help us explain both why the transgender interest group population developed the way that it did and what we might expect from transgender rights interest group representation in the future” (Nownes, 2014, p. 104).

Taylor and Lewis explore how priorities are ranked within the LGBT rights social movement, as well as how this affects the fight for transgender rights. They draw on insights from the Advocacy Coalition Framework (Nownes, 2014), under which policy outcomes are determined by external events like elections and policy-oriented learning within coalitions. They are especially interested in the extent to which transgender nondiscrimination provisions have been removed from nondiscrimination bills or never included from the outset of the policymaking process. Through use of interviews with activists and policymakers, plus event history analysis of transgender protection policy, they find that transgender nondiscrimination was not part of the policy core during early years of LGBT rights activism. However, during the most recent decade, they note progress. Success is more likely when transgender nondiscrimination is pursued in combination with sexual orientation measures. It is important to note that a lack of familiarity with transgender people and issues remains a hurdle for members of this social movement.

Only in the early 21st century has what was once known as the LGBT movement come to be called by some the LGBTQ movement, the “Q” being the queer social movement. Queer interest groups “focus on organizing those at the bottom” (DeFilippis & Anderson-Nathe, 2017, p. 115). (One current such group is the National LGBTQ Task Force.) These include queer people of color, low-income queers, LGBT immigrants, and/or transgender individuals. Working alone and sometimes with Anderson-Nathe, DeFilippis engages in a qualitative content analysis to study queer liberation organizations. These are distinct from groups that are a part of the gay and lesbian movements, which are criticized for prioritizing the interests of Caucasian, middle-class, gender-conforming, wealthy gay men and lesbians. Instead, these queer groups focus on the interests of the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ community, such as the intersex community discussed above. Often queer groups organize around issues related to social services and public assistance, criminal justice, and immigration. DeFilippis and Anderson-Nathe find that these groups operate along the murky line between social service delivery and activism, nonhierarchical organizing, and creating organizational structures that transform power relations. Their findings with respect to non–gay rights movement organizations reveal that “LGBT lives are . . . much more complicated than hegemonic unidimensional notions have captured” (DeFilippis & Anderson-Nathe, 2017, p. 131). It is important to note that investigation of the practices of non–gay rights movement organizations emerged from work done by the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice (ALFfJ), which is one among several organizations that support LGBT research through use of grant funds. A small sample of other such organizations includes the American Psychological Foundation’s Wayne F. Placek Grant, The Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law, National Institutes of Health, and others. Researchers can be well served by investigating these and other funding organizations to determine whether their research agenda aligns with an organization’s funding mission and, if so, to solicit financial support.


When considering the LGBT movements of the Anglophile world, we must consider the notion that social movements do not happen in a vacuum. The success or failure of these movements is often predicated on the attachment to other social consciousness raising movements. For Canadians, the push for a constitutional act that established the rights of all citizens in both the French- and English-speaking spheres built a space for other social movements to gain traction, including the LGBT community. In the Canadian experience, members of the LGBT community have experienced limitations on rights similar to what takes place in other countries. Although they fared better than members of the community in other countries, they were still aggressively persecuted, as Everitt and Camp (2014) document in their quantitative analysis of LGBT candidates in federal and provincial elections. This experience led Canada’s LGBT community to advocate for an advancement of rights, which lobbying reached its peak in the 1980s and 1990s. The visibility of the LGBT movement in this time moved onto a national scale, advocating and debating political issues such as relationship recognition and same-sex marriage. This is demonstrated through the multi-scalar perspective that Grundy and Smith (2005) adopt. They do so while using qualitative case studies of gay and lesbian organizing at the urban level and also at the pan-Canadian level. However, the movement did not simply expand out of nowhere, and took decades to advance to the pan-Canadian scale.

Although it would be the 30 years that would follow that would serve as the main crux of Canada’s LGBT movement, there was a modest push to attain visibility in the mid-1960s. Starting with a series of publications, movies, radio programs, and speeches of leading theorists from both Canada and the United States, the Canadian LGBT movement was not so much a push for equal rights as it was for a push for recognition (McLeod, 1996). This push for visibility brought with it reluctance from the religious and conservative members of Canadian society who fought not with policy, but with media engagements of their own (McLeod, 1996). In response, the homosexual community in Canada worked with religious leaders in early 1965 to form the Canadian Council on Religion and the Homosexual, which sought to help people who identified as gay to come to terms with their “spiritual problems” (McLeod, 1996). At the same time, leading gay activist groups in Canada were engaging with activists in the United States in an attempt to push for a more unified movement (McLeod, 1996). In the Canadian context, the groundwork was being laid for a movement that crossed multiple boundaries to achieve specific rights. Yet this kind of advocacy was not sustained as the domestic and international scope changed over the following decade, and a more radicalized movement against LGBT activists materialized.3

In 1968, the ardent turn against homosexuality reared against gay advocacy. In June, anti-gay campaigns were launched against Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, leading to the federal elections of that year, labeling Trudeau a promoter of sexual deviation and a “beast of Sodom” for his government’s support of the decriminalization of homosexual acts (McLeod, 1996). Over the next few years, ongoing debates of the alteration of Canada’s decency laws stymied gay advocacy and caused advocates to reach out to lesbians, minority religious actors, the Francophile and agnostic members of Quebecois society, and other excluded identities to maintain any level of momentum (McLeod, 1996). As another and potentially more violent rights movement grew in the heart of Quebec (the one for independence), the LGBT movement was pushed from the forefront of national attention.

One of the most volatile decades for Canadians was the 1970s. Aside from ongoing international turmoil such as the involvement of the United States in Vietnam, Canada was dealing with domestic unrest from the Quebec Liberation Front (QLF) that had been pushing for Quebecois independence. The decade and a half of turbulence surrounding the Quebecois independence question opened the door for multiple interests to advance their causes. This decade has come to be known as the liberationalist4 phase as multiple groups gained national attention, leading to the creation of various policies and parliamentary agendas (Nash, 2006). For LGBT movements in this time, there was very little traction at the end of the 1960s, except in one province, Quebec. Within that province, an already growing language-based movement was pushing for more rights, and the provincial movement for LGBT rights (based mostly on the rights of gay men) was building and had attached itself to the social awareness building from the linguistic organizing (Grundy & Smith, 2005). This is unsurprising because the province was already a hotspot for social awareness organizers and radical politics when compared to the rest of the country. Although Quebec did not gain independence, the LGBT movement was able to parlay the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 for citizen rights into a vocalization of LGBT rights in the following decade (Kollman & Waites, 2009). For LGBT activists of this era, liberationist policies “promoted an agenda that claimed to work for the sexual liberation of all, both homosexual and heterosexual, and the eradication of distinctive, exclusively gay spaces” (Nash, 2006). This is an important distinction to make, as there is an indication of not just gay rights but also the convergence of a national LGBT movement that would, in time, come to Canadian federal politics. Perhaps most indicative that these movements are interlinked is that in 1993, Réal Ménard, an MP from the Bloc Québécois, became the second member of Canadian Parliament to announce that he was gay, followed in 1998 by Agnès Maltais, a cabinet minister from Quebec, who announced that she was a lesbian (Everitt & Camp, 2014). These announcements are commensurate with the peak of LGBT organizing in Canada.

Out of this peak arose a new generation of organizers. Much like the rise of homophobia elsewhere, Canada faced a resurgence of homophobia in the early 2000s (Warner, 2002). In response, the younger generations of LGBT Canadians have returned to tried-and-true methods of advancing their message in a social context. These organizers have attached themselves to the intersectionality of religion, ethnicity, and age (Grundy & Smith, 2005). Within the last decade, Canada has become a global leader on the advancement of LGBT rights. This is perhaps the key difference between Canada’s experience and those of similar countries. Because there is such a focus based on rights, not only in a religious context but also in the context of nation-building projects built in language, it is difficult to push back against one set of rights without pushing into others (Smith, 2007). By contrast, in other countries, such as the United States, rights are constructed through discursive and complex public policy framed in morality, as Smith (2007) argues in her postpositivist policy analysis. Perhaps for this reason, Canada (along with Nordic states) has come to be seen as an international leader in LGBT rights.

This is indicated by the fact that in 2006, Canada hosted the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights and sought to eliminate all forms of sexual and gendered discrimination (Kollman & Waites, 2009). In the 1970s this would not have been possible, but the overarching move toward acceptance has made Canada an ardent supporter of the movements both domestically and internationally (Everitt & Camp, 2014).5 This again indicates that LGBT rights are examined in a wider spectrum of civil rights actions, such as those based not in sexual orientation, but in gender discrimination. This conference came on the heels of the expansion of marriage rights to LGBT couples in 2005. This push for expansion of marriage rights came out of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 (Kollman & Waites, 2009). The Charter advances the rights of all Canadians and, among other rights, largely pushes for the rights of French Canada and establishes the national languages of English and French.6 Because Canada’s constitution has a built-in sense of modern liberalism, the capacity for organizing social movements in this manner is perhaps easier in Canada than it is in other countries, as Smith suggests in her case study of lesbian and gay politics in Canada (Smith, 2005). Because these acts were being used to articulate the rights of Canadians, the 1982 acts likewise increased the push for LGBT rights in Canada.

However, the fight for expansion of LGBT rights is far from over in Canada. As the next decade dawns, Canada still has to reconcile gaps in the rights of elderly LGBT citizens, minority LGBT citizens, and members of First Nations’ Peoples who identify as members of the LGBT community. Fobear uses “a post-colonial theoretical lens to critically investigate the asylum process for sexual and gender minority refugees” (Fobear, 2014, p. 48). She argues that it is important to note that First Nations peoples have well documented social and human rights movements ongoing in Canada and were also members of groups trying to gain rights at the same time as Francophile Canada, LGBT, and other minority groups during the 1960s and 1970s. While politicians were announcing sexual orientation in the 1990s, Canada was simultaneously denying refugee status to asylum seekers based on sexual orientation (Fobear, 2014). Also, Canadian youth, although having advanced into the LGBT movement, have not fully become a force within the larger context (Grundy & Smith, 2005).7 As indicated by the attachment to Quebecois independence movements, the ongoing success of Canada’s LGBT activists is attributed to their capacity to frame the issue of lesbian and gay rights in particular ways, ensuring the success of their advocacy (Smith, 2007). Again, the overlap of social movements is crucial to the success or failure of groups seeking to expand their rights within Canada.

There is also the ongoing issue of HIV/AIDS in the Canadian context. One set of researchers who have done work in this area uses a structural perspective in their effort to argue for a more inclusive form of health promotion for gendered and sexually diverse populations. With this perspective, Mulé et al. (2009) investigate the framing of Canadian health promotion policy discourse as well as internalized and externalized forms of oppression. Their critical analysis of Canadian health goals reveals that LGBT people are short-changed, thus resulting in healthcare inequalities.

When considering the overall trajectory of the movements and the approach of study in Canadian politics, an important aspect is that movements weave and interconnect, but they can also cause points of contention. Government officials often have to make the decision between focusing on one set of rights over others, and in Canada this can often be the case. While addressing First Nation rights, LGBT or Francophile rights might be ignored or pushed off the main focus of the government, even if those movements have similar or connected complaints. Rayside (2014) indicates this exact problem, suggesting that while education policies in Canada have begun to reflect more inclusive LGBT policies, provincial education ministries are reluctant to develop policies that target marginalization at the risk of excluding other groups. The study of Canadian LGBT politics also follows that trajectory as the ebb and flow of movements can directly impact the focus of scholars on such issues. Contained within these moments, there must also be consideration that political leadership focuses on what they view to be the most important issues, thus relegating one movement to a subsidiary position, even if that movement was the catalyst for the other movements. Scholars must take careful consideration of these facts when attempting to dissect the potentially complicated, interconnected movements.


Australia has seen a slower progression than Canada or the United States, in part because Australia has had a relatively inactive set of social rights movements over the same period. Also, its social movements arise from a global consciousness rather than domestic narrative, as Power (2011) demonstrates through her discussion of Australia’s AIDS crisis, based upon her analysis of print and interview sources. Having gained the right to same-sex marriages in 2017 (the United States gained the right fully in 2015, while Canada recognized it officially in 2005), Australia’s movement on the matter seems to have been quite slow. However, LGBT activism is not a new experience in Australia. Significant pushes for LGBT rights in Australia can be traced to the 1970s. In tribute to the Stonewall Riots, Australia’s gay community held a day of national activism in 1978, as Markwell (2002) notes in his case study of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. These commemorations were met with antagonism from both political and police forces (Markwell, 2002). As the movement grew in subsequent years, this treatment was altered, giving the movement some level of traction. However, this traction was limited and did not maintain the momentum of other movements within Australia into the early 1980s.

Although the commemoration of the Stonewall Riots did provide homosexual visibility in Australia, it did not achieve a significant level of equality of rights for members of Australia’s gay community (Markwell, 2002). For Australia’s LGBT community, the movement continued to attract visibility, but not traction, as the Stonewall Riots continued to be remembered in Australia. However, a shift occurred when gay rights festivals, known as Mardi Gras, in larger Australian cities moved to balmier summer months and attracted an aspect of global tourism, particularly from Western, middle-class whites (Markwell, 2002). It was not until 2001, however, that the movement gained significant national attention, in part because the movement expanded outside of the white, middle-class LGBT community by inviting many ethnic communities into the gay rights movements (Markwell, 2002). Although the path has been slow for the LGBT community in Australia, the sustained organization of festivals over three decades and the subsequent invitation for gay-centered tourism has caused Australian governance to push for more LGBT-friendly policies to sustain the income generated by such tourism (Markwell, 2002). This, however, has been problematized since the LGBT community of Australia, though enjoying the advancement of rights, is reluctant to gain these rights at the expense of tourist-based capitalism, which in turn creates certain cultural pressures to conform to other societal norms (Markwell, 2002). This could be a part of the reason that movement on LGBT rights in Australia has been so slow, as they are not simply being organized by activists, but rather are a hybridization of activism and governmental oversight that plans in the name of economy rather than simply basic human rights.

Although the commemorations of Stonewall were expanding into a national phenomenon and altering the tourism landscape, another issue arose that gave visual representation to Australia’s gay community. In a narrative that is not dissimilar from the United States, 1982 brought to Australia reports of an unknown lethal disease that seemed to impact the gay community more than others in the nation (Power, 2011). Though it was unknown at the time, the disease was AIDS. As the decade wore on, much as in the United States, the Australian media labeled AIDS as a gay disease and, with the lack of a strong LGBT advocacy movement, there was little combatting the strong anti-gay sentiments that grew across Australia (Power, 2011). However, it was not just the non-LGBT community of Australia that responded to the AIDS outbreak. Reynolds’s (2009) case study of Sydney’s Oxford Street, an LGBT neighborhood, demonstrates that it caused the gay neighborhoods in Sydney and Melbourne to become vacant for fear of catching the disease. In response, social activists began to push back against the stigmas of the gay community in Australia. This response, however, was not for the advancement of gay rights, but rather an advocacy against homophobia, as well as for raising AIDS awareness, which became the focal point of LGBT advocacy through the mid-1990s, not unlike the progression of the movement in the United States (Power, 2011). Growing out of this experience and the loss that the gay and lesbian community experienced during the 1980s and early 1990s, modern gay advocacy in Australia is not solely focused on gay rights, but rather pushes for recognition of the losses that the community faced while the Australian government turned a blind eye to the AIDS epidemic (Power, 2011). The parallels between the Australian LGBT experiences with those in other places are indicative of a larger narrative on Australia’s LGBT advocacy.

Australia, more than many other Western cases, has needed a much larger global context to achieve LGBT rights. As such, LGBT activists in Australia have relied heavily on the intersectionality of the global and the local to achieve their goals (Markwell, 2002). An ongoing problem with the movement in Australia is the global aspect, which could be holding back the progress that has been enjoyed in other Western states. Because the inclusiveness of minority groups in the LGBT movement is a recent phenomenon in Australia, there is still a disconnect between minority rights and LGBT rights that keeps the global tourism aspect a central focus of the movement (Markwell, 2002). Further, although there has been a push for gay rights, the gendered nature of the movement precludes significant involvement of lesbian and transgender activists (Markwell, 2002). It was not until a spate of anti-gay violence in traditionally gay communities in the early 2000s that a concerted convergence of LGBT rhetoric occurred to drown out the homophobic hyperbole that was sweeping the nation (Reynolds, 2009). Yet even as other anti-rhetoric (such as that against Muslims) arose, there has not seemingly been a crossover of movements (Reynolds, 2009). As other cases have indicated, there needs to be attachment to other movements to create a wider spectrum for activism. Australians, however, have been seemingly more reluctant to conjoin movements to one another, and that could be considered part of a possible reason for the listless pace of advocacy when compared to that in similar countries.

Studying movements in Australia can present even more problems than in other nations, as scholars often need to understand the global context, such as the successes and failures elsewhere, before understanding why the movement gains motion in Australia. In some sense, studying LGBT politics in Australia almost becomes an exercise in international dynamics, in that what happens in another sphere directly impacts what happens in Australian social rights movements. Failure to notice relationships, particularly in the Anglophile world, can lead to inaccurate understandings or critical misinterpretation on the sequence of events when investigating movements in Australia.


Finally, with respect to Mexico, although one might assume that LGBT successes there have lagged behind those in the United States, because of a vibrant social movement community in the United States and also because of a vibrant social movement community in the United States and also because of what some have called Mexican Catholics “rabid religiosity” (Argen, 2016). However, there is evidence that the LGBT movement has had greater electoral and policy successes in Mexico (Beer & Cruz-Aceves, 2018). This could in part be due to a history in Mexico of LGBT activists identifying with other revolutionary agents who sought broad structural changes in that country (de la Dehesa, 2007).

In a comparative case study of Argentina, Mexico, and Chile, Díez (2015) seeks to explain cross-national policy variation in gay marriage recognition in Latin America. This project helps inform our overview of the LGBT social movement in Mexico. These three countries were chosen because they share certain characteristics (such as urbanization, education levels, and industrialization), and therefore the factors that explain policy variance can be better identified. The first homosexual group that was founded in Mexico was the Movimiento de Liberacíon Homosexual (Homosexual Liberation Movement); it had to operate underground because of the policy of repression enacted by President Echeverría. Furthermore, the Mexican cultural context during the 20th century was one where homosexuality was “publicly decried” but some fluidity between heterosexual and homosexual behavior often existed in private (Díez, 2015, p. 87).

Harassment during the rule of Echeverría prompted Mexican activists to pursue collective action. By the late 1970s, three groups had formed, and those groups started to undertake public actions (e.g., demonstrations), and by 1979 the first gay pride parade in Latin America was held in Mexico City. Contemporaneously, gay-themed novels were published; gay plays were produced; and a Gay Cultural Week was held in Mexico City. In 1982, a couple of activists ran for public office. This was significant because a political party was open to their candidacy. As in Argentina, intellectuals from the disciplines of sociology and philosophy, as well as writers, influenced the movement’s discourse and strategy. “Some Mexican activists embraced struggles against patriarchy as a central component of their militancy” (Díez, 2015, p. 90). Once the movement’s groups had attained visibility, in the mid-1980s there was a splintering between groups such as Lambda, which wanted gradual social change through political institutions, and Frente Homosexual de Acciό‎n Revolucionaria (FHAR), which wanted social revolutionary change. This splintering mirrors what happened in the United States in the years following the Stonewall Riots. But when HIV/AIDS devastated the movement’s leadership, organizations shifted from visibility to survival. At that time, linkages with other organizations, including feminist ones, emerged. Confrontation with public agencies gave way to collaboration in the mid-1990s and the “professionalization and institutionalization of the movement” (Díez, 2015, p. 95). The democratization process going on in the country presented an opening to the gay and lesbian movements to press for policy reforms. However, it did take longer in Mexico than in Argentina because this democratization process was protracted.

One can also understand the LGBT social movement in the Mexican case by focusing on certain public policy developments. With respect to antidiscrimination policy reform, the Forum on Sexual Diversity and Human Rights in 1998, pulled together by a legislator from Mexico City, led to “thickening networks” of state actors, feminists, academics, lawyers, and gay activists (Díez, 2015, p. 154). As in Argentina, the movement’s activists decided to focus on publicizing instances of discrimination, which ultimately led to policy changes in Mexico City. For the activists, this demonstrated the utility of a focus on rights-based discourse. With respect to civil unions and same-sex marriage, a case study executed by Lozano (2013) is instructive. Lozano’s case study of Mexico offers a comparison of Mexico City alongside the northern state of Coahuila. In Mexico City, a combination of a leftist mayor and a leftist-domination legislative assembly plus vigorous participation of LGBT organizations, supported by the intellectual elite and the mainstream media were required to bring about positive change with respect to civil unions. However, in Coahuila, politics were conducted in a “closed . . . clientelistic manner . . . where a strong network of LGBT organizations was absent” (Lozano, 2013, p. 163). Despite the absence of a strong network, initiative passage was secured.

Finally, as is the case with other countries discussed in this entry, researchers have explored HIV/AIDS in the Mexican context. Torres-Ruiz (2011) uses a policy network analysis in conjunction with a human rights perspective as a way to understand the struggle for sexual health among sexual minorities in Mexico. He shows that policy networks—“permeable clusters of interdependent organizations and individual actors”—have mobilized resources in order to successfully advocate for sexual minorities’ rights (Torres-Ruiz, 2011, p. 37.)


Many of the aforementioned cases indicate that LGBT movements are often related to other social causes within a given country’s borders. Likewise, LGBT movements within countries do not occur in vacuums in relation to others in the international system. As such there needs to be a recognition of global LGBT movements and acknowledgment that these movements influence the capacity of social actors to gain traction within these cases. Commensurate with the cases examined in this article, the global contextualization of LGBT movements gained significant traction in the West during the 1960s and 1970s (Kollman & Waites, 2009). Growing out of the decriminalization movements of the Nordic countries in the 1950s, the Anglophile world and the LGBT rights movements adopted the language of human rights reforms and advocacy during the two decades that followed (Kollman & Waites, 2009). The experiences of Canada, Australia, and the United States in the 1970s indicate that movements in one place can spark or influence movements in another. Moving into the 1990s and early 2000s, the United Nations began to take on LGBT rights in relation to human rights cases. The 1994 case of Toonen vs. Australia judged that “sexual orientation” discrimination violated international rights (Kollman & Waites, 2009). Further, there is evidence that movements within one country impact the policies both positively and negatively, thereby affecting the LGBT communities in other countries. For instance, LGBT policies that have been created domestically in Canada and the United States have influenced the legal provisions that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in places such as Costa Rica, Mexico, and Venezuela (Kollman & Waites, 2009). These kinds of judgments indicate that LGBT movements are captured, in a global context and the rulings in one country impact the outcomes and momentum in others.

Ultimately, LGBT movements are important to the advancement of human rights in and of themselves. As Nownes noted, “The study of transgender politics is not just for scholars and students with a substantive interest in the topic.” The same holds true for the study of other movements within the broader LGBT social movement. Such studies need to transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries: “more truly interdisciplinary research” is what is needed (Kollman & Waites, 2009, p. 15). Finally, the timing of such research is crucial. As Kollman and Waites note, there is an “urgent need to respond to the rapidly changing global politics of LGBT human rights” (2009, p. 15).

Further Reading

Cooper, D. (2015). Beyond liberation: Conceptualizations of history at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. Left History, 19(1), 9–24.Find this resource:

    Cossman, B. (2013). Censor, resist, repeat: A history of censorship of gay and lesbian sexual representation in Canada. Duke J. Gender Law & Policy, 21(45), 45–66.Find this resource:

      de la Dehesa, R. (2010). Queering the public sphere in Mexico and Brazil: Sexual rights movements in emerging democracies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Find this resource:

        Podmore, J. (2015). From contestation to incorporation: LGBT activism and urban politics in Montreal. In M. Trembly (Ed.), Queer mobilizations: Social movement activism and Canadian public policy (pp. 187–207). Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press.Find this resource:

          Rimmerman, C. A., Wald, K. D., & Wilcox, C. (Eds.) (2000). The politics of gay rights. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

            Weiss, M. L., & Bosia, M. J. (Eds.). Global homophobia: States, movements, and the politics of oppression. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013.Find this resource:


              Argen, D. (2016). Separation of Catholics and state: Mexico’s divisive religious history. The Guardian.Find this resource:

                Beer, C., & Cruz-Aceves, V. D. (2018). Extending rights to marginalized minorities: Same-sex relationship recognition in Mexico and the United States. State Politics & Policy Quarterly, 18(1), 3–26.Find this resource:

                  Bull, C., & Gallagher, J. (1996). Perfect enemies: The Religious Right, the gay movement, and the politics of the 1990s. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.Find this resource:

                    de la Dehesa, R. (2007). Global communities and hybrid cultures: Early gay and lesbian electoral activism in Brazil and Mexico. Latin American Research Review, 42(1), 29–51.Find this resource:

                      D’Emilio, J. (1998). Sexual politics, sexual communities: The making of a homosexual minority in the United States, 1940–1970 (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

                        DeFilippis & Anderson-Nathe. (2017). Embodying margin to center: Intersectional activism among queer liberation organizations. In In M. Brettschneider, S. Burgess, & C. Keating (Eds.), LGBTQ politics: A critical reader (pp. 110–133). New York: New York University Press. From p. 11.Find this resource:

                          Díez, J. (2015). The politics of gay marriage in Latin America: Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

                            Everitt, J., & Camp, M. (2014). In versus out: LGBT politicians in Canada. Journal of Canadian Studies, 48(1), 226–251.Find this resource:

                              Fobear, K. (2014). Queer settlers: Questioning settler colonialism in LGBT asylum processes in Canada. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 30(1), 47–56.Find this resource:

                                Grundy, J., & Smith, M. (2005). The politics of multiscalar citizenship: The case of lesbian and gay organizing in Canada. Citizenship Studies, 9(4), 389–404.Find this resource:

                                  Haider-Markel, D. (2010). Out and running: Gay and lesbian candidates, elections, and policy representation. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Find this resource:

                                    Johnston, H., Larana, E., & Gusfield, J. R. (1994). Identities, grievances, and new social movements. In H. Johnston, E. Larana, & J. R. Gusfield (Eds.), New social movements (pp. 3–35). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Find this resource:

                                      Kollman, K., & Waites, M. (2009). The global politics of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights: An introduction. Contemporary Politics, 15(1), 1–17.Find this resource:

                                        Lozano, G. (2013). The battle for marriage equality in Mexico, 2001–2011. In J. Pierceson, A. Piatti-Crocker, & S. Schulenberg (Eds.), Same-sex marriage in Latin America: Promise and Resistance (pp. 151–166). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Find this resource:

                                          Markwell, K. (2002). Mardi Gras tourism and the construction of Sydney as an international gay and lesbian city. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 8(2), 81–99.Find this resource:

                                            McLeod, D. W. (1996). Lesbian and gay liberation in Canada: A selected annotated chronology, 1964–1975. Toronto: ECW Press/Homewood Books.Find this resource:

                                              Mulé, N.J., Ross, L.E., Deeprose, B., Jackson, B.E., Daley, A., Travers, A., & Moore, D. (2009). Promoting LGBT health and wellbeing through inclusive policy development, International Journal for Equity in Health, 8(18), 1–11.Find this resource:

                                                Nash, C. J. (2006). Toronto’s gay village (1969–1982): Plotting the politics of gay identity. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe Canadien, 50(1), 1–16.Find this resource:

                                                  Nownes. (2014). Interest groups and transgender politics: Opportunities and challenges. In J. Taylor & D. Haider-Markel (Eds.), Transgender rights and politics: Groups, issue framing, and policy adoption (pp. 83–107). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. From p. 9.Find this resource:

                                                    Pichardo, N. A. (1997). New social movements: A critical review. Annual Review of Sociology, 23, 411–430.Find this resource:

                                                      Pierceson. (2016). Sexual minorities and politics: An introduction. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. From p. 8.Find this resource:

                                                        Power, J. (2011). Movement, knowledge, emotion: Gay activism and HIV/AIDS in Australia. Acton, Australian Capital Territory: Australia National University Electronic Press.Find this resource:

                                                          Rayside, D. (2014). The inadequate recognition of sexual diversity by Canadian schools: LGBT advocacy and its impact. Journal of Canadian Studies, 48(1), 190–225.Find this resource:

                                                            Reynolds, R. (2009). Endangered territory, endangered identity: Oxford Street and the dissipation of gay life. Journal of Australian Studies, 33(1), 79–92.Find this resource:

                                                              Rimmerman, C. A. (2015). The lesbian and gay movements: Assimilation or liberation? (2nd ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Find this resource:

                                                                Smith, M. (2005). Resisting and reinforcing neoliberalism: Lesbian and gay organising at the federal and local levels in Canada. Policy & Politics, 33(1), 75–93.Find this resource:

                                                                  Smith, M. (2007). Framing same-sex marriage in Canada and the United States: Goodridge, Halpern and the National Boundaries of Political Discourse. Social & Legal Studies, 16(1), 5–26.Find this resource:

                                                                    Smith et al. (2017). The “B” isn’t silent: Bisexual communities and political activism. In M. Brettschneider, S. Burgess, & C. Keating (Eds.), LGBTQ politics: A critical reader (pp. 89–109). New York: New York University Press. From p. 9.Find this resource:

                                                                      Torres-Ruiz, A. (2011). HIV/AIDS and sexual minorities in Mexico: A globalized struggle for the protection of human rights. Latin American Research Review, 46(1), 30–53.Find this resource:

                                                                        Warner, T. E. (2002). Never going back: A history of queer activism in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Find this resource:


                                                                          (1.) The NSM lens is not the only one with which to understand the rise and trajectory of the movements discussed here. For example, groups that are part of the NSM do not eschew conventional political tactics such as trying to get laws passed and regulations promulgated. Therefore, a researcher could choose to utilize a quantitative assessment of the work of the groups that are a part of these movements, just as they would assess the work of any other group. From a normative standpoint, a researcher interested in the LGBT social movement can utilize social science models that include pluralism (which focuses on the competition among all groups) and elitism (which focuses on the advantage that elites have in American politics).

                                                                          (2.) Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign serves as one example of an organized effort within the Religious Right.

                                                                          (3.) For a full timeline of events of Canada’s LGBT political landscape during the decade of 1965–1975, see Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada: A Selected Annotated Chronology, 1964–1975, by Donald W McLeod. McLeod provides a comprehensive list of events that impacted Canada’s LGBT community and set the foundation for the movement over the following decades.

                                                                          (4.) This term comes from the Quebecois Liberation movement and is here used as descriptive of the groups that joined or advocated for their own rights because of the space the QLF created within Canadian politics.

                                                                          (5.) Just because there are more openly gay and lesbian candidates does not mean they will be successful, so “it puts more pressure on us to understand the experiences and challenges facing LGBT politicians better” (Everitt & Camp, 2014, 247).

                                                                          (6.) For a full text, please see Constitution Act, 1982, Justice Laws Website, Canada.

                                                                          (7.) “The pan-Canadian scale of rights politics tends to box up ‘equality-seeking groups’ into their own hermetically sealed containers . . . which creates specific challenges for considering intersectionality” (Grundy & Smith, 2005, pp. 401–402).