LGBTQ Movements in the United States

My dissertation research and first book focused on explaining the development of LGBTQ politics and identity in the U.S. from the 1950s and the 1990s. The book and related papers develop a multi-institutional politics approach to social movements. Forging Gay Identities can be read as an early example of the application of organizational field theory to social movements. Although I am not currently engaged in research on LGBTQ movements or identities, I sometimes advise graduate students working in these areas. I continue to be interested in describing and explaining complex processes of political and institutional change. These theoretical concerns animate my current research on university responses to sexual violence.

Forging Gay Identities (Chicago 2002) demonstrates that the gay movement cannot be explained outside of a deeply cultural approach. Forging Gay Identities accounts for the dramatic emergence, proliferation, and diversification of new kinds of lesbian/gay organizations beginning in the 1970s. Throughout the fifties and sixties, public homosexual organizations were limited to a small number of organizations that thought of themselves as “homophile.” Homophile organizations modeled themselves on interest group politics, and hoped to improve life for homosexuals by educating the mainstream public. In the late 1960s, gay liberation overwhelmed the existing homophile project. As part of the New Left, gay liberation sought a total transformation of society. In the early seventies, affirmation of gay identity and celebration of diversity replaced societal transformation as goals. This shift in logic sparked the rapid proliferation of a vast diversity of new gay organizations. This turn toward identity building was accompanied by political consolidation and the explosive growth of a commercial subculture oriented around sex. The movement would not have crystallized when it did, in the way that it did, without the development of homophile politics before 1969, the cultural innovations of the New Left, the sudden decline of the New Left in the early 1970s, and the efforts of activists in the early 1970s to ensure the gay movement survived. The new framework shaped what was possible for the gay movement to accomplish. Internal contradictions embedded in the movement at this moment provide the fissures that shape contemporary internal conflict. The movement participated in the constitution of the actors on whose behalf it advocated. Understandings of the nature of the oppression of homosexuals, and visions of possible solutions, were likewise political and historical products, products that the gay movement itself played a role in producing. The meanings produced not only enabled the rise of a political movement but were some of its most important outcomes.

“Movements and Memory,” with Suzanna Crage (American Sociological Review 2006), further demonstrates the usefulness of a cultural approach to the study of movements. The paper examines why the Stonewall riots became central to gay collective memory while other similar events did not. We argue that the riots were remembered because they were the first that activists both considered commemorable and had the capacity to commemorate. We further argue that the embedding of Stonewall within gay collective memory required a resonant commemorative ritual amenable to institutionalization. This research contributes to a growing literature on cultural approaches to movements and research at the intersection or social movements and organizations.

“Culture, Power, and Institutions,” with Mary Bernstein ( Sociological Theory 2008), outlines the tenets of a cultural and institutional approach to the study of social movements.

Other articles in this strand of research include “From Struggle to Settlement” and “Crisis, Collective Creativity, and the Generation of New Organizational Forms.”

I have not collected new data on LGBTQ movements since 2006 and do not anticipate doing so. I recommend that prospective students interested in researching LGBTQ movements seek advisors actively working in this area.