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LGBTQ Politics: A Critical Reader

reviewed by Matt Brim & Melissa Maldonado-Salcedo - May 10, 2018

coverTitle: LGBTQ Politics: A Critical Reader
Author(s): Marla Brettschneider, Susan Burgess, & Christine Keating (Eds.)
Publisher: New York University Press, New York
ISBN: 1479834092, Pages: 592, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

Recent discussions around LGBTQ politics have focused primarily on the legal and political advancements of the last few decades. However, we remain at crossroads where change is inevitable, but progress is not. National trends in the United States point to a significant increase in public support for LGBTQ rights, yet the issue of marginalization remains a constant reality that looms over every legal and political achievement due to the systemic and structural vulnerability of LGBTQ communities. LGBTQ Politics: A Critical Reader, edited by Marla Brettschneider, Susan Burgess, and Christine Keating, takes up these and other complexities as integral to study of LGBTQ politics from within the discipline of political science. One of the collection’s major (and exciting) contentions is that the story of LGBTQ politics is neither linear nor necessarily normative, and many of the essays in the reader’s five sections draw out the ways in which various LGBTQ communities challenge dominant epistemological and political frameworks by acting as self-constituting political agents.

In this vein, the volume’s discussion of LGBTQ movements in Part One, “Building LGBTQ Movements,” charts a trajectory from center to margin, from mainstream legibility to queer sites of intelligibility, from single-issue politics to intersectional frameworks for coalitional politics. Rather than treating LGBTQ groups as pre-political entities, which leads to single-issue politics, the essays here expand the notion of what counts as “the political” beyond traditional institutional sites (courts, legislatures), engagements (voting, polling), and issues (addressed at length in Part Four, “Marriage Equality Politics”). The “transgender political,” for instance, looks outside the law at everyday transgender lives and embodiments, including racialized vulnerabilities, localized and embodied knowledges, and resistant socialities, allowing the authors to make transgender political subjectivities intelligible beyond state-based abstractions or neoliberal identity politics. Intersectional analyses and coalitional frameworks ground the scholarly methods and methodologies of the authors here, allowing them to integrate the study of HIV/AIDS, reproductive justice, queer poverty, criminal justice, immigration, and, ultimately, to argue for the value of creating non-hierarchical political structures in order to transform power arrangements.

More than any other section of the book, Part Two, “LGBTQ Politics in the Discipline of Political Science,” gives the volume its distinctive, innovative presence with the field of political science in that it addresses disciplinarity, field formation, and the politics of political science. Several essays explore dynamics within political science’s main professional organization, the American Political Science Association, while others chart the trajectories of political science research and argue for the transformational role of queer feminist political theory within the field. These self-reflexive considerations of institutional change ground the collection in the history of the field and enable the editors to then point to possible futures for the study of LGBTQ politics in the volume’s final section (Part Six: “Queer Futures”). The focus on the discipline of political science makes space for equally introspective and prospective essays, and Part Two stands out as an especially pedagogically useful element within the larger volume. These essays could readily be integrated into classroom introductions to the history of the discipline, its changing and contested methods, and its written and unwritten protocols. Perhaps surprisingly given the clear crossover potential of the collection’s other essays (which will appeal to teachers of queer studies, women’s and gender studies, critical race studies, history, social activism, and immigration studies), the essays about LGBTQ politics also provide a fascinating entrée into the field of political science for students and scholars in other disciplines.

The essays in Part Three, “LGBTQ Politics and Public Opinion in the United States,” cast a spotlight on key tensions that have emerged as LGBTQ politics have developed and become more central to the American political landscape. They not only ask how these changes have shaped political activities, thoughts, and behaviors in the last twenty years but, crucially, they question the power and validity of those recent political changes. Why, for example, have large-scale shifts in public opinion in support of gay rights not translated into parallel policy changes? At the same time, these essays question the ability of political science to grapple with LGBTQ-related political transformations, and together they advocate for the incorporation of the study of LGBTQ politics into the standard subfields of political science. They argue that the discipline itself can be transformed, making possible new assessments of persistent political tensions. Case studies of black LGBTQ candidates in the Obama era, for example, expose a longstanding split between individual policy predilections for marriage equality and broader movement priorities. In response, the authors argue that a broader approach to public opinion research, one that complicates data, is needed in order to give depth to the tools of political science when studying LGBTQ communities. Other authors trace the power of racial and sexual stereotypes to adapt to new media landscapes, electoral politics, campaign advertising, and interest group politics.

Part Five, “LGBTQ Politics in Global Contexts,” offers compelling arguments for the need to engage in equally expansive and nuanced research into LGBTQ politics internationally. If the world’s attention has recently been drawn to the activism around sexuality and sexual identities in the Global South, for example, that attention comes with the attendant risks of viewing such changes through a U.S. lens or flattening and homogenizing the Global South as a space that is frozen in time despite its diversity and complexity regarding LGBTQ rights. The impulse to think about U.S. relationships as either dominating or subjugating ignores those spaces in which agency and resistance is enacted and experienced by LGBTQ communities. Advocacy networks that transcend borders to create virtual political communities demonstrate one response to dominant/subordinate models of power relations. However, virtual transnational activities come with technical limitations that cannot fully account for what is happening on the ground. Together, these essays argue for the dynamic nature of the study of global LGBTQ politics.

LGBTQ Politics: A Critical Reader will be as useful outside the field of political science as within it. The range of expertise of its authors and editors creates a collaborative volume capable of addressing this tumultuous political moment with the benefit of historical insight, activist integrity, and scholarly innovation.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 10, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22364, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 12:31:28 PM

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About the Author
  • Matt Brim
    College of Staten Island, CUNY
    E-mail Author
    MATT BRIM is associate professor of queer studies at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, where he writes about LGBT literature and the field of queer studies. Brim’s recent publications include the co-edited “Queer Methods” special issue of WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, the monograph "James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination," and an interactive online study guide for teaching the HIV/AIDS documentary film United in Anger: A History of ACT UP. His current book project, "Poor Queer Studies,” reorients the field of queer studies toward working class schools, students, theories, and pedagogies.
  • Melissa Maldonado-Salcedo
    New York Univeristy
    E-mail Author
    MELISSA MALDONADO-SALCEDO is an experimental ethnographer and medical anthropologist. She currently teaches at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, offering courses on the relationship between science and feminism, medical ethics, and the scientific imagination. Maldonado-Salcedo’s recent publications include “Beauty Weighs in Argentina” in Harvard’s ReVista. In addition to revising her dissertation for publication, Maldonado-Salcedo’s current book project, “Flowers for Grenfall,” is an auto-ethnographic collection of stories on public housing.
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