Book chapter

Theoretical Perspectives on LGBT Representation and Party Politics (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

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.