Penn Press at AHA 2021

Beyond the Politics of the Closet

Beyond the Politics of the Closet

Gay Rights and the American State Since the 1970s

by Jonathan Bell

  • Hardcover
  • 9780812251852
  • Published: March 2020



A collection of essays that demonstrate how LGBT people played critical roles in local, state, and national politics

In the 1970s, queer Americans demanded access not only to health and social services but also to mainstream Democratic and Republican Party politics. The AIDS crisis of the 1980s made the battles for access to welfare, health care, and social services for HIV-positive Americans, many of them gay men, a critically important story in the changing relationship between sexual minorities and the government. The 1980s and 1990s marked a period in which religious right attacks on the civil rights of minorities, including LGBT people, offered opportunities for activists to create campaigns that could mobilize a base in mainstream politics and contribute to the gradual legitimization of sexual minorities in American society.

Beyond the Politics of the Closet features essays by historians whose work on LGBT history delves into the decades between the mid-1970s and the millennium, a period in which the relationship between activist networks, the state, capitalism, and political parties became infinitely more complicated. Examining the crucial relationship between sexuality, race, and class, the volume highlights the impact gay rights politics and activism have had on the wider American political landscape since the rights revolutions of the 1960s.

The three sections of Beyond the Politics of the Closet conceptualize LGBT politics both chronologically and thematically. The first section highlights the ways in which the immediate post-rights revolution period created new demands on the part of sexual minorities for social services, especially in health care and housing. The second examines the impact of the AIDS crisis on different aspects of national and local LGBT politics. The last section considers how analyzing LGBT politics can reorient our understanding of "the closet" and illuminate the challenges for those seeking to integrate questions of sexual rights into broader political narratives, whether of the left or the right.

Contributors: Ian M. Baldwin, Katie Batza, Jonathan Bell, Julio Capó, Jr., Rachel Guberman, Clayton Howard, Kevin Mumford, Dan Royles, Timothy Stewart-Winter