The United States society has recently taken a significant step toward equality for its non-heterosexual citizens in a landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized the same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, while there have been some improvements as far as the civil rights of homosexual individuals are concerned, the LGBTQ population at large remains on the country’s political and social periphery. The present paper examines two prominent works on the topic that look at it from the social science perspective.
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The first work is Shane Phelan’s book Sexual Strangers in which the author examines whether the United States is, in fact, a heterosexual regime that excludes gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals from citizenship (Phelan 1). The central claim of her book is that the abovementioned groups are perceived as strangers in the U.S. society – ‘strangers’ being a point on the friends-enemies spectrum: seemingly similar yet strikingly different (Phelan 29).
Phelan deconstructs the notion of citizenship to include not only civil rights and privileges but also political participation and inclusion (13). Thus, even though there are virtually no laws institutionalizing discrimination based on sexual orientation, such individuals are nevertheless stigmatized, marginalized, and barred from being active members of the society (Phelan 19).
In my opinion, Phelan makes one of the most compelling arguments in support of the advancement of civil rights of the sexual minority groups. While she is certainly preoccupied with the problem, she employs a calm and matter-of-fact tone and further strengthens her point by looking at it from a social science perspective. By shifting the paradigm from discrimination to the issue of citizenship, she translates the problem into actionable terms and places it into an appropriate context at the policy-making and social levels. Moreover, she engages and considers the point of view of her opponents: thus, for instance, when Phelan discusses the issue of marriage, she not only cites the argument of marriage being a private affair but also looks at it as a public institution (22).
The second work, Cities, Queer Space, and the Cosmopolitan Tourist by Dereka Rushbrook, examines the interception of urbanism, tourism, cosmopolitanism, and queerness by exploring how the latter affects the first three concepts. According to the author, queer spaces, because of their otherness, have been widely popularized and commercialized as exotic urban niches (Rushbrook 185). The appearance of “cool places” such as gay bars and clubs gives a city a certain “sophisticated allure,” and the presence of gay villages in such cities as Portland and Austin is believed to represent their diversity and progress (Rushbrook 184). Queerness has been turned into cultural capital, and “queers became commodities, when straight spectators began to attend pride events and drag shows” (Rushbrook 191).
Thus, the issue discussed by Rushbrook borders on the phenomenon of cultural appropriation whereby the dominant group arbitrarily adopts the elements of another group’s culture without giving due respect to their meaning and context. The main weakness of such arguments is their seeming inability to reconcile the celebration of diversity and retention of certain cultural elements by the community that created them. In other words, the author does not argue for the segregation of queer and straight spaces yet does not suggest how the intersection between the two should take place so as to avoid the commodification of queerness.
Overall, these works serve as a good example of how LGBTQ inequality can be examined through the prism of social sciences. By considering the concepts of citizenship and cosmopolitanism, the two works explain why inclusion, participation, and perception of the LGBTQ community in the United States is problematic.
Phelan, Shane. Sexual Strangers: Gays, Lesbians, and Dilemmas of Citizenship, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press. Print.
Rushbrook, Dereka. “Cities, Queer Space, and the Cosmopolitan Tourist.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 8.1 (2002): 183-206. Print.