The Politics of Eradication and the Future of LGBT Rights
The debate over LGBT rights has always been a debate over the right of LGBT people to exist. This Article explores the politics of eradication and the institutional forces that are brought to bear on LGBT claims for visibility, recognition, and dignity. In its most basic form, the desire to eradicate LGBT identities finds expression in efforts to “cure” or “convert” LGBT people, especially LGBT youth. It is also reflected in present-day policy initiatives, such as the recent wave of anti-LGBT legislation that has been introduced in states across the country. The politics of eradication has prompted the Trump administration to reverse many Obama-era initiatives that recognized and protected LGBT people. It is also at the heart of a proposal to promulgate a federal definition of gender that could remove any acknowledgment of transgender people from federal programs and civil rights protections.
This Article is divided into three sections—each uses a distinct institutional lens: science, law, and religion. The first section engages the field of science, which helped produce the initial iterations of LGBT identity. It charts the evolution of scientific theories regarding LGBT people and places a special emphasis on how these theories were used to further both LGBT subordination and liberation. The second section shifts the focus to the legal battles over LGBT rights that began in the 1990s at approximately the same time the scientific community started its exploration of the biological underpinnings of LGBT identities. It reviews the legal advancements that were facilitated, at least in part, by the emerging scientific theories of LGBT immutability and a growing public commitment to the inherent dignity of LGBT people. The third and final section focuses on religion and morality. Today, the same types of claims that once justified anti-LGBT laws are being used to advocate for religious and moral exemptions from laws designed to protect the dignity of LGBT people. With this turn back to religion, the cycle of subordination has come full circle. Although the means have changed, the goal to eradicate LGBT identities—whether from public life or more targeted venues—remains the same. A brief conclusion discusses the future of LGBT rights and why it is imperative to counter the politics of eradication by continuing to assert the intrinsic morality of LGBT identities and humanity of LGBT people.
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