10 April 2009

Book Review: How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism

Tina Fetner is a sociology professor in Canada and identified herself as a "straight woman." She reviewed documents from both the religious right and gay and lesbian sources and made a simple claim. The modern American LGBT movement was primarily shaped by the forces of the religious right. The religious right had better organization and way more money to contribute to opposing LGBT claims-- at least, how they saw those claims. This ended up, in LGBT organzing terms, putting significant resources and time into responding to that opposition, even if the area of battle was not a priority for the LGBT movement.

As has been discussed at length in other scholarship, until the religious right started organizing against the mild anti-discrimination laws the LGBT movement had gotten in a number of cities, same sex marriage was considered assimiliationist and rejected by most people in LGBT communities. However, because of the intensification of capital and the nationalization of the LGBT movement (in response to the national efforts of the religious right in the late 70s/early 80s), same sex marriage became the issue.

Fetner tells us how that exactly happened and uses each sides own documentation to show the shift. Queer theorist scholars like Michael Warner have opposed same-sex marriage on these terms -- that it is assimiliationist, it necessary will further exclude other forms of sexual expression, and because it was thrust upon LGBT communities by the religious right.

One of the most interesting points of Fetner's book -- and its buried at the end -- is that the religious right's active opposition to LGBT communities and the organizing has actually backfired from the stated goal of unifying the U.S. against LGBT claims. In fact, it has had the reverse effect over time because there was a media blackout of LGBT issues until the religious right made it their issue. (This is familiar to anyone in media, any press is good press.)

Two areas Fetner articulates but does not connect are her sections on that and on the philosophical orientation of persecuted separateness of Christian fundamentalism in America and how their "re-entrance" into political life and the persecution of LGBT communities has ended up marginalizing the fundamentalists themselves and triggering a re-separation from political life.

The book is quite short and worth reading for anyone who does serious organizing in any social justice cause because it concretizing opposing movement theory and the consequences of unequal opponents in social justice causes.

The version I read was a 200 page paperback published by University of Minnesota Press (July 14, 2008), ISBN-13: 978-0816649181. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.


  1. wow. that's interesting. i suppose people then were really different.

    re: gay marriage. i think people these days don't really think about gay marriage as a way to stick it to the (straight) man. it's just a way to get the same rights that straight people get. i dunno. could be just the people i know.

  2. i know -- that is what makes the book curious: it was the religious right that made gay marriage something LGBT people look at as equality!

  3. i guess the world works in funny ways. it's like picking at a small scab and getting an infection in the process.

  4. hahaha. it was more like running the toe into the ground first, then constantly picking at the scab!

  5. inferness. nose bleed ako dito. i read it 4 times just to actually get it. omg- i think my brain cells are dying ><

    one of the issues i got into alot was the recent PROP 8. i cried when i found out they lost cause i have friends from Cali who are married. and its for PLU rin..

    but i think i heard them repealling it. nagreply ka na ba sa email ko?

  6. pasensya na para sa nosebleed mo! oo nagreply ako, pero ikaw hindi.

    i don't think prop 8 will effect their marriage pero alam mo, it should be an embarrassment to california especially when places like iowa legalized it!

  7. "hahaha. it was more like running the toe into the ground first, then constantly picking at the scab!"

    i hate you. your metaphor's better than mine! :c hehe