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Wednesday, October 17 – Wilson Hall, McMaster University

Mary Bernstein, University of Connecticut, “The Right to Family after Obergefell v. Hodges.”

Now that same-sex marriage has become the law of the land in the U.S., this paper considers the implications of same-sex marriage for alternative family forms, whether and why social movements may or may not emerge to expand the definition of family.   In this paper, I examine the Connecticut case of the “Scarborough 11,” a self-declared family consisting of three couples, their children and two single people.  The Scarborough 11, as the press called them, was charged by neighbors and the City of Hartford with violating zoning laws in their neighborhood of mansions that allowed only two unrelated people to live in a single family house, regardless of its size.  I analyze the case of the Scarborough 11 to theorize why such efforts to broaden the definition of family have not generated a social movement, especially in light of queer challenges to the marriage equality movement.  I theorize this effort and consider how other welfare regimes provide benefits to non-nuclear family forms and how public policy may even encourage non-nuclear family forms as in the case of countries such as Australia that mandate only known donors in assisted reproduction.


Thursday, October 18 – West Room, University Club, McMaster University

Melanie Heath, McMaster University, “Promoting Marriage for America: The Intimate Relationship Between the State and Heterosexuality.”

 This talk addresses the question of how the gendered and sexualized state responds to crisis tendencies in the institution of heterosexuality. Drawing on research conducted on the marriage initiative in Oklahoma, the chapter examines governmental policies to promote marriage that seek to stabilize the norm of white, middle-class, heterosexual marriage through what I call “marital heterosexuality.” The state fortified marital heterosexuality by: 1) providing classes that drew white, middle-class couples and focused on the breakdown of these types of families; 2) teaching about gender as the visible problem for couples to reinforce the importance of marital heterosexuality, and 3) focusing on marital heterosexuality that excluded lesbian and gay couples.


Megan Carroll, University of Southern California, “Who Counts as a Gay Father? Pathway to Parenthood and Outsiders of Gay Parenting Groups.”

 Contemporary discourses of LGB identity have outpaced trends in LGB family demographics. The majority of same-sex-parent households are raising children from prior heterosexual unions, yet these families are underrepresented in scholarship, media, and social movements. Using data from 42 interviews and five years of ethnography with gay parenting groups in California, Texas, and Utah, this study investigates the cultural boundaries gay fathers create in relation to their pathways to parenthood. Findings indicate that an emerging cultural definition of gay fatherhood is closely tied to men’s relationship to the closet, excluding some men who have children in heterosexual contexts. Gay fathers who occupy statuses as outsiders of their local parenting group illustrate the mechanisms segregating gay fatherhood communities by pathway to parenthood. The segregation and disproportionate visibility of gay parenting by pathway to parenthood has implications for policy makers’ ability to recognize intersections of sexuality and inequalities of race/ethnicity, geography, and poverty.


Tina Fetner, McMaster University, “Sexual Politics Rests on Historical Foundations: A Historical-Comparative Analysis of Critical Junctures and Institutional Infrastructures in the United States and Canada.”

Why are there stark differences in activism around sexual politics in the United States and Canada? Traditional approaches to the study of social movements focus only on the life of the movement, from emergence to decline. Instead, I conduct a historical, comparative analysis on the pre-movement activities of evangelical Christian communities in these two countries from 1925-1975. Employing insights from historical institutionalism, I identify two critical junctures in the historical development of evangelical communities that suppressed the entrepreneurship and institution-building activities of Canadian evangelicals relative to those in the United States. I find that these divergences in institution building affected the size and strength of the institutional infrastructures—supportive organizations, networks, and resources—of the religious right movements in these countries. I argue that historical institutionalism is useful to understanding of cross-national movement comparisons. The bureaucratic arms of the state, as well as cultural institutions, are important mediators of activism around sexuality.


Jamie Budnick, University of Michigan, “The Social Lives of Sexuality Statistics.”

The last decade witnessed an unprecedented prioritization of research on non-heterosexuality, fueling activism (“data=power!”) and LGBTQ civil rights. Political upheaval and contemporary skepticism toward expertise leaves this sexuality knowledge in a precarious position. My broader project leverages the surge of interest in the demography of sexuality to show how social scientific thinking shapes policy, and vice versa. In this paper, I trace the “social lives of sexuality statistics.” I show how five prominent knowledge claims about sexuality are the specific products of their technical production within demography, shape public attitudes about sexuality topics, and find purchase in legal arenas such as the marriage equality cases at the U.S. Supreme Court. I connect the burgeoning demography of sexuality to contemporary data activism over who “counts.”


Vrushali Patil, Florida International University, “Placing Bodies in Relation: Affective-Material Entanglements.”

In the Introduction to Herculine Barbine, Foucault writes that from the 1860s through 1870s, there was an intensification of the scrutiny of ambiguous bodies in order to establish their “true sex.”  He writes that while such intense scrutiny was absent in earlier periods, “biological theories of sexuality, juridical conceptions of the individual, [and] forms of administrative control in modern nations, led little by little” to this shift (Foucault 1980, p viii).  Although this heightened scrutiny of ambiguous bodies does not receive much attention within his overall work, his writings on Herculine Barbine are nonetheless a significant rumination on the role of the binary of male and female in the emerging biopolitics of the French—and eventually, ‘modern, western’—state.  Following Foucault, a number of scholars have explored this narrowing social space allotted to the figure of the hermaphrodite, conceptualized alternately as a ‘disappearance’ or ‘elimination’ (Dreger 1998) or  ‘extinguishing’ (Eckert 2016, p 35) or ‘doubt’ (Reis 2005, p 434) or “vanishing act” (Fausto-Sterling 2000, p 37).  Feminist examinations of these processes have been concerned both with the lived experiences of the real individuals caught in the margins of emerging categorizations, and with the broader politics of normalization having to do not just with bodily binaries, but also with emerging constructions of masculinity, femininity, and heteronormativity implicated therein.  While both are important, this chapter is concerned especially with the latter dimension.  In particular, it is concerned with the question of how to situate the biopolitical modern western state, temporally and spatially.  Ann Stoler famously critiqued Foucault’s myopic focus on Europe, highlighting the relations between colonies and metropoles which were so important for hegemonic formations of gender and heterosexuality from the late 1800s (Stoler 1995).  More recently, Morgensen has examined the gender and sexuality of colonial biopolitics for indigenous populations in the Americas (2011), while Puri has examined the sexuality of the biopolitical state for postcolonial, neoliberal India (2016).  Here, I seek to build on these critical engagements first, by focusing on the politics of categories of sex and second, by bringing seemingly distinct sites of empire, which are not typically considered together, into the same frame of analysis. 


Ashley Currier, University of Cincinnati, “The Politics of Carceral Sex and Rape in Namibia.”

In this paper, I explore state policies governing prison sex and rape in southern Africa. In Malawi and Namibia, two countries with histories of politicized homophobia, the politicization of same-sex sexualities has left prison sex and rape cloistered in insular prison imaginaries. I have chosen Malawi and Namibia as comparative case studies for this new project because each government has taken a different position on prosecuting men accused of sodomy (same-sex sex), which remains illegal in each country. Whereas the Namibian government has not prosecuted men accused of same-sex sex, either in or outside of prison, for almost twenty years, Malawian prosecutors regularly charge men, including incarcerated men, with sodomy. Because these governments treat same-sex sex differently, there are differences in how state policies and social movements address prison sex and rape.


Régis Schlagdenhauffen, EHESS, Paris, “« Homocop* » project and first results.”

Our research aims to examine the shift from a paradigm of repression of homosexuality within the police environment to a dynamic of acceptance. The police and gendarmerie in France have traditionally been hostile to gender and/or ethnic identity. Recent French sociological studies have revealed the difficulty, and even impossibility, of mounting a collective campaign in support of women in the police force, or around work conflicts related to ethnic origin or assumed culture.  There has been a professional organisation for LGBT police officers of all ranks (FLAG!) since 2001, which opens a space for recognition of ‘LGBT issues’. In light of this, our research seeks to understand the roots of this mobilisation, unique within the profession, and its effects on the career paths of lesbian and gay police officers and on relations between the police as a whole and LGBT members of the public. Our initial research with FLAG!, which is currently under way, analyses more broadly the internal power relations within the police, identifying and evaluating the divisions that arise around issues of sexuality. This study leads to a better understanding of the conditions in which the issue of sexuality emerges within the law enforcement professions in France.


Jessica Fields, San Francisco State University, with Christopher P. Bettinger. “Shifting the Terms of the Sex Ed Debate: A New Cognitive Model of Sexuality and Sex Education: The Personality Framework”

In the late 2000s, I worked with the American Civil Liberties Union and a team of cognitive linguists to study the potential to shift the US sex education debate toward an understanding of sexuality as like personality—natural, individual, positive, and varied. The audience of the “Personality Framework” was sex education supporters—voters, policymakers, and educators—who had been inadvertently affirming a heteronormative and punitive abstinence framework. Could the ACLU advance a view of sexuality that reflected contemporary research and social justice movements and remain politically effective? Survey and focus group findings from this study suggest opportunities to interrupt discourses and practices of social regulation of sexual behavior. Findings also raise questions about the continued strength of neoliberal understandings of sexual identity, expression, and rights.


Friday, October 19 – West Room, University Club, McMaster University

Michael Stambolis-Ruhstorfer, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, “Parents or Partners? Contrasting French and U.S. Attitudes to Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting.”

 The family rights of gay and lesbian people have created controversy and mobilization in both France and the United States. Yet, the questions that animate the most resistance are flipped. Specifically, questions about same-sex marriage have garnered the most attention and negative public opinion in the United States while issues of adoption and parenting do so in France. Drawing on public opinion data from both countries, this paper explores these contrasts in attitudes across contexts and their evolutions over time. It argues that these differences maybe be explained by the posture of the state relative to family welfare and investment in children. The centrality of marriage policy in the U.S. and of parenting in France helps account for nationally specific attitudes toward gay and lesbian families. 


Jordi Díez, University of Guelph and Michelle L. Dion, McMaster University, “Does Knowing Mean Supporting? Social Contact and Support for Same-Sex Marriage in Argentina.”

Research has shown that personal interaction with lesbians and gays and the legalization of same-sex marriage (SSM) rights are associated with greater support for lesbian and gay rights. However, this work often does not measure contact with same-sex married couples or measures the effects of legalization of same-sex relationships indirectly. We address these gaps by directly measuring contact with gays and lesbians, including those in same-sex marriages, while controlling for alternative explanations. We use original data that directly measure these relationships in Argentina in 2015. We also examine the effects of personal contact across different subsamples to assess the differential effects of contact by religion, religiosity, gender, age, and locality and present evidence to address concerns about causality and robustness to alternative specifications. The legalization of SSM has a normalizing effect on attitudes toward lesbian and gay rights, particularly among some groups that are otherwise less likely to be supportive.


Emma Mishel, New York University, “Contextual Prejudice: How Occupational Context and Stereotypes Shape Bias against Gay and Lesbian Employees.” 

 While much research provides evidence that gay men and lesbians are discriminated against in the U.S. labor force, the contexts in which such bias is enhanced or reduced, or the mechanisms behind it, are harder to pinpoint. This article puts forth that occupational context—and specifically, the stereotypes about gay people evoked by certain occupational contexts—play an important role in shaping bias against gay men and lesbians in the labor force. I argue that people are implicitly guided by cultural stereotypes about gay people, which affects perceptions about whether they are suitable for specific occupations. This leads to penalties for being openly gay in some occupational scenarios, but may lead to premiums in others. This theory is tested empirically using a list experiment, a technique designed to reduce or eliminate social desirability bias in responses. Results suggest that bias against gay men and lesbians is not standard across all occupations or subgroups of gay employees, but rather shaped by important contextual factors that illuminate certain stereotypes about gay individuals.