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social sciences

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Sexual Citizenship  
page: 1  2  

Institutional Inclusion

Many institutions deny certain groups the opportunity to participate fully as sexual citizens. Examples include restricting the right to marry and prohibiting gay men and lesbians from serving in the military. Only a few, mostly European, countries have extended these rights to them.

Although some have argued that marriage is a private contract between citizens and should not be the state's business, refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry where other couples can do so constitutes discrimination. Moreover, many institutions privilege the nuclear family, which is a breach of sexual citizenship rights for all those who are outsiders to this social arrangement.

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Denial of institutional and social equality and participation to sexual minorities also occurs in such areas as education, parental rights, health care, labor markets, housing, taxing, pensions and insurance, partner benefits, political representation, and immigration laws, to name only some of the major terrains. No country has accorded equality to all its citizens in all these areas; and most show little or no interest in doing so. The denial of institutional equality in these fields is a clear example that gay men and lesbians and other erotic groups are not fully recognized as citizens.

Spatial Themes

Another field of interest to sexual citizenship is that of space. Women, for example, have often been restrained to the private world of homes and families.

Gay men and lesbians are often restricted to a subculture of bars, usually located in decaying areas of cities. Even these locations are not safe for them, and they fail to be accorded the basic civil right of protection against abuse and violence.

Beyond these hidden and (semi)private places, the spatial interests of sexual citizens remain largely unacknowledged. Agency in public life is strongly limited by the sexism and of straight male society. Spatial claims of queers, for example, on public cruising or the establishment of gay venues, streets, and communities, remain contested, sometimes even in the gay world itself.

Visibility and safety in the public realm are prime concerns of queer activists. Going from the closet to the street means that gay men and lesbians need public space to express their sexual desires, to find partners, to debate politics, to demonstrate--in short, to enact their civic rights.

The Relative Importance of Sexual Citizenship

The various aspects of citizenship enable a comparison of the importance a society gives to each. For example, most Western countries value religious expression more than sexual expression. Although most democracies have separated state and church, old traditions remain strong. Religious citizenship continues to receive wide acknowledgement and to exert powerful influence in education and politics, while denial or neglect of sexual citizenship in such areas remains the norm.

Religious leaders who evoke anti-sexual traditions maintain a stronger foothold in civic society than leaders who speak out for sexual rights. Most churches uphold ideals of monogamous marriage, reproduction, and heterosexuality, at most giving a small "place at the table" to non-heterosexual individuals.

A Global Perspective

Sexual politics is a minor theme in the Western democracies and remains even more marginal in most other places. Sexual rights are denied to women and erotic communities in most Muslim and African countries. They are often neglected in Asian and Latin-American nations.

Only a few states outside the European Union have been actively involved in extending civil rights to gay men and lesbians. Among them are South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Australia, and the United States. Other countries that had no anti-homosexual criminal laws, such as Japan and Thailand, have been slow to offer safeguards to sexual communities in civil law. Rights given to gays and lesbians are rarely extended to individuals or sadomasochists and never to .

Even in most places where gay men and lesbians have achieved legal protection, the social climate remains antagonistic. In those countries, issues of sexual citizenship have moved from law reform and erasure of institutional intimidation to education, equal representation, visibility, and spatial claims.

In some European countries where the most blatant forms of sexual discrimination have disappeared, it has become difficult to mobilize gay and lesbian populations to fight for rights of sexual citizenship. The change from legal to social emancipation, where goals are more difficult to define, has diminished interest in sexual activism.

The concept of sexual citizenship draws our attention to all kinds of social exclusions that the various sexual communities experience. These exclusions inhibit their political, social, cultural, and economic participation. The various constraints point to the necessity of queering all kinds of institutions. Simply allowing sexual minorities into these organizations on an individual basis does not challenge the heterosexist assumptions that govern most societies.

Sexual citizenship refers to the transformation of public life into a domain that is no longer dominated by male heterosexuals, but that is based in gender and sexual diversity. The goal is a society in which diverse people can take responsibility for their own sexual lives.

Gert Hekma

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social sciences >> Overview:  Civil Union

Vermont's Civil Union law conferred all the rights, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage on same-sex couples.

social sciences >> Overview:  Domestic Partnerships

"Domestic partnership" is the generic term for a variety of forms of legal and institutional recognition of same-sex couples that fall short of same-sex marriage.

social sciences >> Overview:  Identity Politics

Not limited to activity in the traditionally conceived political sphere, identity politics refers to activism, politics, theorizing, and other similar activities based on the shared experiences of members of a specific social group, often relying on shared experiences of oppression.

social sciences >> Overview:  Immigration Law

Those countries that allow the immigration of glbtq persons based on persecution in their home countries often raise difficulties or apply the existing laws inequitably, especially in the case of glbtq couples who apply for entry as domestic partners.

social sciences >> Overview:  Intersexuality

Intersexuality (formerly referred to as hermaphroditism) is a congenital anomaly in which an individual's external genitalia or internal reproductive systems fall outside the norms for either male or female bodies.

social sciences >> Overview:  Military Culture: European

Attitudes toward gay and lesbian personnel in European militaries vary widely, from the acceptance of the Dutch to the laissez-faire policy of the French to the rejection of the Greek and Turkish forces.

social sciences >> Overview:  Military Culture: United States

The United States military's relation to homosexuality is complex and contradictory, defining itself explicitly in opposition to homosexuality, but nevertheless facilitating the very behavior and identity it seeks to exclude.

social sciences >> Overview:  Military Law: United States

The Uniform Code of Military Justice, adopted in 1950, is the fountainhead of the United States' military's discriminatory policies toward homosexual personnel.

social sciences >> Overview:  Political Science

Political scientists have generated insights important to the study of sexuality through research into glbtq participation in formal politics, studies of sexuality as a category of power, and reconceptualizations of the relationship between sexuality and politics.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender

"Transgender" has become an umbrella term representing a political alliance between all gender variant people who do not conform to social norms for typical men and women and who suffer political oppression as a result.

social sciences >> Overview:  Workplace Discrimination

Although work remains to be done, the expansion of protection from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation stands as one of the significant accomplishments of the American lesbian and gay civil rights movement.

social sciences >> ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project

For more than four decades, the ACLU has been at the forefront of litigation and education designed to secure glbtq rights on a variety of fronts.

social sciences >> Chase, Cheryl

Activist Cheryl Chase has led efforts to educate both medical professionals and parents of intersexed children so that unnecessary surgeries may be avoided and intersexed people may have happier and healthier lives.


Bell, David, and John Binnie. The Sexual Citizen: Queer Politics and Beyond. Cambridge, England: Polity, 2000.

Blasius, Mark, ed. Sexual Identities, Queer Politics. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Clarke, Eric. Virtuous Vice: Homoeroticism and Public Sphere. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 2000.

Evans, David T. Sexual Citizenship: The Material Construction of Sexualities. London: Routledge, 1993.

Kaplan, Morris. Sexual Justice: Democratic Citizenship and the Politics of Desire. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Lister, Ruth. "Sexual Citizenship." Handbook of Citizenship Studies. F. Isin Engin and Bryan S. Turner, eds. London: Sage, 2002. 191-207.

Parker, Richard, Regina M. Barbosa, and Peter Aggleton, eds. Framing the Sexual Subject: The Politics of Gender, Sexuality and Power. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Richardson, Diane. Rethinking Sexuality. London: Sage, 2000.

Weeks, Jeffrey. "The Sexual Citizen." Theory, Culture and Society 15.3-4 (1998): 35-52.


    Citation Information
    Author: Hekma, Gert  
    Entry Title: Sexual Citizenship  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 31, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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