Are we thinking straight?: negotiating political environments and identities in a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender social movement organization
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This dissertation highlights the strategic deployment of a straight identity by an LGBT organization, which vary according to the national and local socio-political environments of the Untied States in which it operates. For this project, I completed thirty in-depth interviews with activists from an LGBT organization Straight and Gay Alliance (a pseudonym) in five regions in the United States, as well as analyzed organizational records, to uncover the ways in which activists deploy straight identities differently in different geographic locations achieve movement goals. In this dissertation, I first ask: why would an LGBT organization use a straight identity as one tool by which to effectively achieve their political goals? Utilizing the identity deployment theory devised by Mary Bernstein (1997), I explore the ways in which activists strategically use a “straight” identity as a social movement tool in order to successfully achieve the movement objectives. However, it is a particular kind of straight person—one who speaks with LGBT people and not for them—that are most embraced by Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA). In addition to the strategic use of a straight identity, I found that SAGA activists infuse both moral and injustice frames in their movement framing. I argue that SAGA’s ability to bridge together these frames, which are often theorized as oppositional in the “culture war” debates, permit the inclusion of straight people into the organization. In my dissertation, I also ask: Would the local politics of particular regions of the United States effect the deployment of a straight identity? Building on identity deployment theory, I draw on political ecology models (Minkoff 1993, 1997) to examine the ways in which organizations alter these strategies in conservative and liberal political environments. I find that activists in SAGA rely more on a straight identity for political validation in more conservative political areas of the United States. And, although activists in more liberal areas continue to deploy a straight identity as well, they rely less on this as a form of political legitimacy and more on gaining broader access into “straight” social networks in order to secure more resources for the organization.