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Identity politics

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  • 1. Gay Politics, Urban Politics: Identity and Economics in the Urban Setting Cooper Carriger Political Science 390: Urban Politics Prof. Twyla Blackmond Larnell November 2012
  • 2. “The deep agenda for identity politics is the affirmation of its identity, both collectively and individually.” –Robert Bailey, Gay Politics, Urban Politics Gay and Lesbian rights have become a highly politicized and public issue in the Americanpolitical arena. From same-sex marriage, to discrimination, to military participation, everyone has anopinion of the policies that effect this marginalized population. However, gay, lesbian, bisexual, andtransgendered (LGBT) issues haven’t always been on the political radar of Americans, and neither hastheir political impact—especially at the urban level, where most LGBT individuals call home. In thebook Gay Politics, Urban Politics: Identity and Economics in the Urban Setting, author Robert Baileyexamines and unfolds the political impact of gay and lesbian identity in the urban political sphere. Bailey writes his book in the wake of the gay liberation; something distinct to the latter half ofthe American 20th century. Gays and lesbians have always been politically and socially oppressed; beingtargets of discriminatory public policies due to the stigma of mental illness and the Judeo-Christianopposition. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a mental disorderuntil 1975 (Bernstien 540). In the early 20th century, these individuals were silenced and successfullyrepressed by all levels of governance. By early 1960’s we see a “grass roots proliferation of lesbians andgay men” changing into a political movement demanding recognition (Berstein 543). The Stonewall Riots of New York City in 1969, signify the first time in American history thatgays and lesbians have collectively acted in order to influence urban policy. Namely, to stop policebrutality and persecution of openly homosexual individuals. The Stonewall Riots also marked the firsttime that gays and lesbians were no longer viewed as individuals, but as a community with a distinctidentity. Over the next 25 years this community will publically transform into the key actors of manyurban regimes throughout the nation. An urban regime being the totality of actors, both public andprivate, that influence local government and urban policy. Until the publication of this book in 1998,dominant urban regime theories have focused on urban econonomism, the collaboration of governmentactors and local business leaders to explain policy development. What Bailey points out in his thesis is
  • 3. that urban economism completely ignores identity movements—undermining any non-economicmotives in policy making (Bailey 4). Yet, gays and lesbians have significantly influenced urban politics. As demonstrated in theprevious example of the Stonewall Riots, there are many more instances throughout the later 20thcentury of gay and lesbian policy influence. Bailey writes Gay Politics, Urban Politics in order toexplain how identity, not just economics, can determine what type of policies are being created andimplemented in an urban regime. In other words, to explain what role the gay and lesbian communityplays in urban politics, and how they do it. “The central task of this book is to assess the political impactof the lesbian and gay movement on urban politics in the United States” (Bailey 4). This well-researchedwork can be broken down into three sections in order to best explain Bailey’s claims: First, the conceptof identity; second, the demographics and policy preferences of the gay and lesbian identity; and finally,case studies that exemplify the former two topics in real-world application. For the purposes of thisessay, I will explain all three in detail. The first concept that Bailey seeks to unfold is identity. “Identity is not at the periphery but at thecore of urban life, and lesbian and gay politics is a central example.” (Bailey 12) What is identity andhow does it further explain political phenomena in urban regimes? On the surface, the word identity,simply put, can mean personal classification. However, in reality the word has much larger social andpolitical implications than just a label. This is because “identity is a name, it is a signifier of socialmeaning.” (Bailey 27). An association of people cannot be recognized as an autonomous group, capableof political influence, until they can claim an identity. It is not just semantics; a name is the mechanism through which society must recognize agroup—a name that society must invest with meaning. Bailey continues to explain that each identitycarries the many connotations that society has assigned to it throughout history. Those who choose tohave the “name” identified with his or herself, usually attempt to alter or maintain the social meaning ofthe name (Bailey 27). For example, to identify as an Irish, could mean to bear the denotation of the
  • 4. Celtic culture, Catholicism, music, temperament, or alcoholism that is stereotypically attributed to theIrish culture. But for some, wearing that label might be uncomfortable—especially if they feel they donot personify all of the traits—and thus, do not associate with identity because of its societal stigma.This leads to one of the challenges of any identity, but especially in the LGBTQ community, ofessentialism. Essentialism is “subsuming all diversity within a group under its over-ridingcharacteristic…thereby denying other factors also important to those individuals defining themselves”(Bailey 22). So why do individuals choose to associate with a name or identity? According to the GayPolitics, Urban Politics, some argue that identity politics and interest group politics are merely one inthe same: people associate because they are “largely about coming together to advance collectiveeconomic interests…” (Bailey 13). Although Bailey argues that this analysis is inaccurate becauseidentity politics and interest group politics are, in fact, two separate group movements. Identity politicsdiffers because of two reasons. First, the “individual identifies with the group primarily for physiologicalor cultural reasons.” (Bailey 13). Second, the reason LGBT individuals work/identify together “is lessfor the benefits they might gain from joining than for the removal of costs that might be incurred by nottaking collective action.” (Bailey 29). That is, LGBT individuals associate for solidarity and for thecollective action that will deliver them from their marginalized status—not for economic gain. Identity is especially crucial in the realm of urban politics. “If Identity did not lead to collectivepolitical action, it would not be of interest in politics.” (Bailey 28). Unlike national and stategovernment, local (urban in this context) government has the closest relationship with their constituentsand respective identities. Therefore, cities are the number one space where identity politics thrive andgain access to the political system. It comes then as no shock that local public policies (in urbanregimes) are most malleable by identity politics. For example, in 1989 the city of San Francisco, washeavily influence by local identity politics when the city began to issue domestic partnerships, inresponse to growing pressure from the community. It wasn’t until nearly fifteen years later that the first
  • 5. state-level government started issuing unions for same-sex couples. Now twenty-three years later thefederal government still refuses to recognize same-sex marriages. Clearly, identity politics in urbanspaces yield success at a much higher rate. Now that identity has been fully discussed, Bailey dedicates the second portion of his work tounderstanding the over-arching political and demographic trends of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals(GLBs)—and how this can help us better understand the political impact of these individuals at theurban level. The first important demographic that Bailey discusses is where do gays and lesbians live—andby extension—where are they having the greatest effect on policy? As previously stated, theseindividuals overwhelming live not only in urban areas, but in specific districts and neighborhoods withinan urban setting (Bailey 55). In general, this is accredited to the attractiveness of diversity andanonymity that cities have to offer to gays and lesbians as compared to suburban or rural areas. Of those gay and lesbians who live in the cities, there are only two consistent characteristics: (1)the median age in gay-concentrated areas is much lower than “non-gay”∗ and (2) the householdstructures of these areas are typically single-households or couple-households without children (Bailey66). Other trends that are not as consistent, but worth mentioning are: gay districts are more or lessmale-dominated ~2:1, and mostly Caucasian (Bailey 54). These demographics, paired with thefollowing voter demographics of gays and lesbians, help to determine where identity politics seek toinfluence policy in urban regimes. Of all voting trends among gays and lesbians, Bailey discuses the three strongest patterns: (1)gays and lesbians tend to have a higher voter turnout in younger populations when compared to “non-gay” populations. At the same time, gay and lesbian turnout rates plummet, compared to “non-gay” ataround 50 years of age (Bailey 102). Bailey credits this to the generational willingness to identify as gay                                                                                                                *To be more precise, the term “non-gay” is used to identify anyone not explicitly identifying ashomosexual in polling surveys. This can still include implicit gay, lesbian, and bisexual identities ofthose in the closet.
  • 6. or lesbian on exit polling (Bailey 104). (2) Gay and lesbian voters achieve higher levels of education,specifically undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees, when compared other “non-gay” voters(Bailey 105-107). While the cause of greater education is unknown, it clearly affects the higher voter-turnout rate of gays and lesbians compared to non-gays (Bailey 104). Education level and politicalefficacy (political efficacy, meaning an individual believes his or her vote counts, and they haveinfluence in public affairs) have a strong correlation. (3) Gay men vote at higher rates than lesbianwomen. Of all gay/lesbian voters, women made up only about 25% of that number–meaning gay menare outvoting lesbians threefold (Bailey 109). Bailey proposes two factors that could explain this. Thefirst is that men are more likely to readily identify as gay because the “same-sex behavior and politicalidentity that come with it... is [more] prevalent …among men” (Bailey 107). The second is that womenfeel less secure socially and financially, and would thus not reveal their sexuality in an exit poll for fearof discrimination (Bailey 107). After understanding the demographic data, the public policy preferences of gays and lesbianscome at no surprise; they “view the state more as a mediator of secular culture than as an administratorof traditional values...” (Bailey 115). Conjointly, gays and lesbians show a strong party affiliation withdemocrats, being highest in an urban setting (58.3% D, 28.2 % I, 13.5% R) (Bailey 117). Likewise, gaysand lesbians also tend to favor public policies that adhere to a liberal agenda; at the time this book waspublished, the top issues that mattered to urban gays and lesbians were, in order of importance:economy, health care, abortion, family values, and the federal deficit. The top issues that mattered to“non-gay” urbanites were, in order of importance: economy, health care, federal deficit, family values,and education (Bailey 120). Here, Bailey shows us that gays and lesbians vote in relative congruencewith the urban community. That “domestic policy issues best define a voting group organized aroundsexual identity” as well as urban voters (Bailey 133). That is to say, that gays and lesbians have many ofthe same values that make up an urban community; their policy preferences playing an integral role inthe development of policies in an urban regime.
  • 7. In the final portion of Gay politics, Urban Politics, Bailey uses several case studies in order toexplain urban phenomena through gay and lesbian identity politics. For this purposes of this essay, I willonly explain one: gay and lesbian influence in the controlled-growth movement of San Francisco in the1990s. In 1989, the urban regime of the city proposed Proposition I: The Mission Bay Project. TheMission Bay Project was an initiative to commercially develop more than three hundred acres of land,the largest site open to development in San Francisco. The space would be turned into a large-scaleprofit-making commercial center, complete with tax exemptions and waivers typical to processes ofurban renewal (Bailey 298). What the urban regime did not consider is that the three hundred acres areactually located in low-middle income neighborhood. This sparked a large controversy between thesurrounding neighborhood and the real-estate developers, business owners, and Board of Supervisors.Not because the groups were “opposed to development… but [believed] that the city could get a betterdeal from developers” (Bailey 300). That is to say, the residents, primarily gays and lesbians, would’veliked to see the space be used not only for commercial purposes, but for social purposes as well. Socialpurposes are the non-economic policy preferences of this particular community, which includes,healthcare (as previously discussed) and affordable housing. From what we already know of gay andlesbian policy preferences and demographics, it only follows suit that this group would want morehealthcare options (specifically for HIV/AIDS) and rental housing units. When it came time for thereferendum of Proposition I, it was, not surprisingly, voted down. Bailey claims that it was voted downbecause the proposal only recognized economic motives, such as business development. It completelyignored identity—specifically, the gay and lesbian identity of the surrounding community. In 1991 something changed. A new Proposition I was introduced, this time evidently consideringthe gay and lesbian community and their policy preferences. Proposition I now included not only a fullyfunded and staffed health clinic with an HIV/AIDS focus, but also 250 affordable housing units. It thencomes as no surprise that this new Proposition I overwhelming passed and was subsequentlyimplemented. The key concept of this small example of San Francisco’s Proposition I is that urban
  • 8. economism alone cannot explain policy development; identity needs to be taken into account whendeveloping urban public policy, and explaining it’s implementation. The gay and lesbian communityplayed an integral role in the creation of policy that would best benefit their identity’s space. Withouttheir partnership and input into local government, the land would have never been successfullydeveloped. By using Bailey’s concept of considering gay and lesbian identity influence —not just economicinfluence—we can better explain and understand policy outcomes in modern urban regimes. The gayand lesbian population has become strongly represented in urban settings; and, unlike suburbs or ruralareas, their presence is unique to cities. The reader of this work will be able to successfully identify thepolicy preferences and both implicit and explicit influences of gays and lesbians in local urbangovernments. For any urban dweller, this work is incredibly relevant, for it further encouragesunderstanding and empathy for their fellow gay and lesbian political constituents. For those who do notlive in an urban space, the book illustrates urban regime theory with a particular insight of gay andlesbian identity politics. No matter the background of the reader, anyone who digests Bailey’s claimswill be able to fully understand that economic factors alone cannot explain public policy at any level;that gay and lesbian identity is a crucial factor in urban regimes. Gay Politics, Urban Politics, was a truly eye-opening read. I found that Bailey’s centralargument, that gay/lesbian identity plays a role in urban regimes, to be virtually indisputable. Given thecurrent political climate, it is commonly accepted that identity plays a huge role in all levels ofgovernment. Most recently, we have seen that identity politics have finally reached the national level;the election of President Barack Obama, who successfully mobilized many African Americans voters. Ido not have any critiques of Bailey’s claims, for they all seem to be logically and empirically supportedthrough statistics, case studies, and analysis. The book is very much ahead of it’s time; published in1998, I can only imagine the criticism Bailey received for his research of the LGBTQ community. Iappreciate the value of his research, because it is clearly one of the first books completely dedicated to
  • 9. the political science of gays and lesbians. Anyone who dares to upset social norms for the pursuit ofknowledge surely deserves applause. I also admire the books inclusivity. The gay community istypically view as a white-male-only space, however, bailey is quick to identify and affirm the role ofwomen and ethnic minorities in identity politics. The only negative critique I have of the project is that it is, in no way, readily readable by aneveryday audience. Bailey assumes his reader is already well educated in political science, particularlyurban structure and urban economics. If I were not a political science major, it would have beenimpossible for me to comprehend anything after the preface. I found a similar conclusion in Kenneth J.Meier’s review of the book in the American Political Science Journal, “[Gay Politics, Urban Politics]could serve as a graduate text for students of urban politics…the philosophy might be somewhat heavyfor most undergraduates,” (Meier 939). In the same manner, Bailey is incredibly verbose. I consistentlyfound myself distracted from the content of the book because of the bizarre syntax and complex wordchoice. Likewise, Meier also identified that “Jargon often mars the theoretical argument…” of Bailey’swork (Meier 938). I think this is ultimately the book’s downfall. Because it is exclusively written for aparticularly educated audience, it therefore cannot influence the audience that needs it the most. Thisbook is further educating the privileged, not the masses.
  • 10. Works CitedBailey, Robert W. Gay Politics, Urban Politics: Identity and Economics in the Urban Setting. New York: Columbia UP, 1998. Print.Bernstein, Mary. "Identities And Politics." Social Science History 26.3 (2002): 531. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Nov. 2012.Meier, Kenneth J. Rev. of Gay Politics, Urban Politics: Identity and Economics in the Urban Setting. The American Political Science Review, Vol. 94, No. 4 Dec. 2000: 938-39. Print.