“Coming Out” and to Be Represented:
Affirmation Action, Social Identity and Gay Rights Politics
Maurice Hong-Cheng Chang
“There are no days in our kingdom, only nights. As soon as the sun comes up, our kingdom goes into hiding, for it is an unlawful nation; we have no government and no constitution, we are neither recognized nor respected by anyone, our citizenry is little more than rabble.” [Emphasis added.]
Intorduction: The Problems of Invisibility and Identification of Gay Rights Politics
The worldwide gay rights movements can be seen as the struggle for visibility and the process of identification. Different with racial civil rights or women rights movements, gay rights movement does not have those visible characteristics, such as color of skin or gender. Because of lacking visibility, it is very difficult for communities of lesbians and gay men to establish networks of supporting and resources for movements. The bias and stereotypes of homosexuality still exist due to no communications and understanding. The “heterosexualization” of the society also makes the lesbians and gay teenagers confused and not easy to find out their own identities. For this reason, lesbians and gay men, like other disadvantaged groups, may also want to be represented by “descriptive representatives” – the “coming out” individuals who are visible in the society and share same experiences, which they might reasonably expect to promote loyalty to interests of lesbians and gay men. To achieve the function of increasing the representation of minorities in areas of employment, education, corporate and other public forums from which they have been historically excluded, affirmation action is the popular policy for this aim in different countries in the world. In this essay, I argue that many of the conditions that justify current affirmation action policies would also justify their extension to lesbians and gay men, no matter in diversity or in terms of compensation for historical prejudices, mistreatments or injures suffered. In particular in gay rights politics, affirmative action policies may present the constructing of social identity with “gay icons” and increasing the de facto legitimacy for lesbians and gay men in society.
Should Homosexuals Represent Homosexuals?
American lesbians and gay men used to argue that why there are nine Justices in the Supreme Court of the United States instead of ten. By saying this, they meant that, according to the so-called “ten percents of homosexual population,” there should be one “homosexual” Justice if there are ten Justices in the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet, in the case of gay porn and male nude magazines in Canada, the defendant claimed that there should be a different constitutional standard in reviewing on gay male porn products. It is because most judges are heterosexuals, and heterosexuals cannot determine what is obscene from the homosexual point of view. In other words, a “gay judge” should determine this kind of case concerning homosexuality. This is what Jane Mansbridge called the two meanings of “descriptive” representation of political affirmation action policies: visible characteristics and shared experiences. In short, we can ask two questions of representation in gay rights politics: how to make lesbians and gay men openness, coming out from the closet without internally emotional fears and externally social threats, and become role models for gay communities, i.e. the substantive and symbolic representation.
For most of lesbians and gay men, their gender role identities are defined in terms of object sexual choice with homophobia, such as anti-gay hatred and “demonization of homosexuality.” This is particularly in the case of gay men. There is a stereotype of most early gender role instruction that being a homosexual or a sissy man means to be weak and feminine. The threat of losing one’s masculinity is especially dramatic in the case of many male teenagers who recognize the male bonding inclination on themselves. Therefore, within the dominant cultural myths of the society, where “the demonization of homosexuality is a means of continuing to define oneself as male,” coming out from the closet or the openness in society is still a taboo for many lesbians and gay men. It is reasonably expected that lesbians and gay men would “choose” not to be open about their sexual orientation. A very important result of the lacking of gay icons coming out in the societies is that it deprives lesbians and gay men the political access to the mechanisms of the state in determining the most important aspects of their lives. In other words, they are excluded in the deliberate democracy. With the fear of coming out publicly, either individually or in a group, many lesbians and gay men also do not involve themselves with gay rights movements. Positive steps taken by affirmative action policies in gay rights politics will help to distribute the role models in our societies and promote to establish identities of lesbians and gay men.
Meanwhile, the suppression of gay history and culture completely ignores about the reality of lesbians, gay men and their communities. This ignorance has allowed, and continues to allow, “the grossest of false images to be projected about gay people, because there is no background of reality against which to judge them and find them fraudulent.”
How Affirmation Action Applies to Gay Rights Politics?
From point of view of descriptive or substantive representation and the theory of role models, it is necessary to apply affirmative action polices in gay rights politics. Nevertheless, does these affirmative polices apply to gay rights politics significantly different with which of blacks and women? If so, how to apply them?
Compensatory Discrimination against Heterosexism
A historical argument for affirmative action in gay right politics can be made on the basis of needs for compensation for prejudices and mistreatment because of legal discrimination based on heterosexism, stigmatization of religious, scientific and medical studies and segregation caused societal environment. For example, in United States, the history of legal discrimination of lesbians and gay men extends back to the earliest colonial days, in which the punishment for homosexual behaviors was death. It was the religious tradition hesitated from European immigrants and colonists. The legal tradition of “sodomy law” even existed in twenty-first centuries until the U.S. Supreme Court abandoned it in Lawrence v. Taxes. Lesbians and gay men are in danger of dismissal from their positions in the military – so-called “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and other workplaces, merely for their sexual orientation – for their “status”, and not for their liable “behavior.” Same-sex partnerships are not legal recognized in most states. Lesbians and gay men don't have the couples’ rights even when their partner is dying in the hospital. Moreover, in some local levels, laws have been enacted or proposed which prohibit even antidiscrimination laws in favor of lesbians and gay men from being “discrete and insular minorities.”
Because of lacking of recognizability, homosexuals likely to be “safe” and successful in their positions will be those “who daily engage in an elaborate ruse about their private life, possibly to the exclusion of any real one, and certainly at great cost to themselves psychologically and emotionally.” In other words, lesbians and gay men live with “two faces.” The majority of lesbians and gay men will be excluded from any social institution may also because there is great under-representation of gay icons in political, military or business institutions. In fact, the fear of discrimination if they are coming out in their lives means that lesbians and gay men are often forced to choose between personal/private life and public activities. Actually, outside of cities, there is usually not anything like an open, identifiable, or public gay community that can provide a supporting network for them against the ravages of heterosexism and homophobia.
The Problem of “Creamy Layer” of Lesbians and Gay Men
One important aspect of affirmative action is to compensate for those who are economic weakness. Some may argue that for lesbians and gay men, most of them are well-educated, occupied good positions in society. In other words, they are not educationally, socially or economically disadvantaged due to their backward classes. Yet, this is just another stereotype of “gay beauty,” and ignored the fact that lesbians and gay men are nothing else but ordinary members of our society. They may also be poor, ugly, without sense of arts and just human beings. Joseph Sartorelli argued that the injure suffered by lesbians and gay men is a “deficit in self-esteem.” The government and affirmative action polices should be concerned with improving the self-esteem of citizens with economic distribution. By quoting John Rawls’ view, Sartorelli explained that
“the deficit is the key to making the system of “distribution of material means” part of an overall system of justice that self-respect be secured, at least to the level where it would be if citizens were to live their entire lives under a system which legally affirmed their equal status.”
Another question might be thought that lesbians and gay men can easily hide their membership in the group and pass as members of the majority and thus avoid the ravages of discrimination. But this may be well at the additional great personal cost of not having a private life, or of “acting” always as if one did not. Being forced to hide one’s personal life, which is something on one would desire to do, is itself a loss that needs to figure into this “compensatory discrimination.”
Beyond Quota and reserved seats
As I argued in previous section, affirmation action policies applied to gay rights politics should more functionally promote integration, i.e. achieving the benefits of social identity and legitimacy, rather than mechanically distribute quota and reserved seats. Applying affirmation action policies that distribute job benefits and positions in connection with schools and political institutions actually provides role models for lesbians and gay men at motivations to the achievement of excellence and happiness by the improvement of self-esteem. Besides, these benefits should be distributed with effecting openness about sexual orientation, and it therefore significantly helps to improve the self-esteem of lesbians and gay men and reduce discrimination and bias around them.
In fact, the most effective way of reducing discrimination, prejudices or bias is to increase personal interaction with coming-out lesbians and gay men. The gay icons in the society also means the improvement of self-esteem, both in those who are openly gay and in others who are not yet coming-out but who saw the openness of others. In turn, the role model strategy helps to induce more lesbians and gay men to come out, in particular for those who are just developing an awareness of their sexual orientation and sexual identity. Because the strategy would “reduce the likelihood of severe injury to their self-esteem or disruptive interference with their self-development, and it would increase the likelihood of their being open about being gay.” As lesbians and gay men, with increased openness, learn how to integrate themselves honestly and completely into the society, they will begin to savor the benefits of full and equal citizenship in the country, and of equal opportunity in the pursuit of a good life.
Furthermore, affirmative action policies applied in gay rights politics regarding openness, as Sartorelli pointed out, would have an aspect of “repayment in kind” for at least one of harms suffered by lesbians and gay men. The policies therefore should include “inducement, even by higher pay, to openness on the job and in general.” However, this kind of inducement to openness in order to provide role models for lesbians and gay men ought to have some steps taken in the area of support for those who do come out and in the area of education to reduce ignorance of their existence in society. Given motivations and conditions for coming out of lesbians and gay men, even a very few role models in places of high visibility and influence may have a powerful effect against the greatest discrimination and bias.
To Build A “Queer Nation”?: Concluding Remarks
In U.S., the early 1990s saw the birth of a new queer style and social identity. Queer Nation, one of the gay rights movement organizations, was founded in 1990 in New York City. Its main aim was to challenge the fixed categories of identity but meanwhile to advocate a “queer national” identity. It demonstrated both the promise and the limits of a non-identification politics in the sharpest fashion since the days of radical gay rights movement. Although Queer Nation endured for less than two years, more and more people who continue to insist that they are “queer” rather than “gay,” “lesbians,” “bisexual,” or “transsexual,” testified to the enduring significance of the queer identity movement. The gay rights politics would take identity as a start point rather than a final destination. Few successes of gay rights are on the basis of similarities in their relations to the dominant constellations of power in the society. But to maintain and achieve the full equality of gay rights, it would need to promote a new vision of citizenship, articulating a model of belonging that neither embraced marginalization for its own sake nor surrendered the aim of social transformation. It might not be necessary to build a “Queer Nation” for those minorities, but do urgently create a gay-friendly “Day Kingdom” by affirmative action policies in politics and other areas. Then lesbians and gay men will be proud to say:
“We’re here; we’re queer! Get used to it!”
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Epstein, Steven. “Gay and Lesbian Movements in the United States: Dilemmas of Identity, Diversity, and Political Strategy,” in Barry D. Adam, Jan Willem Duyvendak and André Krouwel eds., The Global Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Politics: National Imprints of a Worldwide Movement 30-90. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999.
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Sartorelli, Joseph. “Gay Rights and Affirmative Action,” 27(3/4) Journal of Homosexuality 179 (1994).
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 Pai Hsien-yung, Nie-zi (Crystal Boys) 1 (trans. Howard Goldblatt, 1990).
 Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada (Minister of Justice),  2 S.C.R. 1120. Available at: (as of 23 Nov. 2005).
 To increase the visibility of lesbian and gay judicial officers so as to serve as role models for other lesbian and gay people and to bring to the attention of the general public the prominence of these judicial officers, there were twenty-five lesbian and gay judges and judicial officers met in suburban Washington, D.C. and formed the “International Association of Lesbian and Gay Judges” in April 1993. Those twenty-five came from California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York and Oregon. Official website available at: (as of 24 Nov. 2005).
 See Jane Mansbridge, Should Blacks Represent Blacks, and Women Represent Women? A Contingent ‘Yes’, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Politics Research Group Working Papers No. 16 (1998). Available at: (as of 23 Nov. 2005).
 See Joseph Sartorelli, Gay Rights and Affirmative Action, 27(3/4) Journal of Homosexuality 179, at 205 (1994).
 Id. at 206.
 Id. at 207.
 I don't agree the terminology of the “compensatory discrimination.” It is because for these groups, the affirmative action polices are not just “compensations” for formal prejudices or what they really lost themselves. The police is a reflection of what the equality requests under the ideas of “anti-subordinated” or others. It is true that in U.S. people used to call it “reverse” or “benign” discrimination which is focused on it's characteristic.
 539 U.S. 558 (2003).
 Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996).
 See Sartorelli, Gay Rights and Affirmative Action, supra note 3, at 188.
 Id. at 200.
 Duncan Kennedy addressed a “cultural pluralism” argument for affirmative action in political case that “we should be a culturally pluralist society that deliberately structures institutions so that communities and social classes share wealth and power.” Cultural pluralism, at a minimum, means that “we should structure the competition of racial and ethic communities and social classes in markets and bureaucracies, and in the political system, in such a way that no community or class is systematically subordinated.” See Duncan Kennedy, Sexy Dressing Etc. Essays on the Power and Politics of Cultural Identity 40-41 (1993).
 For the integration argument for affirmative action, see Robert Fullinwider, Affirmation Action, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, March 4 2005. Available at: (as of 23 Nov. 2005).
 This is also true in cultural and artist areas, such as coming-out actors, actresses and singers. Therefore, governments all over the world are aware of the importance of gay/lesbian film festivals and subsidize these events without fail. However, Holland is the exception. The Dutch government claims that nowhere else is the gay community as integrated as in Holland, and therefore there is no need to propagate their (own) film culture in a festival. See René Zuiderveld, Pink Short Film Days: Small Things Thrill, 95 Gay and Night Magazine 50-51 (2005). Available at: (as of 23 Nov. 2005).
 See Sartorelli, Gay Rights and Affirmative Action, supra note 3, at 212.
 Id. at 212.
 For example, the mayor of Paris, Mr. Bertrand Delanoe and mayor of Berlin, Mr. Klaus Wowereit.
 See Steven Epstein, Gay and Lesbian Movements in the United States: Dilemmas of Identity, Diversity, and Political Strategy, in Barry D. Adam, Jan Willem Duyvendak and André Krouwel eds., The Global Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Politics: National Imprints of a Worldwide Movement 30-90, at 60 (1999).
 Id. at 64.