Queer Liberalism and Exclusionary Politics: Gay-Straight Alliances and Homonormativity

Within Western social imaginaries, liberally driven discourses of same-sex marriage, gender-neutral washrooms, and access to military enlistment drives political conversations regarding equal rights and admission to institutions in society. Despite the proliferation of discourses regarding multiculturalism and diversity in schools and North American society, contemporary (white) queer activism remains discursively entrenched within singular politics. With the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States, queer liberalism, or the “contemporary confluence of the political and economic spheres that forms the basis for liberal inclusion of particular gay and lesbian U.S. citizen-subjects” (Eng, 2010, p. 3), has reified singular identity politics in queer movements and politics while formulating a dependency upon state forms of recognition and a “new homonormativity” (Duggan, 2002, 2003; Grundy & Smith, 2007; Morgensen, 2010; Puar, 2006, 2007, 2013; Riggs, 2013; Sykes, 2011). This “new homonormativity” is “a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption” (Duggan, 2003, p. 50). Following Jasbir Puar’s theorization of homonationalism, or the “concomitant rise in the legal, consumer and representative recognition of LGBTQ and the curtailing of welfare provisions, immigrant rights, and the expansion of state power to engage in surveillance, detention and deportation” (Puar, 2013, p. 25), liberal queer politics has become a means of articulating a proper (white and homonormative) citizen, thereby leaving radicalized and sexualized others unintelligible. Within schools, educators and administrators are still grappling with how to discuss genders and sexualities while further critical writing is emerging detailing how anti-homophobia education can reify and perpetuate tokenistic discourses for queer and trans students (Monk, 2011).

In an Ontario context, gay straight alliances (GSAs) in high schools are often heralded as ideal models for addressing homophobia, heterosexism, cissexism, and transphobia. Following the Accepting Schools Act (Bill 13) (2012), which stipulates that all Ontario publicly funded schools must provide GSAs if requested, there has been a recent mobilization of GSAs within Ontario public secondary schools. Although school administrators, principals, and teachers strive to utilize GSAs within models of anti-oppression, inclusivity, and transformative practice, such educative frameworks posit potential homonormative ramifications and exclusionary practices (Davies & Greensmith, 2016). Furthermore, the processes and practices of GSAs can have harmful ramifications for queer youth of color (Blackburn & McCready, 2009), and queer Indigenous youth. Therefore, utilizing a framework following Duggan (2002, 2003), Puar (2007, 2013), Morgensen (2010), and Foucault’s bio political theory (Foucault, 1978, 2010), this paper critically examines how GSAs proliferate singular articulations of gender and sexuality, and, in so doing, act to reinscribe homonormativity, while further perpetuating settler whiteness and settler colonialism within schools. We postulate the ways in which white queer liberal politics are enacted within GSAs in order to disrupt and subvert singular queer politics within educational institutions. We conclude by analyzing how GSAs are positioned inside political structures of privilege and singular articulations of gender and sexuality while contesting the current frameworks used within white queer liberal politics in schools and western society.


Part of panel Queer Youth and Education
October 1, 2016, 16:45–18:30