On the Fringe: Gays and Lesbians in Politics

On the Fringe: Gays and Lesbians in Politics

On the Fringe: Gays and Lesbians in Politics

On the Fringe: Gays and Lesbians in Politics


Does the idea of equality for sexual minorities have as strong an influence as the media suggest? How often do politicians come out forthrightly in support of gay rights? Drawing on more than three hundred interviews with activists, politicians, officials, legislative aides, and journalists, David Rayside shows that gays, lesbians, and their political issues are still on the fringe of the political mainstream. His landmark study of political access demonstrates that, despite the overall tempering of anti-gay rhetoric in the 1990s, opponents of equality are formidable, and standing up for sexual minorities is still widely thought to be politically risky.

Rayside documents a high-profile controversy in each of three countries: gays and lesbians in the military in the United States, sexual orientation and human rights legislation in Canada, and the age-of-consent battle in the United Kingdom. In addition, in-depth interviews of openly gay elected officials from three countries -- U.S. Congressman Barney Frank, Canadian Member of Parliament Svend Robinson, and British M.P. Chris Smith -- provide an inside look at the political process: the negotiation of gay and lesbian policy issues on a daily basis, the attitudes of colleagues in various political parties, and the tensions created when grassroots and mainstream activism intersect with each other. The only major book to look at gay and lesbian politics in three culturally similar but politically disparate countries, On the Fringe explores the political workings and impact of a modern social movement


This book is an assessment of the relevance of legislative politics for achieving gay and lesbian equality. It is motivated in part by a recognition of how little analytical work has been undertaken on contemporary lesbian/gay/bisexual activism and its political impact. Most scholarly literature on state policy and social movements avoids more than the slightest mention of sexual diversity. This project springs also from a belief in the importance of contributing to our understanding of how members of sexual minorities can help provoke changes that improve the quality of people's lives--gay and straight. the book combines, I hope, the thoroughness of rigorous scholarship and the engagement of activist intent.

In some respects, my research has been rooted in an autobiographical interest in the consequences of immersion in established political processes, whether in a provincial legislature or a large and equally complex university. I originally came to be interested in such questions from activist experience that began in the late 1970s with The Body Politic, at the time Canada's best-known gay magazine. I was then taken up with legal defense work in the Right to Privacy Committee, which emerged in response to. Toronto police raids against gay bathhouses. in 1986 I coordinated a coalition to press (successfully) for the addition of sexual orientation to the Ontario Human Rights Code. It was at the conclusion of this campaign that I came to realize the importance of that political process, not only to social scientists but to activists themselves. Since that time I have retained a particular interest in discovering what creates opportunities for progress within mainstream processes.

As both activist and analyst, I bring to this inquiry a heterodox framework and an increasing aversion to certainty. I draw from analytical traditions born of class and feminist analysis, blended with liberal and social democratic traditions that rest on conceptions of individual and group agency. More than ever, I react against the surety with which many observers and participants interpret the long- term effects of processes and decisions just past. If, with the benefit of hindsight, skilled historians can disagree honestly about the significance of events in the past, how can we as analysts of the present claim we truly understand?

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.