Accepted paper:

Fear and loathing in red state America: race, sexuality, and the declining religious right


Jennifer Curtis (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Public support for LGBT rights surfaced abruptly in the post-Bush US. Republican evangelicals see this shift as an existential threat, and appropriate Enlightenment ideals to preserve their power. These efforts are a window on historic US struggles to expand, or restrict, the rights of citizens.

Paper long abstract:

Civil rights for LGBT people are a central and contentious human rights issue in the twenty-first century. Many western nations have established LGBT rights protections, as public consensus solidifies in favor of these rights. This new 'General Will' surfaced abruptly in the post-Bush U.S. Indeed, during the 2000s, a triumphal Republican Party solidified evangelical support with anti-gay rights proposals. Now, evangelical political operatives see their permanent majority receding; LGBT rights are part of broader challenges to their social and political authority. Although 'God Hates Fags' demonstrations claim headlines, the existential struggles of evangelical elites usually play out more quietly, in 'red' locales they once thought secure. This paper examines one such struggle, from the perspective of evangelical political activists in the Missouri Ozarks. When the city of Springfield considered LGBT nondiscrimination law in 2013, local evangelical elites, some with national status, were dismayed. For more than a year, the proposal was publicly debated, and these elites were stunned that their opposition was not reflexively affirmed. The city had been a bastion of political and religious conservatism, particularly since the Republican Party's pursuit of white southerners after 1960s civil rights reforms. Now, local evangelicals scramble to authorize their newly fragile power with the logic of rights and minority protections—the very politics they mobilized to oppose. Their awkward embrace of the Enlightenment is a window on larger historical struggles, including the U.S.' fitful expansion of eighteenth-century rights to changing categories of citizens.

panel P74
Power, desire and social contract: power's aftermath in the contemporary world