When Do Opponents of Gay Rights Mobilize? Explaining Political Participation in Times of Backlash against Liberalism

AuthorPhillip M. Ayoub,Douglas Page
Published date01 September 2020
Date01 September 2020
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-187kzQFaHVNHAi/input 853377PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919853377Political Research QuarterlyAyoub and Page
Political Research Quarterly
2020, Vol. 73(3) 696 –713
When Do Opponents of Gay Rights
© 2019 University of Utah
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Mobilize? Explaining Political Participation https://doi.org/10.1177/1065912919853377
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919853377
in Times of Backlash
against Liberalism
Phillip M. Ayoub1 and Douglas Page2
Existing research suggests that supporters of gay rights have outmobilized their opponents, leading to policy changes
in advanced industrialized democracies. At the same time, we observe the diffusion of state-sponsored homophobia
in many parts of the world. The emergence of gay rights as a salient political issue in global politics leads us to ask,
“Who is empowered to be politically active in various societies?” What current research misses is a comparison of
levels of participation (voting and protesting) between states that make stronger and weaker appeals to homophobia.
Voters face contrasting appeals from politicians in favor of and against gay rights globally. In an analysis of survey data
from Europe and Latin America, we argue that the alignment between the norms of sexuality a state promotes and
an individual’s personal attitudes on sexuality increases felt political efficacy. We find that individuals who are tolerant
of homosexuality are more likely to participate in states with gay-friendly policies in comparison with intolerant
individuals. The reverse also holds: individuals with low education levels that are intolerant of homosexuality are more
likely to participate in states espousing political homophobia.
political participation, backlash, sexuality and politics, LGBT rights, European politics, Latin American politics
et al. 2016), and that different groups may be drawn to
different strategies of conventional and nonconventional
Recent research has established international divergence
political participation (Carlin 2011; Marien, Hooghe, and
in both the national regulation of sexuality and public
Quintelier 2010). Furthermore, international relations
attitudes toward it (Hadler and Symons 2018; Roberts
research suggests a backlash is occurring in response to
2019). However, it is not clear what these divergent
the global spread of new contentious norms (Sandholtz,
trends in state homophobia or state recognition of lesbian,
Bei, and Caldwell 2018; Simmons 2009), which include
gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)1 rights mean for
spurring both political responses and societal countermo-
political participation. One body of research suggests that
bilization targeting LGBT people (Ayoub 2014; Bosia
economic development leads to more self-expressive val-
and Weiss 2013; Dorf and Tarrow 2014; Fetner 2008;
ues, like support for LGBT rights and gender equality,
Nuñez-Mietz and Iommi 2017; O’Dwyer 2012, 2018;
along with higher levels of participation (Inglehart and
Wilkinson and Langlois 2014).
Norris 2003a, 2009, 2017; Inglehart, Ponarin, and
These conflicts between the progressive embrace of
Inglehart 2017). An underlying narrative in these studies
tolerance and a traditionalist backlash present a puzzle
is one of traditionalist disengagement. Studies also sug-
for scholars and policymakers: if “traditionalist” values
gest that higher levels of economic prosperity and educa-
enervate political participation, when do opponents of
tion are associated with higher levels of political
participation (Blais 2007; Burns, Schlozman, and Verba
2001; Hillygus 2007; Verba, Schlozman, and Brady
Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA, USA
2Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PA, USA
1995). Yet, other bodies of research, especially ones also
looking at illiberal and nondemocratic contexts, chal-
Corresponding Author:
lenge these assumptions. Work on political participation
Phillip M. Ayoub, Department of Diplomacy & World Affairs,
Occidental College, 1600 Campus Road, Los Angeles, CA 90041,
shows that there are circumstances where increased edu-
cation is linked to decreased political participation (Croke
Email: payoub@oxy.edu

Ayoub and Page
gay and lesbian rights mobilize? The study described
individual-level political behavior, which is a key ques-
here explores this puzzle in tolerance of homosexuality,
tion this article seeks to answer. As LGBT rights become
and specifically its effects on individual political partici-
salient political issues in global politics, who is empow-
pation, our central question being, “As LGBT rights
ered to be politically active in various societies?
become salient political issues in global politics, who is
Our findings show that tolerant people in states where
empowered to be politically active in various societies?”
norms have developed that protect LGBT rights—states
Analyzing the European Social Survey and Latinobarometer
often referred to in modernization theory as having self-
on political participation and attitudes toward gay and les-
expressive cultures—exhibit the most political efficacy
bian rights, we expect that the alignment citizens feel
and subsequently higher levels of participation, and this
between their own attitudes on sexuality/gender identity
phenomenon opens up over the years as such rights have
and the norms of the state increases their sense of political
become a more entrenched norm in their societies. By
efficacy (the belief that one matters and makes a differ-
contrast, hostility on the basis of sexuality promoted in
ence in the political community) and ultimately the likeli-
other states (e.g., several states in Eastern Europe;
hood of their participation in politics. In other words,
O’Dwyer 2012)—primarily in the form of political
states that affirm one’s views on sexuality improve one’s
homophobia—decreases efficacy among pro-LGBT peo-
perception of efficacy with respect to those state institu-
ple. Thus, in states where proponents of gay and lesbian
tions, yielding greater political participation. The aspect
rights are needed the most, their participation might be the
of state behavior that increases political efficacy is the
lowest. While we rely on Europe as our core case study, in
alignment between state policies on salient issues and
the appendix, we take the study further by testing the
citizen attitudes. We also expect that discrepancies
robustness of the results in other regions, finding similar
between the state’s norms on sexuality and a person’s
expected trends with respect to political efficacy in Latin
own views on sexuality reduce the feeling of efficacy,
America (again comparing states with varying levels of
yielding less political participation. We test these assump-
political homophobia; Encarnación 2011).
tions, with a research design that compares political par-
ticipation and efficacy across European and Latin The LGBT Rights Gap and Varied
American states by (1) levels of political homophobia in
an individual’s country, (2) individual-level tolerance
Political Participation
toward homosexuality, and (3) individual education
Research on LGBT rights movements around the world
indicates growing acceptance and opportunities for polit-
Answers to the aforementioned puzzle shed light on
ical inclusion, while a new and evolving body of research
both long-standing theoretical debates in political science
indicates that global progressive trends have also been
and important political problems in contemporary world
preceded by or have led to local side effects of state
politics. First, while Inglehart and Norris (2003a) have
homophobia such as antigay laws in Eastern Europe,
argued that sexuality is a uniquely contentious issue that
Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa (Bosia and Weiss
predicts many types of political behavior, political sci-
2013). Bob (2012) refers to this dynamic as symbolic of
ence research is still unclear about why it is so divisive in
a gap between regions in their treatment of LGBT peo-
the first place. Furthermore, we know little about how
ple. We label this gap as one between states where
state responses to homosexuality affect individual-level
homophobia is politicized and states that are conducive to
political behavior (cf. Page 2018a; Page 2018b). Second,
gay rights; in the latter, they are sometimes even said to
this undertaking also addresses a practical problem in
feel “inevitable” (Hawn 2014).4 Drawing from Bosia and
contemporary world politics: the intensification of state
Weiss’s (2013, 2) definition, contexts espousing the state
homo- and transphobia in some contexts (Weiss and
strategy of political homophobia are characterized
Bosia 2013).2 The problem of a “homophobic wave” is
all the more puzzling in light of the fact that tolerance
as purposeful, especially as practiced by state actors; as
toward gay and lesbian people has been rising around the
embedded in the scapegoating of an “other” . . .; as the
world in recent decades (Inglehart and Baker 2000;
product of transnational influence peddling and alliances;
Inglehart and Norris 2003b). Importantly, recent work by
and as integrated into questions of collective identity and the
Roberts (2019) and Hadler and Symons (2018) shows
complicated legacies of colonialism.
that there is an upswing in positive attitudes...

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