From Bathroom Stalls to "Born This Way": The Rise and Fall of the Punitive Sexuality Regime in 20th Century America



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How does policy affect identity? This thesis uses the theories of American Political Development to analyze the effects of government action on the identities of citizens, specifically focusing on how policy regimes can structure the lives of citizens. Using the development of the punitive sexuality regime of the 20th century as a case study, I argue that the rapid change in the societal status of gay Americans from the late 20th century to the present is the result of government policy shaping both gay identity and political perceptions of homosexuality in such a way that eventually there was a break in the regime. I trace the development of the regime from its inception in the years prior to World War II to its apogee during the Lavender Scare. This regime was dependent upon the way in which it silenced gay Americans limiting their ability to advocate for their rights. I argue that the AIDS crisis constituted a break in the regime because the deadly nature of the disease meant that being openly gay and fighting for an adequate government response was more important than any benefits which might come from being closeted. Finally, I analyze the present state of LGBT rights and the status of gay Americans in light of the formation of a new sexuality regime.



American Political Development, LGBT Politics