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Respectably Queer

Diversity Culture in LGBT Activist Organizations

Jane Ward

Publication Year: 2008

For three years the author did participant-observation at three nationally prominent queer organizations in Los Angeles-Christopher Street West, which produces L.A.'s queer pride festival; the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, a 37-year-old multi-site organization; and Bienestar, an HIV services organization for gay Latinos. Ward documents the evolution of these organizations, including class and race conflicts within them, but she especially focuses on the misuses of diversity culture.

Respectably Queer reveals how neoliberal ideas about difference are becoming embedded in the daily life of a progressive movement and producing frequent conflicts over the meaning of "diversity." The author shows how queer activists are learning from the corporate model to leverage their differences to compete with other non-profit groups, enhance their public reputation or moral standing, and establish their diversity-related expertise. Ward argues that this instrumentalization of diversity has increased the demand for predictable and easily measurable forms of difference, a trend at odds with queer resistance.

Ward traces the standoff between the respectable world of "diversity awareness" and the often vulgar, sexualized, and historically unprofessional world of queer pride festivals. She spotlights dissenting voices in a queer organization where diversity has become synonymous with tedious and superficial workplace training. And she shows how activists fight back when prevailing diversity discourses-the ones that "diverse" people are compelled to use in order to receive funding-simply don't fit.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page/Copyright/Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

One year ago, I finished writing an earlier version of this book and started looking for a press with whom to publish it. One editor told me, “OK, you have two minutes to explain what’s new and different about your book. Go!” Another editor offered her guidance: “You need to pay more attention to the issue of marketability. ...

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1. Introduction: The Co-optation of Diversity

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pp. 1-26

Everybody wants diversity. Progressive activists know that diversity is the lifeblood of struggles for democracy and justice, and that making room for difference is the foundation of social change. Business leaders know that embracing race and gender diversity “makes sense”—it’s good for a corporation’s public image, ...

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2. The Mainstreaming of Intersectionality: Doing Identity Politics in a Diversity Culture

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pp. 27-49

A song by Le Tigre, a popular feminist techno-punk band based in New York, is titled, “They Want Us to Make a Symphony out of the Sound of Women Swallowing Their Tongues.” It begins with a gentle male voice asking a young woman what possible obstacles women still face after so many gains have been made by the feminist movement. ...

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3. Getting Skilled in Queer Diversity: Christopher Street West

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pp. 50-75

The ability to understand, manage, and speak about diversity has become a highly marketable skill—or, to use French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s term, a new form of “cultural capital”—in the U.S. workplace. Corporations, universities, and government organizations have paid billions of dollars to diversity trainers ...

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4. Celebrating Queer Diversity: The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

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pp. 76-103

As Keith Boykin’s quote suggests above, queer activists aren’t simply interested in diversity; rather, diversity is often the very centerpiece of queer political discourse. In part, the focus on diversity in queer politics is the result of long and hard-fought struggles for inclusion and visibility waged by working-class queers, ...

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5. Funding Queer Diversity: Bienestar

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pp. 104-131

As I have illustrated in the last two chapters, even activist uses of diversity often reinforce the line between what is normative and what is “other.” Yet I have also tried to highlight the productive effects of diversity culture on queer activism, such as the increasing number of queer programs that address the devastating material conditions of being “othered” ...

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6. Defying “Diversity as Usual”: Queering Intersectionality

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pp. 132-150

As noted in the preceding chapters, scholars of neoliberalism have demonstrated that promoting racial, gender, and sexual diversity is no longer inconsistent with the political-economic aspirations of corporations and the state. In fact, emphasizing diversity has, in many cases, been reframed as a necessary path to corporate profits. ...


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pp. 151-164


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pp. 165-174


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pp. 175-178

E-ISBN-13: 9780826592484
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826516060

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2008