Institutionalisation of Political Parties: Comparative Cases. Edited by Robert Harmel and Lars G. Svasand

Out in Office: Openly Gay and Lesbian Politicians in France and the United States

Hugo Bouvard
Université Paris-Dauphine
Hugo Bouvard
Université Paris-Dauphine

This presentation aims at assessing the similarities and differences between out gay and lesbian elected officials in France and in the U.S. when it comes to their sociodemographic profiles and their political trajectories. Through a more specific comparison of the cities of Paris and New York, I emphasize how the local political contexts as well as the degree of institutionalization of the LGBT movement have shaped the possibility and the modality of electing openly gay and lesbian individuals to the city council over the past thirty years.
Then, I focus on the discursive act of coming out (or being outed) in the political sphere, with a particular emphasis on the chronology – were these politicians already out when first running for office or did they come out during the campaign, or even after being elected ? – and the medium – how did they come out (on social media, during a press interview, etc.) ? – While doing so, I highlight the sometimes inadequacy of the closet metaphor to describe the experiences of gay and lesbian politicians. Finally, drawing on theoretical works by Le Bart and Neveu, I suggest that coming out can be analyzed as a means of distinction in the political field: indeed, in a context of valorization of “authenticity” and “sincerity”, and redefinition of the public/private binary, revealing one’s sexual orientation can arguably play out as the ultimate token of ‘truthfulness’ and therefore be a card to play in the electoral competition.
This presentation is based on extensive ethnographic interviews with both French and American elected officials (N ≈ 35), as well as the exploitation of both public and private archives and a corpus of autobiographies written by openly gay and lesbian politicians.
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"History is past politics, and politics is past history" - E.A. Freeman

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