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ECPR General Conference 2020, University of Innsbruck

Institutionalising and Mobilising LGBT Rights in Cities: Anti-discrimination Policy in New York and Barcelona

Michele Grigolo
Centro de Estudos Sociais, University of Coimbra
Michele Grigolo
Centro de Estudos Sociais, University of Coimbra

Political and legal opportunities, the cultural environment and factors internal to social movements, including resources and frames, have been referred to in order to explain legal mobilisation in the field of LGBT rights, usually taking the state as the unit and level of analysis. This paper investigates the issue repositioning it at city level and comparing anti-discrimination policy in New York and Barcelona. It concentrates on law enforcement institutions available in the two cities, which have also acted as rights mobilisers albeit with different powers: the City Commission of Human Rights (CCHR), a quasi-judicial body that can decide and litigate cases; and the Office for Non-Discrimination (OND), which can only mobilise the law within mediation. The paper relies on eight years of research and uses interviews and official documents as primary sources. The first part explores the incorporation of LGBT rights into the two anti-discrimination policies. In New York, LGBT activists, some from within the CCHR, successfully promoted ‘LGBT amendments’ to the local civil rights law, from the ‘sexual orientation’ (during the AIDS crisis) to the ‘gender identity’ amendment. In Barcelona, LGBT issues were included in the broad mandate of the OND since its establishment in the 1990s, under the progressive leadership of the Civil Rights Department. The second part examines the mobilisation of LGBT rights focusing on complaints treated by the CCHR and the OND. It finds that in New York the intensity of law enforcement, including legal mobilisation, is constrained within the mayor’s civil rights agenda. In Barcelona, the OND’s reliance on mediation as the only tool for mobilising rights leaves mainly instrumental LGBT organisations less than satisfied. The conclusion reconnects LGBT rights in cities to debates on narrow and expanded notions of legal mobilisation, addressing the contribution of the paper to different theories of legal mobilisation.
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