Special Topics in LGTBQ Sexuality: Queering Public Policy

William Turner, Instructor

University of Wisconsin, Madison

William B. Turner, Ph.D.


414.324.2302 (please do NOT call after 9:00 pm)

What this Course is About

Last summer, in a landmark ruling, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Texas sodomy law, invalidating all state sodomy laws and overturning its own notorious 1986 decision, Bowers v. Hardwick, in the process. The majority opinion in last summer’s case, Lawrence v. Texas, by Justice Anthony Kennedy, cited The Invention of Heterosexuality, by leading LGBT historian Jonathan Ned Katz, as an authority for the argument that sodomy laws from the 19th century and before in the United States cannot have had “homosexual sodomy” as their target – the central claim in Bowers — because the notion of a separate, “homosexual” identity did not come into existence until the late 19th century.

It is nothing short of amazing that a Justice of the United State Supreme Court would get so close to the head of the queer theory class in writing an opinion. Whether Katz, a historian, considers himself a queer theorist, and whether or not that matters, will be among the many open questions that we address during this course. Although it seems highly unlikely that any Supreme Court Justices consider themselves queer theorists, still Kennedy’s decision, and Sandra Day O’Connor’s concurrence, in Lawrence provide excellent jumping-off points for thinking about the intersection of queer theory and public policy. Both are concerned with the creation of categories and their impact on human identity. Our readings and discussion in the course will allow us to consider theory and evidence about how the categories, “gender” and “sexual orientation,” influence individuals’ willingness and ability to participate in the political process — how the political process and the laws that it produces serve to define the categories, and by extension, the persons who seem to fit the categories.

During the course, we will try to trace gradually the boundaries of a discursive and political field to which figures as distinct as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and French philosopher Michel Foucault have contributed; this inquiry will include discussion of what a “discursive and political field” could possibly be and why anyone would want to use such terms to talk about gender and sexuality. In addition to supreme court decisions and some philosophical work on the significance of “sexuality” in the modern West, we will read texts by activists, historians, and political scientists exploring how exactly the LGBTQ civil rights movement has worked since the 1950s to engage with and redefine the surrounding culture’s concepts, especially but not limited to “homosexuality.”

How the Course will Operate

My goal in this course is not to tell you what’s in the course materials and what they mean for the world around us. My goal is to serve as a guide to help you find what’s in the course materials for yourself, and to think about how you will apply that content to the world around you. I will spend the least time possible standing in front of the class talking at you. We will spend the vast majority of class time in discussions, sometimes in small groups, sometimes as one big group, sometimes with lots of structure, sometimes with virtually none. If you come to class prepared and participate in the discussions, you will learn more, and you will probably provide perspectives on these readings and the issues they address that no one else in the class – including me – has thought of before. Your grade for the course will depend on your performance in the following categories:


Short paper on the worldviews in the Lawrence decision

Prospectus for final project

Annotated bibliography for final project

Final project

Note that the default option for the final project is a paper of ten to fifteen pages. However, if you have an idea for a different project that would address the issues of the course in another medium and require roughly the same amount of work, please discuss that idea with me. I can’t guarantee that I’ll let you do it for this course, but I will certainly consider it. But you must speak to me about your idea before you write your prospectus. Note that a project you are doing anyway for another course will not suffice for this course as well unless you expand it by an increment equal to the work you would put into a paper for this course. If you propose such a project, I will consult with the instructor who teaches the other course, and that instructor will also have to approve your use of work for that class in this class.

Required Readings

We will read the following books, articles, and decisions for this course. The Supreme Court decisions and the articles should be available for download at the Women’s Studies web site. The books are available for purchase at A Room of One’s Own, the bookstore just off State Street.

Lawrence v. Texas, 123 S. Ct. 2472, 156 L. Ed. 2d 508 (2003).

Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996).

Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, 515 US 557 (1995).

Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986).

The Declaration of Independence (1776)

James Madison, Federalist #10 (1788)

John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1945-1970 (1983).

John D’Emilio, William B. Turner, and Urvashi Vaid, eds., Creating Change: Sexuality, Public Policy, and Civil Rights (2000).

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction (1976).

William B. Turner, A Genealogy of Queer Theory (2000).

Jonathan Ned Katz, “The Invention of Heterosexuality” (1995).

Janet Halley, “Gay Rights And The Courts: The Amendment 2 Controversy: Romer V. Hardwick,” 68 U. Colo. L. Rev. 429 (1997).

Suzanne Goldberg, “Social Justice Movements And Litcrit Community: On Making Anti-Essentialist and Social Constructionist Arguments in Court,” 81 Or. L. Rev. 629 (2002).

We will also watch the videos, Before Stonewall, and segments from The Question of Equality, and we may have guests come speak to the class.

Course Schedule:

June 14 – 17: Read Bowers v. Hardwick, Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas; chapters 4, 14 – 16, Creating Change.

June 21 – 24: Read D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, first half.

June 28 – July 1: Finish Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities; read first three chapters of Creating Change. Due Monday, June 28: short paper on worldviews in the Lawrence decision.

July 5 – July 8: Read chapters 5, 6, 10, 12, 13, Creating Change. Begin Turner, A Genealogy of Queer Theory. Due Thursday, July 8: Prospectus for final project.

July 12 – July 15: Finish A Genealogy of Queer Theory. Begin Foucault, The History of Sexuality.

July 19 – July 22: Finish The History of Sexuality. Begin Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality. Due Thursday, July 22: Annotated bibliography for final project.

July 26 – July 29: Finish The Invention of Heterosexuality. Re-read Bowers, Romer, and Lawrence decisions.

August 2 – August 5: Read Goldberg, “Social Justice Movements and Latcrit Community;” Halley, “Gay Rights and the Courts.” Due Thursday, August 5: final project.

If you have appropriate syllabi, please contact CLGH chair Karen Krahulik at Karen_Krahulik@brown.edu.