My Current Research Agenda

My research is broadly orientated toward the study of gender and sexualities, with a particular focus on masculinities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identities, sex work, cultural change, and the intersection of sexuality, religion, and family among LGBT Mormons and ex-Mormons. My enduring intellectual interests lie in exposing how oppressive social conditions for marginalized groups are enacted, reproduced, and challenged on an everyday, routine basis, taking place within the realm of culture outside of the formal political sphere. I am particularly interested in the strategies used by marginalized groups to produce cultural change and in studying the experiences of dominant group members (e.g., men, heterosexuals) through an intersectional lens.

My current focus is on publishing the findings from two major research projects on sexualities (for which I was the principal investigator):

1. LGBT and Same Sex Attracted (SSA) Mormons and their Parents
This is a large-scale, multi-stage mixed methods study on LGBT and SSA Mormons and their parents. I explore three central research clusters:
a. What are the experiences of both active-Mormons and ex-Mormons who identify as such? How do they feel about the Mormon Church and its potential to change, and how do they balance the two identities if they choose to stay in the Church?
b. How has identifying as LGBT or same-sex-attracted (SSA) affected relationships with parents?
c. How do active-Mormon parents balance allegiances to their LGBT/SSA children and the Church given its opposition to same-sex sexual behavior?

The study has yielded two substantial datasets on a largely underground population, including a quantitative dataset on 700+ LGBT/SSA active-Mormon/ex-Mormon individuals and parents which has yielded several papers to date. The qualitative dataset draws on ethnographic fieldwork and 65+ interviews with LGBT/SSA Mormon/ex-Mormon individuals and parents.

Findings from my qualitative research with LGBT/SSA Mormons and ex-Mormons as well as Mormon parents of LGBT/SSA individuals show that they are actively grappling with conflict between their identities, their family, and their faith in response to the Mormon Church’s current policies on homosexuality. I explore the personal experiences of LGBT individuals who have chosen to remain active in the Mormon Church as well as those who have left the Church. I find evidence of social change around the issue of homosexuality within the Mormon community, and point to the way that recent activism by Mormon parents on behalf of their LGBT children and by Mormon allies has been launched through the framework of “family,” which is an especially central institution within the Mormon religious tradition. I suggest the Church’s heavy cultural-religious emphasis on family ties provides an inherent contradiction that can lead some parents, when pushed to choose, to identify with their LGBT children. Moreover, I argue that the centrality of the family structure in Mormonism gives the family a powerful place of authority from which to launch social change efforts inside the Church.

2. LGBT C.A.R.E.S. (Concerns About Relationships Ending Scale)
This study examines LGBT individuals’ decision-making on whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship. My central contribution has been to revise the previous heteronormative survey to make it LGBT-sensitive, conduct extensive fieldwork to gather a national sample of 600+ LGBT subjects, and assisting in analytical interpretation of findings. Two papers are currently under review from this study.

Recent publications and forthcoming work include an article in The Journal of Gender Studies on gender, sport, employment, and teamwork with Eric Anderson  and an article in Sexualities on male-male-female threesomes and the decline of homophobia among university-age men (with Scoats & Anderson; see here for more on those papers)

My  previous research agenda and works-in-progress involve several other areas and papers. First, earlier publications reflect related research projects that I was involved in over the past few years. This includes an article in Men & Masculinities on the masculine identities of male clients of female sex workers (with Pamela Black) and an article on the controversy over the proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York City (with Valerie Lynn Schrader and Barb Wade). Second, I am continuing to publish articles from my research on the American LGBT pride movement. This includes: a) a theoretical piece on external institutionalization and cultural resource mobilization; b) an article on how members of the Pride movement understand their activism and how they “talk politics” in this cultural movement; c) and an article on Mormon motherhood activism, based on interviews with ex-Mormon mothers who became activists on behalf of their gay and lesbian children.

 

“The Production of Pride: Institutionalization and the LGBT Pride Movement”

I examined how and why social movement organizations—specifically, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Pride organizations—institutionalize, the relationships between organizations and their communities, and how members make decisions within these organizations. Responsible for producing annual events that celebrate gay pride, LGBT Pride organizations constitute part of the cultural arm of the LGBT movement in the United States.  The first gay Pride march in 1970 commemorated the 1969 Stonewall Riots, and today Pride organizations operate year-round in cities and towns across the United States.  In some large American cities, LGBT Pride organizations are courted by corporate sponsors, receive extensive city funds for advertising, and have operating budgets of close to one million dollars.

Drawing on twelve months of intensive ethnographic fieldwork and archival research on four LGBT Pride organizations in three cities across the United States—New York City, Boise, Idaho, and St. George, Utah—I used an ethnographic approach that focuses on the meanings, symbols, and decision-making involved in the production of Pride event organizing throughout the year.  While social movement theorists generally treat institutionalization as the final stage before organizational death, I argued that institutionalization can signal organizational growth and survival.

I adapted traditional resource mobilization theories of social movements to explain how LGBT Pride organizations operate and reproduce themselves on a daily basis, distinguishing between “external” and “internal” forms of institutionalization.  Pride organizations accumulate resources in a process of external institutionalization, in which organizations forge ties with their local community.  These instrumental tactics are oriented not only toward generating the necessary funds for putting on the events, but are also aimed at earning symbolic legitimacy for LGBT people.  These modes of resource accumulation build on each other over time, as pride organizations move from relying primarily on gay infrastructure (such as gay bars, gay clubs, drag troupes), to non-gay infrastructure (such as local alternative cafes, local newspapers), to corporate sponsorship, and then to the political and civic sphere, for their fundraising and symbolic legitimation.  With respect to the internal dimensions of institutionalization—the tendency toward bureaucratization and centralization of power within social movement organizations—the four organizations in my study each developed distinct structural forms to execute organizational goals over time.  Specifically, I found that older organizations with well-developed formal structures, relying heavily on rules and procedures for decision-making, were at times more equitable in their decision-making processes and power distribution than the organizations based on informal friendship networks.

Lastly, I examined “gay pride” as a construction of meanings within the LGBT community, explaining how the resource mobilization involved in producing “gay pride”–what I call cultural resource mobilization–acts as a form of social capital by creating ties to various community institutions.  These various forms of social capital provide legitimate symbolic capital for the gay community, counteracting a history of symbolic violence waged against LGBT people.

This research illuminates the intersection of the capitalist market and organizing within the LGBT movement, reflecting the impact of the rapidly-changing cultural landscape for LGBT individuals.  This research also illustrates how the urban infrastructure interacts with social movement organizing, capturing cultural dimensions of the LGBT movement not adequately explored in other studies that focus exclusively on legal and political rights.

 (Check out photographs from my fieldwork here)