This paper reflects upon the adoption of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights discourse and imagery in police public relations and problematises the construction of police as protectors and defenders of gay liberties and homonormative life. Building from a foundational conceptualisation of policing as a racial capitalist project, it analyses the phenomenon of police rainbow branding practiced in nominally public spaces, such as Pride parades, and online through news media and social networking sites. Drawing on critiques of queer liberalism and complicities with state violence, the paper explores the contours of carceral homonationalism, arguing that ‘officially anti-homophobic’ police image work attempts to obscure the role of the carceral state in (re)producing sexual and gender oppression. However, this image work has also given rise to new forms of political action. Counter-movements against police and ‘carceral pride’ are actively reworking the distributions of space and visibility within LGBTI movements.
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The ways in which sexual and gender identities are constructed, circulated and gain visibility in different spheres is a dynamic, contested, and historically and geographically specific process. I use LGBTI in this article to reflect its current popularity in my local political context, but note the limits of its deployment, including the reification of stable identity categories and potential exclusions of those who inevitably fall outside of them. I adopt the broader terms gender and sexuality to connote socially-constructed categories, identities and structures of power. In the spirit of Douglas et al.’s (2011, 108) discussion, ‘queer’ is used throughout to reflect a practice and a politic of “challenging the logic of the norm” and lived experience of “queerness” (e.g. of gender non-conformity and sexual dissidence).
By referring to these representational practices as ‘official anti-homophobia’, I am borrowing from and adapting Jodi Melamed’s (2011, 2) theorisation of ‘official or state-recognised antiracisms as liberal modes of instituting normative and rationalizing power’. At the risk of analogising (and thus flattening out the differences between) these modes of power, I attempt to unpack the distinctive characteristics of official anti-homophobia, including its racialised dimensions.
It is important to note that transition from criminality to respectability is far from totalising. Many LGBTI people continue to live the material effects of criminalisation and targeted policing, for example, those who engage in queer public sex cultures (Dalton 2007), sex work (Jeffreys et al. 2010; Stardust 2014), and who live with HIV (Weait 2007; Persson and Newman 2008; Race 2012). There are also important differences in the policing of cisgendered lesbian and gay identities as compared to transgendered experiences. Research shows that transwomen of colour in particular are subject to heightened risks of violence, harassment, and criminalisation from law enforcement (e.g. Amnesty International 2005; Sylvia Rivera Law Project 2007).
See Morgensen (2011) for a discussion of how modern queer subject formation in the US is conditioned by settler colonialism.
Achilles Mbembe (2003, 10) originally theorised necropolitics in the context of post-colonising Africa as the power of the state ‘to dictate who may live and who must die’.
These organisations are The ALSO Foundation, Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Transgender Victoria and the Victorian Anti-Violence Project. The campaign followed a 2006 discussion paper prepared by social researchers for the Victorian Attorney General titled, ‘With Respect: A Strategy for Reducing Homophobic Harassment in Victoria’ (Gray et al. 2006). With Respect promoted a dual model of legislative change and public education and No To Homophobia was designed to implement the latter strategy.
All ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ are accurate as of 26 February 2018, as is the following URL for viewing the image: https://www.facebook.com/notohomophobia/photos/a.326625380798978.1073741826.184413538353497/326910547437128/?type=3&theater.
I add the qualifier ‘some’ homosexuals in recognition of this constructed category’s continued stratification in law and society along lines of aboriginality, race, class, nationality, etc. For instance, while Australia has been congratulated for recently legalising same-sex marriage, its brutal offshore carceral immigration system continues to subject queer asylum seekers to narrow stereotypes and essentialising assumptions, which can be used to determine whether someone is ‘genuinely gay’ and thus worthy of refugee status (Raj 2017).
The case of the ‘Black Pride 4’ from Columbus, Ohio, draws further attention to these risks, including re-criminalisation (Fournier 2018).
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Many thanks to organisers of the Space Race Bodies II conference at the University of Otago for the opportunity to learn about PAPA’s activism in Aotearoa and to participants at the 16th Australian Homosexual Histories conference at La Trobe University for helpful questions about the ideas that eventually formed this paper. Thanks also go to Erica Meiners for suggesting a conceptual framework of carceral homonationalism and to the editors and anonymous reviewers at Feminist Legal Studies for their insightful suggestions and feedback.
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Russell, E.K. Carceral Pride: The Fusion of Police Imagery with LGBTI Rights. Fem Leg Stud 26, 331–350 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10691-018-9383-2
- Police image work
- Sexual citizenship