Queer Lockdown: Coming to Terms with the Ongoing Criminalization of LGBTQ Communities

Ann Cammett, University of Nevada, Las Vegas -- William S. Boyd School of Law


Activists have long engaged in a wide range of worthwhile initiatives in pursuit of social justice. However, it is less common that activist groups articulate and utilize a philosophical and strategic approach that integrates organizing across issues. A case in point is the concerns of low-income queer people, who have been profoundly affected by the criminal justice system. In this paper, the Professor Cammett argues that a more integrated, comprehensive approach to the pursuit of social justice for low-income queer people would enable activist scholars to expand on a tradition of articulating a comprehensive vision that encompasses the true needs of the most disenfranchised and broadens the larger discourse around civil and human rights.

Any analysis that seeks to encompass a conceptual understanding of how socially constructed categories of oppression exact a toll on the most marginalized finds its root in the theory of "intersectionality." This theory posits that socially constructed categories interact on various levels to manifest as social (and political) inequality. Traditionally conceived modes of oppression, such as gender, race, class, and sexual orientation and identity, do not act independently of one another but rather interrelate and ultimately create systematic discrimination for those with multiple identities.

Today, the principles developed in theories of intersectionality are especially relevant and in need of being incorporated into coalition building within social justice movements. Activists have not, on the whole, been effective in setting forth a political agenda in a way that puts the theory to practical use (as part of their respective mandates). The great difficulty in rights-based organizing arises from the inherent—and conflicting—agendas and priorities within these movements. Many organizations that offer a theoretical vision of universal human rights remain focused on single-issue advocacy and miss opportunities to educate about connections between policies and social trends outside of their respective bailiwicks; one such missed opportunity is the issue of incarceration. As Professor Cammett outlines in this article, scholars and advocates would benefit from taking a closer look at the impact of mass incarceration, which marginalizes communities lacking in political power but can also provide fertile ground for organizing and reconciliation among them.