Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Challenging heteronormativity

Key reading: Clarke et al. 2010 
Clarke, Victoria; Sonia J. Ellis; Elizabeth Peel; Damien W. Riggs 2010. Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans & Queer Psychology. An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Heteronormativity is “a concept developed in queer theory that describes the social privileging of heterosexuality and the assumption that heterosexuality is the only natural and normal sexuality” (Clarke et al. 2010: 261). This assumption used to be so widespread and commonsensical that it resulted in homosexuality being perceived as a taboo, a pathology, or even criminal behaviour. This means that any “gay-affirmative” approach to psychology, sociology and related disciplines of science had to (and still has to) “prove the normality of homosexuals” (p. 15). In this way, even if they are supposed to be supportive of homosexuals, such approaches actually reinforce heteronormativity. They render heterosexuality as the natural, neutral, normal option with homosexuality occupying the “just as good as” position; the former remains the basis for comparison, the standard that must be followed. Notice how homosexuals have to look and behave like heterosexuals if they want to be considered normal, e.g. by adhering to the standard of being in a monogamous relationship. 
The use of such categories as LGBT(I/Q) may also be seen as reinforcing heteronormativity, since they label people as a minority, different from the “norm” of heterosexual majority. It must thus be emphasized as often as possible that this project employs them purely as analytical categories. 

Heteronormativity is associated with the dichotomous or binary model of sexuality, i.e. “the division of sexuality into two, and only two, categories: heterosexuality and homosexuality” (p. 259). This model is dangerous because it polarizes the distinction – with homosexuality as the exact “opposite” of the norm of heterosexuality – and ignores the diversity of sexual orientations and behaviours, including bisexuality. The diversity and flexibility of human sexual behaviour has been captured in a 0-6 scale developed by Kinsey (the Kinsey scale, Clarke et al. 2010: 11). Exclusively heterosexual behaviour (0) and exclusively homosexual behaviour (6) are just extreme points on the scale, with equal amounts of heterosexual and homosexual behaviour in the middle (3). 
It should be emphasized that similarly dangerous is the binary model of sexes (female/male) and genders (feminine/masculine). It seems useful to consider this distinction in terms of a scale too, with feminine women and masculine men at the extreme ends, “the opposing poles of a continuum of human sexual and gender expression” (p. 7). 

The system of two, and only two, sexes is understood as ideological, “a lens through which we view and interpret the world” (p. 32); “the two-sex model is a relatively new way of understanding sex, which was invented during the eighteenth century alongside the development of modern science. Prior to the emergence of the two-sex model, a one-sex model was dominant, in which women’s bodies were understood as different (and inferior) versions of men’s bodies” (p. 32). The two-sex model is troubled by the existence of intersex people (“people who are born with ‘sex’ chromosomes, external genitalia and/or an internal reproductive system that are not considered ‘standard’ for either male or female”, p. 32) and trans people. 
Challenging heteronormativity means not only questioning these dichotomies, but also negating the “heterosexual matrix” of sexual desire (coined by Butler): “in western thought, desire for a man is often understood as a feminine desire and desire for a woman as a masculine desire” (p. 30). Within this matrix, a woman’s desire for a woman may only be understood if the desiring woman or the desired woman are somewhat “masculine”; people expect homosexual couples to adhere to the standard (play the parts) of “one woman and one man” in a relationship. 

Heteronormativity accounts also for at least a part of the existing negative attitudes towards LGBT parenting: “lesbians are often viewed as too masculine, and gay men as too feminine, to be good parents or gender ‘role models’” (p. 198). Clarke et al. devote pages 199-207 to research on gay/lesbian parenting which proves that children raised in homosexual-headed families do not differ in terms of psychological development from children raised in heterosexual-headed families; however, they also postulate “moving away from a ‘proving otherwise’ agenda” (p. 207), i.e. from the “just as good as” approach. They claim that comparative research is defensive (accepts heterosexual parenting as the gold standard), treats difference as problematic and reinforces problematic social norms. It measures the extent to which children conform to culturally normative definitions of gender identities and gender roles: “evidence of cross-gender identification or unconventional gender behaviour is interpreted as a ‘bad outcome’ (…) rather than as a positive sign of breaking down gender stereotypes and experiencing gender in new and liberating ways (p. 208, emphasis mine). 

Heteronormativity assumes that heterosexuality is natural, normal, and does not require explanation, while homosexuality is a developmental anomaly which demands explanation (p. 28). Homosexuality is still sometimes considered an illness, a disease. The American Psychiatric Association included homosexuality in the list of mental disorders (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM) in 1952, and removed it again in 1973. The APA then urged “all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness” associated with homosexuality (p. 13). However, the fact that homosexuality was on the list for 21 years (even if the association has existed since 1844, under present name since 1921) still serves as a strong argument in homophobic discourse. Nedbálková argues that the discursive change from “homosexual identities” to “gay and lesbian identities” reflects the shift away from “medical categorization, deviance and stigma” associated with medical, institutional discourse on homosexuality (2007: 78). 

Heteronormativity assumes that heterosexuality is the norm and anything else – a deviation. Homosexuality is regarded as a “choice”, homosexual people are expected to “change back”, but heterosexuality is not subject to choice – it is a given. By applying to heterosexuality the assumptions typically reserved for homosexuality, anti-homophobic or resistance discourses reveal such double standards, lack of understanding and discrimination faced by LGBT people. For example, Clarke et al. (2010) suggest the following questions for discussion and classroom exercises: 
 “Why are people heterosexual? Do people choose to the heterosexual? Is it a product of socialisation and early childhood experiences? Are people born heterosexual?” (p. 50) 
Asking such questions with regard to homosexuality is common and conventional; asking them with regard to heterosexuality seems absurd. Heterosexuals are not normally asked to account for their sexual identity, to explain it, to defend it. The point I am trying to make has been captured wonderfully in the following text coming from advice column of the Washington Post (especially the fragment in bold). 

Ask Amy: Parent pressures gay son to change 
By Amy Dickinson, Published: November 18 

DEAR AMY: I recently discovered that my son, who is 17, is a homosexual. We are part of a church group and I fear that if people in that group find out they will make fun of me for having a gay child. He won’t listen to reason, and he will not stop being gay. I feel as if he is doing this just to get back at me for forgetting his birthday for the past three years — I have a busy work schedule. Please help him make the right choice in life by not being gay. He won’t listen to me, so maybe he will listen to you. -- Feeling Betrayed 

DEAR BETRAYED: You could teach your son an important lesson by changing your own sexuality to show him how easy it is. Try it for the next year or so: Stop being a heterosexual to demonstrate to your son that a person’s sexuality is a matter of choice — to be dictated by one’s parents, the parents’ church and social pressure. I assume that my suggestion will evoke a reaction that your sexuality is at the core of who you are. The same is true for your son. He has a right to be accepted by his parents for being exactly who he is. When you “forget” a child’s birthday, you are basically negating him as a person. It is as if you are saying that you have forgotten his presence in the world. How very sad for him. Pressuring your son to change his sexuality is wrong. If you cannot learn to accept him as he is, it might be safest for him to live elsewhere. A group that could help you and your family figure out how to navigate this is This organization is founded for parents, families, friends and allies of LGBT people, and has helped countless families through this challenge. Please research and connect with a local chapter. 

The term homophobia is probably losing its evaluative power today: it is being reclaimed and proudly used for self-identification, comparably to the words black and queer. Clarke et al., not without sense of humour, suggest a new term:
Genderpathophilia - "an abnormal need/desire to pathologise any gender behaviour which makes you uncomfortable" (Clarke et al. 2010: 15).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Goffman beyond the Pink Curtain

One of the most influential sociologists of our time, who has helped to shape the modern understanding of interaction, communication and discourse – Erving Goffman, published a small book on stigma theory in 1963. Since then, the theory has inspired much work in social and discourse studies.
The book is concerned with various kinds of stigma – physical deformity, alcoholism, prostitution, mental illness, homosexuality – but it may be read while keeping only one of them – whichever is our interest – in mind.
I believe that reading this book with sexual minorities as “stigmatized persons” in mind may really enhance our understanding of their position as the Other in the society. To illustrate, references to Goffman’s theory permeate the collective volume Beyond the Pink Curtain (Kuhar & Takács (eds.) 2007). They appear, more or less explicitly, in 11 chapters in the publication, most notably in: Béres-Deák; Czarnecki; Jugovič, Pikič & Bokan; Nedbálková; Putniņa; Reingarde & Zdanevičius.
In what follows, Goffman’s most relevant points will be supported with quotations from these chapters.

A stigmatized person is, thus, “a blemished person, ritually polluted, to be avoided, especially in public places” (Goffman 1963: 1). It is important to note, however, that stigma is a social, not “actual”, “biological” category. Goffman notes that children born with a disability do not realize that they are not “normal” until they begin to interact with people outside the familiar circle of family and friends. The stigma stems from the way we as a society define what is normal, ordinary and natural, and what is not:
“Society establishes the means of categorizing persons and the complement of attributes felt to be ordinary and natural for members of each of these categories. Social settings establish the categories of persons likely to be encountered there. The routines of social intercourse in established settings allow us to deal with anticipated others without special attention or thought. When a stranger comes into our presence, then, first appearances are likely to enable us to anticipate his category and attributes, his “social identity” (p. 2).
We are reminded here of some central concepts in social psychology, such as categorization and stereotyping as “overlearnt expectations”, automatic processing of incoming information (including information about new acquaintances). What is also important in this quote is the understanding of “social identity” as an attribute we anticipate in others in social interactions – not as a stable and fixed identification with a category or group that an individual chooses for himself/herself.
Further in the book we find another, even more explicit fragment regarding categorization:
“In our society, to speak of a woman as one’s wife is to place this person in a category of which there can be only one current member, yet a category is nonetheless involved, and she is merely a member of it. (…) at the center is a full array socially standardized anticipations that we have regarding her (…) Thus, whether we interact with strangers or intimates, we will find that the finger tips of society have reached bluntly into the contact, even here putting us in our place” (p. 53).
It is a striking – and yet rather obvious – realization that even in our private lives, private relationships, we follow patterns that our society imposes on us and has imposed on us for countless generations. We all need to know “our place” and the “standards” expected from various interactive roles we find ourselves in.
In this context, stigma is an individual’s undesired differentness from what others (we) anticipated about him/her. We “believe that a person with a stigma is not quite human. On this assumption we exercise varieties of discrimination, through which we effectively, if often unthinkingly, reduce his life chances” (p. 5). Again, we, the society, are made responsible for the stigmatized person’s limited life opportunities – for example, it is not the disability itself that imposes those limitations, but our expectations and anticipations about how a disabled person should behave.
In the case of sexual minorities, it is the society’s expectations about individuals’ sexual behaviour that exclude them from the group of “normals” (Goffman’s wording).

The Own and the Wise
I have written elsewhere that the sexual minority identity constructed by the society is the only thing that the world’s gays, lesbians, bisexuals, etc. have in common. The stigma is the only thing all of them share. Thus, categorizing them together, conceptualizing them as a group is actually one of the ways of discriminating against them (which I also unavoidably do in this project, although I try to emphasize whenever I can that I use the term “sexual minority” as an analytical construct). Ghettoizing the stigmatized is a kind of violence, because it forces them to organize their life around the stigma:
“Among his own, the stigmatized individual can use his disadvantage as a basis for organizing life, but he must resign himself to a half-world to do so. Here he may develop to its fullest his sad tale accounting for his possession of the stigma” (p. 21). “A category, then, can function to dispose its members to group-formation and relationships, but its total membership does not thereby constitute a group” (p. 24).
Goffman also notes problems with the voice of the stigmatized minority coming from its representatives (in the light of the present project, it may be called minority discourse or resistant discourse):
“Whether a writer takes a stigma very seriously or makes light of it, he must define it as something worth writing about. This minimal agreement, even when there are no others, helps to consolidate belief in the stigma as a basis for self-conception. Here again representatives are not representative, for representation can hardly come from those who give no attention to their stigma, or who are relatively unlettered” (p. 27).
I understand this fragment in the light of Bourdieu’s claim that in order to change the existing patterns of symbolic domination, patterns of categorization (“internalised categories”) must be changed themselves (Bourdieu 2001, in Putniņa 2007). The moment an individual becomes a representative, he/she must follow the patterns that have stigmatized him/her in the first place, thus reinforcing the existing order.
“The Wise” are a special group among “normals”: “Wise persons are the marginal men before whom the individual with a fault need feel no shame nor exert self-control, knowing that in spite of his failing he will be seen as an ordinary other” (Goffman 1963: 28). “The person with a courtesy stigma can (…) make both the stigmatized and the normal uncomfortable” (p. 31).
I am reminded here of parents of homosexual persons, e.g. in Kuhar 2007: when homosexual persons come out, they “out” their parents as parents of a gay/lesbian child at the same time. This reinforces our understanding of identity as fluid, relational, and partly out of our control: every coming out changes not only the identity of the one coming out, but also the identity of the person one comes out to, and their mutual relationship.
Parents with such courtesy stigma may become involved in the movement advocating LGBT rights, as in the social awareness campaign “Parents, dare to speak out!” organized by the Polish Campaign Against Homophobia (
However, it often happens that parents “expect that their child will remain in the (…) closet in order to ease the discomfort of the fact that they are now the parents of a homosexual child. The transparent closet thus refers to the situation, mostly in the family context, when coming-out to parents results in an annoying outcome of partial outing; parents know that their child is homosexual, but they are not willing to acknowledge it. The child steps out of the closet, but parental reactions and expectations push him/her back into the closet, which is now a transparent one as parents have noted the “new identity,” but refuse to accept it” (Kuhar 2007: 43).

People intolerant of sexual minorities often say that sexuality should be a private matter, that what one does in the bedroom is their own issue and not subject to public debate. It is an example of confusing sexual behaviour with sexual identity, which is a part of our “public persona” (as discussed earlier). Understanding sexual minorities as stigmatized minorities may shed some more light on this issue. Goffman distinguishes two types of stigmatized individuals: discredited and discreditable. The former’s stigmas are always visible – they cannot conceal them. The latter’s stigmas may be concealed (e.g. criminal past, invisible but contagious disease). They are thus forced to make decisions pertaining to the “area of stigma management”, which is a part of their public life (Goffman 1963: 51).
These are always difficult and risky decisions: by not disclosing their stigma, the discreditable live in constant fear that someone will “out” them against their own will. They will then not only become discredited, but also lose the trust of those with whom they did not share their secret. By disclosing their stigma they risk being rejected and discriminated against.
For sexual minorities this means that it is simply impossible to reduce their “otherness” to sexual activities, to conceal it behind the bedroom door. From the moment they discover their stigma, they are discreditable, and the risk of becoming discredited is an inherent part of their lives.
Gays and lesbians may try to be “good citizens”; they may try to pass. Goffman distinguishes the following phases in the learning of the stigmatized: first, “his learning the normal point of view and learning that he is disqualified according to it”; next, “his learning to cope with the way others treat the kind of person he can be shown to be”; and finally, “learning to pass” (p. 80).
Passing is, of course, “playing by the majority’s rules”. It is also playing for the majority, an act that is the stigmatized persons’ duty. It confirms that it is not the majority’s responsibility to learn to tolerate everyone, it is the minority’s responsibility to be as similar to the majority as possible. “The stigmatised individual must act as if his burden is not significant so that those of the majority can pretend as if there was no issue of discrimination, leading to a “phantom acceptance”” (Czarnecki 2007: 338, footnote 23). To continue in Goffman’s own words: “It means that the unfairness and pain of having to carry a stigma will never be presented to them [the majority]; it means that normals will not have to admit to themselves how limited their tactfulness and tolerance is; and it means that normals can remain relatively uncontaminated by intimate contact with the stigmatized, relatively unthreatened in their identity beliefs” (Goffman 1963: 121).
The passer, on the other hand, will feel “torn between two attachments. He will feel some alienation from his new “group”, for he is unlikely to be able to identify fully with their attitude to what he knows he can be shown to be. And presumably he will suffer feelings of disloyalty and self-contempt when he cannot take action against “offensive” remarks made by members of the category he is passing into against the category he is passing out of” (p. 87).
Passing or coming out are, however, not absolute: specific social settings require a case-to-case management of sexual identities. “Gay or lesbian identities can be lived publicly in one setting and not in another. The way they choose to live their identity in each setting is often based on an experienced or imagined risk” (Béres-Deák 2007: 125).
Jugovič, Pikič & Bokan assumed that “people who think that their sexual orientation is less visible can control the information about their sexual orientation to a greater extent than those who believe that their sexual orientation is more visible. Our findings supported this hypothesis; lesser visibility tended to be correlated with more use of concealment strategies” (2007: 356).
Stigma, then, “does not reside in the person but in a social context,” and “is relationship- and context-specific” (p. 348, quoting Major & O’Brien 2005: 395).

Our last point is Goffman’s own conclusion: “stigma involves not so much a set of concrete individuals who can be separated into two piles, the stigmatized and the normal, as a pervasive two-role social process in which every individual participates in both roles, at least in some connections and in some phases of life. The normal and the stigmatized are not persons but rather perspectives. These are generated in social situations during mixed contacts by virtue of the unrealized norms that are likely to play upon the encounter. (…) since interaction roles are involved, not concrete individuals, it should come as no surprise that in many cases he who is stigmatized in one regard nicely exhibits all the normal prejudices held towards those who are stigmatized in another regard” (1963: 137-138).
Clarke et al. (2010) offer a lot of evidence for this point, writing about the existence of discrimination on the basis of gender, race or age within LGBT communities (pp.83-99). They also describe double or multiple discrimination against people belonging to two or more underprivileged groups at once, e.g. black lesbian women. Their experiences may be studied from the theoretical viewpoint of intersectionality of identities (p. 245). 
The concept refers to “overlapping marginalities that shape the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society, and the ways in which differences between people intersect in institutional arrangements, social practices and cultural discourses”… in this model, “racial categories are always sexualized”, “social class is always gendered (ibid). 
Intersectuality may be better understood when investigated with relation to privilege – benefits or advantages resulting from social hierarchies, applying to the groups on top positions in those hierarchies in a given society. For example, men are privileged in male-dominated societies and white people are privileged in white-dominated societies; they enjoy benefits associated with these positions even if they are not themselves sexist or racist (p. 246). Thus, the situation of a male versus female homosexual or a white versus black gay is profoundly different. Any scientific study of LGBT-related issues must account for these differences.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Attitudes towards minorities from a historical perspective

Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective 

The questions this project asks are: how do media participate in creating public perception of sexual and religious minorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland? What discursive strategies are used to render negative attitudes in a “politically correct” way, and how is homophobia/xenophobia defended and inequality argued for in the public sphere? How does the changing economic, political, cultural context – especially instability, lack of security, atmosphere of crisis and deterioration detected in Latvia and Poland in recent years – influence these attitudes? And does the development of media technologies have any effect on them?
How we perceive, describe and approach others, how we define the border between “us” and “them”, tells us a lot about ourselves. Assuming a historical perspective allows us to see whether this border between our in-group and different out-groups has shifted, how far, and in which direction. Examining the political, social and economic contexts of these shifts may explain what it is that makes us open or suspicious, tolerant or intolerant, inclusive or exclusive.

Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have been selected for this project due to their history of belonging to the Eastern Bloc. An important part of the project is the historical context of transition, its social and cultural aspects. In official discourses of the Soviet Union and socialist Poland, both sexuality and religion were non-existent taboos. In the unofficial, dissident culture, especially in the 1970s, spirituality associated with any religion and unrestricted sensuality were promoted among the youth as tokens of personal freedom and resistance (Mikailienė 2011). After the fall of the Soviet Union, all three countries highlighted the return to traditional values as an element of the process of rebuilding their national identities. As a result, the situation has been reversed – in Poland, for example, Catholicism is now part of official culture while atheism belongs to alternative culture.

Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are thus revisiting narratives of a glorious past in order to "heal" their national identities (see e.g. Lindqvist (ed.) 2003). But they are also looking into the future - they want to be modern, they want to be perceived as modern; they strive to participate in the global culture. These two processes are characteristic of transitional societies and constitute what we may call a normative-value dissonance (Savicka 2004, Lazić & Cvejić 2012). To illustrate, Latvia is a country where marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman in the Constitution, and where the Parliament has recently discussed legislation on transsexualism that, if passed, would be the most liberal in Europe. Poland is able to accommodate both the right-wing, xenophobic All-Poland Youth movement (Sidorenko 2008) and the voters who have elected a homosexual person (Robert Biedroń) and a transsexual person (Anna Grodzka) to the current Parliament. And while 92% Lithuanians who declare themselves religious are Roman Catholics, the same people seem to take pride in the fact that Lithuanians were “the last pagans in Europe” and are apparently welcoming to new religious communities and organizations, such as Buddhists, Shri Sathya Say Baba Movement and Baha’ists (Juknevičius 2005: 63). 
It thus seems that it is possible to accommodate both processes in a given culture. Still, there are minorities that fare worse than others, and with regard to this the most important question is why. What makes, for example, sexual minorities so unacceptable? 

Normative-value dissonance is an uncomfortable state (recall cognitive dissonance between inconsistent attitudes and behaviour that causes enough discomfort to bring about attitude change). Processes of social and cultural change cause anxiety, "fear of modernity" (Biedroń 2009: 10). People start to look for someone to blame - a scapegoat that may be made responsible for this anxiety (recall Shermer's (2011) agenticity - the pattern of attributing responsibility for events and processes to consciously acting agents). 
This connects to the point I made earlier - that after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, all three countries looked to the nationalism of the past for patterns of statehood. Communism became the definition of evil: anything associated with or resembling communism was automatically rejected. In this context, a link has been noted between homophobia and anticommunism, where homosexuals and communists pose serious threats to the prevailing social and sexual order (Epstein 1994). Similarly, opponents of the European Union compare it to the Soviet Union, thus symbolically stripping it of any legitimacy. ["This link is also made in numerous claims about the existence of a powerful “homosexual lobby” apparently supported by the West", Gruszczynska 2007: 108.] 
But the legacy of the years behind the iron curtain cannot be dismissed. Putniņa, for example, notes how the long tradition of silencing sexuality in the public sphere affects attitudes towards LGBT people today: "Latvians missed the opportunity to debate sexuality in the 1960s. Debates around homosexuality emerged in the virtual absence of a critical discourse tradition dealing with sexuality and gender" (2007: 324). This claim, of course, applies to Lithuania and Poland too.
Czarnecki makes an interesting point when he compares anti-Semitism of pre-war Poland and present-day homophobia (2007). Both Jews and gays have been constructed as a threat to health (carriers of disease), to the family and to the nation. "A heavy importance is placed on the family as the cornerstone of Polish society, and as a symbol of the nation. Any behaviour that is seen as anti-family can also be paramount to treason, or a deliberate attempt to destroy the nation" (Czarnecki 2007: 334). Constructing sexual minorities as a threat to the family/nation is even more salient in Lithuania and Latvia, which are small countries struggling with emigration of young people and low birth rates.

When discussing anti-gay politics in Poland and Latvia, O'Dwyer & Schwartz (2010) note that these countries are characterized by specific configurations of religion, national identity and party system institutionalization. Especially the first two are recurrent themes in most texts about homophobia, particularly in the context of membership in the European Union:  
"In Poland, religion was (and still is) the main source of collective rituals through which the national identity was formed and is sustained in Polish society" (Gruszczynska 2007: 106, quoting Marody & Mandes 2005: 17). Gruszczynska emphasizes that the importance of religion in the construction of national identity was salient during the EU accession process, and that the conservative right perceive Poland’s membership in the EU "as an opportunity to reintroduce Catholic-Christian values to the mostly secular societies of Western Europe, where Poland profiles itself as the new religious-conservative power in the Union (...) the prominence of homophobic attitudes in Poland can be seen as a reflection of national pride and the notion of Poland as an island of “normalcy” in the sea of Western European degeneracy" (2007: 106).
“Incorporation into the wider European entity aroused suspicion and opposition from political trends that saw greater openness to the outside world as a threat to values derived from Poland’s own, apparently specific, past” (Cox & Myant 2008: 2). “[Public discourse] focuses on patriotic values and the promotion of moral education based on Catholic values in a way that presents negative images of foreign influences, cosmopolitan values and cultural diversity, and sees these as challenges to traditional aspects of ‘the Polish way of life’” (p. 5). Bärenreuter writes that “if the discursive construction of Europe is in conflict with the various national understandings of state and nation, it is likely that these European narratives will be rejected” (2005: 196). I would claim that this is exactly what is happening in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland with regard to sexual minorities: homosexuality is constructed there as something alien, foreign, something that does not belong to the local culture (to the point of saying that there were no gay people there before), something imposed by the European Union. Thus, the European supranational identity (in which national identities could comfortably be nested) is rejected – rather, Europe is the “background other” against which national identities are constructed (Savukynas 2005).
Party system institutionalization is a theme not often considered, but it definitely plays an important role. "Underinstitutionalization matters because, by lowering the hurdle for new, radical parties to enter parliament, it facilitates the emergence of veto players and, by complicating government formation, maximizes their leverage" (O'Dwyer & Schwartz 2010: 234). In all three countries, parties emerge and disappear, coalitions are unstable, and there is no robust link between parties and voters. In such conditions there are no ideologically driven left- or right-wing parties (those that do exist do not matter in elections). No party is thus ready to take the interests of confessional or sexual minorities on its agenda - it would be political suicide.

I believe that I have discussed enough introductory issues to illustrate how complex and multidimensional this project is going to be. I will try to post updates on its progress regularly.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Sexual minorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland

Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective 

history of the LGBT movement

Putniņa 2007
Gruszczynska 2007
reports on homophobic speech
Tereškinas 2007
Mozaīka 2007
Czarnecki (ed.) 2009
discussion of gay pride parades
Davydova 2012
Kruks 2007
Gruszczynska 2007
reports on the situation of LGBT people
Platovas & Simonko 2002
Locmelis 2002
Abramowicz (ed.) 2007; Makuchowska, Pawlęga 2012
legal issues
Rukšėnaitė 2012

issues of policy

O’Dwyer & Schwartz 2010

What kinds of problems of sexual minorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are tackled with, and how are they presented, in scientific literature?
In the previous post, I have already quoted some statistical studies conducted by the European Commission as well as more detailed accounts of the legal and social issues by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and ILGA. The table above contains also some references to discourse-based studies, i.e. on homophobic speech in the media (Tereškinas 2007) and political discourse (Mozaīka 2007). Most scientific accounts regarding sexual minorities do mention some statistical data. Below is a table summarizing results of a survey conducted among the LGBT communities in Lithuania and Latvia in 2002 (Platovas & Simonko 2002 and Locmelis 2002, respectively).

do parents know?
yes - 33%
yes - 49%
do siblings know?
yes - 38%
yes - 38.1%
do other relatives know?
yes - 15%
yes - 27.3%
do friends know?
all - 20%,
some - 58%
all - 32.5%, some - 55.7%
have experienced violent attacks on the basis of sexual orientation
yes - 27%
yes - 19%
have experienced harassment on the basis of sexual orientation
yes - 52%
yes - 40.2%
avoid kissing/holding hands in public
yes - 63%
yes - 56.2%
avoid telling people about their orientation
yes - 64%
yes - 72.7%
hide their orientation at work (from boss, colleagues)
from all - 53%, some - 32%
from all - 28.7%, some - 50.3%
experience discrimination at home
yes - 25%
yes -27.8%
are respondents religious?
yes - 30%,
no - 70%
yes - 37.6%,
no - 62.4%
emigration considered
yes - 73%
yes - 52.1%
sexual orientation as a key factor in decision to emigrate
yes - 63%
yes - 75.2%

As the table indicates, most LGBT people in both countries lead secret lives both in the family and in the workplace. If they do come out, they may face harassment and discrimination even in their own families. 
The quotes below draw a rather grim picture: in all three countries the social acceptance of homosexuality is alarmingly low.

In 1991, Lithuania had the lowest acceptance of homosexuality in Europe: 87% Lithuanians did not want to live in the same neighbourhood with homosexual persons. In 2002, 47% of heterosexual persons would still try to make their homosexual son/daughter change their sexual orientation and only 28% would accept it. Only 1.2% respondents said that rights of homosexual persons should be better protected (Platovas & Simonko 2002). 68.9 % of Lithuanians would not want homosexuals to work in schools and 50 % objected to their working on the police force. In this survey, 46.6 % of the Lithuanian population agreed with the statement “Homosexuals should be treated medically” and 61.5 %, with the statement “I would not want to belong to any organization that accepted homosexual members” (Tereškinas 2007: 3). In January, a survey by research company RAIT found that only 4% of Lithuanians support same-sex civil partnerships (ILGA 2013: 143).

In Latvia in 1999, 63% respondents said that homosexual persons deserved to have equal rights as heterosexuals; and 53% said that they deserved their relationships to be officially recognized (Locmelis 2002). However, according to the findings of another survey (Makarovs 2006), the majority of the Latvian population has negative attitudes towards homosexuality and homosexuals. 26% of respondents condemned both homosexuals and their lifestyle, 37% condemned the homosexual lifestyle but did not despise homosexual people, while only 25% condemned neither homosexual people nor their lifestyle (Putniņa 2007: 317). Latvia does show signs of progress towards greater LGBTI equality, but the recognition of same-sex couples continues to be regarded as “unacceptable” by a majority of people in the country while the Eurobarometer poll revealed that the Latvians are the least comfortable in the European Union with openly LGBT person elected to high political position (ILGA 2013: 135).

In Poland, according to the most recent survey on discrimination based on the grounds of sexual orientation available, about 13% of gays and lesbian experience physical violence, about one third—psychological violence. 70% hide their sexual orientation at the job and in public sphere. About one third claim that if offered the possibility, they would consider moving abroad. 86% Poles don’t want their children to come in touch with gays or lesbians. 40% believe that homosexual acts between consenting adults should be illegal, about the same number would prefer not to have any contact with gays and lesbians at all. Finally, only 4% believe that homosexuality is normal, and a further 55% claim that it is a deviation from the norm that should be tolerated but not accepted (Gruszczynska 2007: 96). In July, a study, carried out by the Government’s Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment, showed that 49% of Poles believe gay people are not treated as fairly as straight people. The same study also indicated that only 23% of Poles were in favour of registered partnerships for same-sex couples (ILGA 2013: 176).

There are some studies based upon the same or similar theoretical and methodological foundations as this project. I value as especially useful all contributions to the volume Beyond the Pink Curtain. Everyday Life of LGBT People in Eastern Europe (Kuhar & Takács (eds.) 2007) with four chapters on the countries that interest me here (Reingarde & Zdanevičius, Gruszczynska, Putniņa and Czarnecki), as well as the reports on homophobic speech, which offer a good starting point for a comparative study of argumentation strategies in the three languages (Tereškinas 2007, Mozaīka 2007, Czarnecki (ed.) 2009). 
I would like to devote some attention to two general issues that permeate the contributions to Beyond the Pink Curtain regarding Latvia (Putniņa), Lithuania (Reingarde & Zdanevičius) and Poland (Gruszczynska). First is the matter of visibility/invisibility and, stemming from that, the distinction between private and public sphere. Strongly inspired by Bourdieu (2001), Putniņa regards homophobia in terms of symbolic domination. A transformation of the existing configuration of symbolic power would require a deconstruction of sexuality and family, differentiating the sexual relation from the power relation (2007: 315). By organizing themselves into a "minority", gays and lesbians became visible and thus a threat to the established relations of power. "This gave rise to the homophobic movement that tried to reassert heteronormative values as if those had been lost under the pressure of homosexuals" (p. 318). This process seems to follow in the footsteps of the feminist movement: feminism causes similar resistance, as if postulating gender equality meant postulating female dominance. Heterosexuality and homosexuality cannot exist together, just as men and women cannot be equal: it is an either-or type of situation. In both cases, the dominated are accepted if they stay invisible: it is a common feature of heteronormative societies that members of sexual minorities are tolerated on the condition that they suppress their sexual identity (Reingarde & Zdanevičius 2007: 55, Gruszczynska 2007: 107). Following Martin (1992), Reingarde & Zdanevičius write: "just as men work with men and come to believe that they work in a gender-neutral world rather than in one where men dominate, heterosexuals also, by working with other heterosexuals, come to believe that they work in a sexually neutral world, rather than in one in which heterosexuals dominate. Because sexual minorities are socially invisible, sexual orientation is not perceived to be relevant, as if gay people have a sexual orientation, but straight people do not" (2007: 49). Here I see another correspondence to gender inequality whereby masculinity is the norm and femininity - deviation from the norm, as if women were "marked" for sex and men were not.
This prescription of invisibility sentences sexual minority identities to remain locked in the private sphere. However, following Goffman (1963), Reingarde & Zdanevičius argue that "sexual identities and orientations are part and parcel of our public persona" (2007: 58-59). It means that, first, there is a frustration which can never be resolved in a heteronormative society; second, these identities and orientations are recognizable from "appearances, artifacts and interactions", and thus homosexuals are always at risk of being condemned, no matter if they abide by the rules or not (p. 59, also Czarnecki 2007).
The second issue I would like to discuss is the fact that homosexuality is socially constructed using heteronormative categories, heteronormative language. The whole world is, after all, constructed on the basis of male-female difference (Putniņa 2007: 319, after Bourdieu 2001). As long as such categorization is in use, anything that does not follow the pattern of dominant male-dominated female will be perceived as perverse. With regard to this point, Putniņa writes: "according to Bourdieu the change in the order of symbolic domination can be brought about in two ways. First, the meaning of categories imposed by symbolic domination can be inverted: thus stigma can be turned into an emblem, an object of pride. Of course, the ultimate problem of such a transformation is that the dominated construct themselves within the categories of the dominant. These categories are constructed to make the dominated invisible and stigmatized. When the dominated articulate them, they simultaneously reaffirm the act of their symbolic domination. Second, the internalised categories (producing gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals along with other categories) can be changed themselves. The category of LGBT dissolves, for example, when we consider partnerships in terms of mutual love and recognition of equal relationships between the partners. Looking from this perspective, the sex of each partner does not play an important role" (2007: 315).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Minorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland

Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective 

Statistical information about confessional and sexual minorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland on the basis of European Commission's Eurobarometers (EC 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012).
  • In EC 2012, 69% Latvians, 90% Lithuanians and 92% Poles identified themselves as Christians (Catholics: 24%, 84% and 91%, respectively). There were no respondents identifying themselves as Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddist or Hindu. At the same time, 3% Latvians, 4% Lithuanians and 3% Poles considered themselves members of a religious minority.
  • The only country with any respondents identifying themselves as members of a sexual minority was Poland - 1%. At the same time, 15% Latvians, 12% Lithuanians and 9% Poles said they had homosexual friends.
  • In EC 2008, 2009 and 2012 respondents were asked whether they would feel comfortable having a person belonging to a sexual or religious minority in the highest elected political position in their country. On a scale from 1 (very uncomfortable) to 10 (totally comfortable), Poles scored the lowest on answer 1 and the highest on answer 10 in all cases. In all countries, respondents were much more comfortable with a representative of a religious than sexual minority.
  • The perception of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation seems to have slightly declined from 2008 to 2012. In 2008, 36% Latvians, 43% Lithuanians and 52% Poles said discrimination was widespread; in 2012, the results were 44%, 40% and 35%, respectively. The perception of discrimination on the basis of religion/belief was much lower. The results for "widespread" were: in 2008 - 10%, 11% and 27%; in 2012: 10%, 14%, 21%.
  • To compare with other European countries: in 2008, the average for level of comfort with a homosexual neighbour in the EU was 7.9. The lowest results were recorded in Lithuania (6.1), Latvia (5.5) and Bulgaria (5.3). Poland was among the countries with highest level of comfort with a neighbour representing another religion or belief (9.2, EU average – 8.5). 
More results in table form here

Information on sexual minorities
In 2008 and 2009, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights issued two reports on homophobia and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in member states, the former concerned with legal aspects and the latter with social issues. A compilation of results regarding Latvia, Lithuania and Poland is available here.

ILGA-Europe (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans- and Intersexual Association, Europe region) gathers information on the situation of sexual minorities in various countries. Here are links to ILGA websites dedicated to: Latvia, Lithuania, Poland.
A comparative summary of the legal situation of sexual minorities in these countries is available in table form here

Other resources
  • Kaspars Goba's documentary "Homo@lv" about the gay pride parades in Riga (with English subtitles)
  • Movies prepared by the Lithuanian Gay League for the Baltic Pride 2013 event
  • Statements made by Lithuanian Members of Parliament on homosexuality

Publications of the Polish Campaign Against Homophobia: 
  • Situation of LGBT persons in Poland. 2010 and 2011 report (Makuchowska & Pawlęga (eds.) 2012)
  • Equality Lesson. Attitudes and Needs of School Staff and Youth Towards Homophobia in School (summary of Świerszcz (ed.) 2012)
  • Violence motivated by homophobia. 2011 report (Makuchowska (ed.) 2011)
  • Heading in the Right Direction. A guide book of LGBT rights in Europe 2011 (Schuster et al. 2011)

Other publications

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Media discourse (cont.)

Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective 

The public has already been initially defined here and discussed here.
Van Ginneken’s approach to public may be formulated as follows: “a public is a dispersed group of people interested in and divided about an issue, engaged in a discussion of the issue, with a view to registering a collective opinion which is expected to affect the course of action of some group or individual” (2003: 11, quoting Turner and Killian 1987: 179).
The definition of an issue “excludes the points about which people agree from the start. Those will not be problematized; they are perceived as mere background, taken for granted. But it also excludes those points about which people disagree so thoroughly that any meaningful discussion is excluded; those will not be problematized either—they cannot form a meaningful issue for debate. Issues are about the controversies that feed everyday debate and social interaction.
So controversies that lead to considerable polarization, for instance, about civil rights or abortion (…), do not so much form one evolving pattern but two evolving patterns, closely interwoven; the discourse and network of the protagonists and the discourse and network of the antagonists, with only a small neutral zone in between” (van Ginneken 2003: 12).
The above definition of public mentions also the concept of collective opinion. Following on that, “a culture is a dynamic configuration of subcultures, and a public is a dynamic configuration of publics. Collective opinions, as well as individual opinions, may change every minute; every impression we undergo may slightly alter the pattern. Every event reported may do the same” (p. 11).
In this context, it is important to remember that “the public agenda is largely framed by the media agenda, and the media agenda by the institutional elites. The battle for public opinion is not so much about what one wants the public to think, but about what one wants the public to think about” (p. 13).

Collective behaviour
“Typical collective behavior usually involves: (a) relatively large numbers of people, (b) getting involved in a heightened interaction process, and (c) the accelerated emergence of alternative patterns of thought, feeling, and action. This process involves relatively large numbers because one characteristic is that people do not so much react to each other as identifiable individuals, but rather to each other as a diffuse group. There is also a heightened interaction process because it is some kind of psychosocial, rapid occurrence. There are alternative patterns because it is a way to surmount conventional patterns, which are somehow experienced as inadequate or unsatisfactory” (van Ginneken 2003: 73-74).

Van Ginneken distinguishes the following three levels of interaction:

psychological crowds
opinion currents
social movements
large numbers of people that are psychologically (not incidentally) connected to each other or to the same events because their attention is drawn by a performance or an incident
mobilization on the basis of a belief which redefines social action; established patterns loose their forceful grip so that there is more room for possible alternatives to take hold
a conscious, collective,
organized/coordinated attempt to bring about or resist large-scale change in the social order by non-institutionalized means
“deindividuation” theory amounts for loss of restraint
theories of mental confusion, social unrest, alienation, etc. amount for established patterns loosening their grip
social unease encourages emergent patterns of social interaction that could not be predicted from antecedent conditions

Van Dijk reminds us that such collectivities do not fall under the definition of a group, as they do not share social representations which take time to develop and presuppose a common history of experiences (1998). What they may share, however, is the feeling of social injustice, which is enough to initiate the emergence of new groups over a period of time. Hence, van Ginneken’s approach to collective behaviour may be useful in investigating both the LGBT movement and the anti-LGBT movement (!). And his account of media hypes may find its application in this project as well, e.g. with regard to the media coverage of gay pride parades in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

So far, the picture of the media drawn here has been rather negative, with their discourse creating the public opinion rather than representing it, maybe even to the point of “controlling the public mind” (Chomsky 1997). However, Coleman & Ross remind us of the existence of counterpublics that effectively resist and defy hegemonic discourses:
“Counterpublics have a dialectical relationship to the “general” public, standing some distance away with a view to protecting, preserving, and nurturing their defining characteristics, while at the same time standing on the periphery with a view to infiltrating, influencing, and reconfiguring the wider entity upon which they are dependent as citizens.
They are both outsiders and insiders; the other to a self-defined “us,” forever seeking to encourage the “us” to become other than its hegemonically conceived self-characterization. This anti-hegemonic instinct of counterpublics has led to their being identified as emancipatory by nature. There is an expectation in liberal democracies that counterpublic voices will have opportunities to articulate alternatives to the norms and patterns of the dominant public. But, in reality, their capacity to do so via mainstream mass media is rather limited” (Coleman & Ross 2010: 73).
Counterpublics thus make use of alternative media, as already mentioned when discussing the framework of positive discourse analysis here. Coleman & Ross also offer an account of alternative “zines” as sites of resistance (p. 82).

This project shall also have a closer look at the “mediatized political discourse”.
For a general account of political discourse analysis, see van Dijk 1997.

“Bourdieu describes political discourse as a field of struggle, internal struggle to produce and sustain a coherent political discourse within the current structured set of political discourses, external struggle to constitute a political public and a base of support and trust for that political discourse and the institution and charismatic individuals associated with it” (Fairclough 1995: 184).
“Much critical work on mediatized politics has stressed complicity between the media and politicians, but it is also important to be alert to tensions, contradictions and struggles in the relationship between the political order of discourse and the order of discourse of the media” (p. 183).
Within the order of mediatized political discourse, there may be tensions caused by differing interests / differing discourses of various social actors / various voices, that include political reporters; politicians, trade union leaders, etc.; experts; representatives of new social movements; ordinary people (p. 185). There is also an opposition between professional political discourses and lifeworld discourses based in ordinary experiences, appropriated by professional politicians (p. 187).

Prior’s (2007) goal is to offer a systematic treatment of how the media environment affects political behavior. It is an interesting case study which shows that the public opinion is influenced and shaped not only by the way the media construct representations, identities and relations (discourse features, introduced here), but also by discourse-external aspects of media environment, such as people’s access to some media outlets and not others, the choice of programmes available, and so on.
Prior writes: Sunstein (2001) “conjures up a world of almost perfect selection in which media sources conform neatly and reliably with one’s prior beliefs and expectations. Such constant and nearly exclusive encounters with like-minded viewpoints will, he argues, lead to group polarization… it might limit the diversity of arguments that viewers encounter and expose them to biased information” (2007: 272).
Prior argues, however, that “the marketing strategies of advertisers, not technology per se, cause the fragmentation of society. Media offer specialized content and formats that allow advertisers to target desired populations more effectively (…) Several important pieces of evidence suggest that fears of audience specialization may be exaggerated. (…) With regard to political information, it appears that many people do not routinely tune out the other side” (pp. 272-273)
[Exaggerated or not, Prior’s position is that the audience specialization along ideological lines that does exist has largely been made possible by the increase in media choice.]
I am reminded here of a study on homophobic speech in Lithuanian press. According to a survey quoted in the study, “34.8 % of the Lithuanian people say that the Lithuanian mass media are biased towards homosexual people, 7 % say that the mass media promote intolerance towards them, and 15.7 % state that there is not enough information about homosexuals. In all, 57.7 % of the Lithuanian citizens are not happy with the media’s attitude towards sexual minorities” (Tereškinas 2007: 24). If more than half of a society which is notoriously reported as the most homophobic in Europe notices and complains about media bias, maybe we need to rethink the relationship between hegemonic media discourses and the public opinion, and the former’s influence on the latter?