Elevate Difference

How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism

While leftists and gay rights activists occasionally discuss the notion that left wing battles, and particularly GLBTQ struggles, are too influenced by the religious right, the complaint is always frustrated and dismissive, never a serious consideration. Tina Fetner approaches the notion differently, addressing how the influence of religious right was, in fact, invaluable in shaping, and in rendering more powerful, the lesbian and gay movement. (Both “religious right” and “lesbian and gay movement” are often used casually and defined vaguely, a notion that would normally bother me as a reader, but in the introduction Fetner skillfully clarifies the definitions she is using.)

How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism is an intriguing piece of research, full of facts to which I would otherwise have had no access. Though a self-proclaimed liberal, Fetner has done impressive work on all sides of the problem. She tracks the rise of the religious right even before it took on a formal anti-gay stance, discusses the state of the lesbian and gay movements before the identification of one clear antagonist, and takes us through Stonewall and the rise of Anita Bryant up to the contemporary gay marriage debates. Each chapter chronicles about a decade of the activist conflict, concluding with the notion that “[t]he religious right brought both new challenges and new opportunities to the lesbian and gay movement.”

Fascinating though the concept is, Fetner’s book—a clear doctoral dissertation—is bloodless, the prose dry and uncompelling, the powerful stories rendered inaccessible. The book demonstrates the need for good prose style; the ideas in How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism are notions that all self-styled activists, left and right, should consider, but Fetner’s dry writing makes it tremendously difficult to get through the book.

Nevertheless, the relationship Fetner is examining makes her book worth the effort. Though her book itself may not be a substantive addition to the non-fiction canon, her ideas make a substantial and interesting contribution to queer thought and to social movement theory, whether its consumers be academics or lay readers.

Written by: Gemma Cooper-Novack, October 13th 2008