Money  /  Book Review

How Work Has Shaped the LGBTQ Community

And the ways capital took advantage of the state's policing of sexuality.

Those who wished to be out but also employed opted for what Canaday labels the “queer work world,” “stereotypically gay occupations as well as other casual, temporary, low-paid, low-status work, often in the service sector, where gay people clustered in part because they could be fairly open.” Predictably, it functioned as both refuge and cage.[5]

Canaday deftly weighs the varying landscapes facing gay men and lesbians; though similar, they remained far from identical due to gender and class issues. As Canaday notes, the Feminist Movement, for all its prickliness toward the LGBTQ community, proved incredibly influential for many lesbians in terms of how they related to each other, saw themselves as women, and how they approached class differences. While there is no shortage of examples pertaining to gay men and cross-class sexual interactions including fetishization, “only lesbians made a political project out of it,” observes Canaday.[6] Due to the dual whammy of embedded sexism and homophobia in the labor market, lesbians were among the poorer members of the LGBTQ community; thus, employment emerged as a political issue and project more generally due to the “centrality of economic structures to their own oppression.”[7]

As Fordism transitioned into the neoliberalism of the 1980s, the labor landscape changed further. If menial jobs in industry had facilitated the employment of gay men in earlier decades, during the 1970s the decline of unions, the rise of feminism, and the backlash from the largely male-dominated world of organized labor to both made life ever more difficult for gay men in these areas: “Gay men across racial lines thus began to disappear from blue-collar jobs.”[8]

During this same period, historian Jeffrey Escoffier argues LGBTQ politics remained a “mélange of sexual liberation, civil rights activism, alternative social activities, and feminist consciousness raising groups.”[9] Homophiles, such as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, helped to open up the federal workforce to gay men and lesbians during the 1960s and 1970s; Gay Liberation furthered this effort but in more militant and arguably flamboyant fashion. Its impact on the community proved unsystematic and uneven, but pervasive, manifesting “in distinct ways in blue collar and white collar jobs for men and women, as well as by individual temperament.” Though for many of Gay Liberation’s most dedicated activists, unemployment was a frequent reality.[10] This was true for some homophiles as well. Kameny lived much of his life on the edge of poverty, a testament to the cost of activism. Regardless, Gay Liberation’s impact undermined the previous Fordist arrangement in which “employers tried not to see homosexuality among employees and those employees tried not to be seen.”[11]