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Representation and Rights: The Impact of LGBT Legislators in Comparative Perspective

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2013

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


This article focuses on the link between the representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in national legislatures and the existence of equality laws focused on sexual orientation. It addresses three interrelated questions: how many “out” LGBT legislators have served in national parliaments, what explains the cross-national variation in their legislative presence, and what is the relationship between the presence of gay legislators and the enactment of laws that treat gay and straight citizens equally? There is an established literature arguing that the representation of women and ethnic minorities “descriptively” in national legislatures improves the realization of their policy preferences and the position of the group within the society as a whole. This article draws on that literature and extends the analysis to LGBT communities. It finds that the presence of even a small number of openly gay legislators is associated significantly with the future passage of enhanced gay rights, even after including controls for social values, democracy, government ideology, and electoral system design. Once openly gay legislators are in office they have a transformative effect on the views and voting behavior of their straight colleagues. This “familiarity through presence” effect is echoed in studies of U.S. state legislatures and levels of social tolerance of homosexuality in the population at large.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2013 

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