Coming Out of CommunismThe Emergence of LGBT Activism in Eastern Europe

Coming Out of CommunismThe Emergence of LGBT Activism in Eastern Europe

Conor O'Dwyer

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9781479876631

Publisher: NYU Press


This book offers a close study of the rapidly evolving politics of LGBT rights in postcommunist Europe, where social attitudes have historically marginalized the issue and where the legacy of weak civil society has handicapped activism in general. What happens in societies such as these when increased exposure to transnational institutions such as the European Union and the minority-rights norms that they promote brings new visibility to LGBT issues? Is activism boosted by the infusion of resources from transnational networks? Or does transnational pressure bring backlash, inflaming antigay attitudes and driving activism underground? This study uncovers and explains the surprising divergence in the organization of LGBT activism in postcommunist Europe, focusing on Poland and the Czech Republic from the late 1980s through 2012. Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania form additional case studies. It argues that domestic backlash against transnational rights norms has been a primary catalyst for organizational development in the region’s most robust LGBT movements. It offers a comparative framework of broader relevance describing the conditions under which transnational pressure and domestic politics may interact to build robust activism, or not. This theorization offers resolution for a striking puzzle of LGBT politics in the countries examined: Why is the most organized and influential activism often found in societies where attitudes toward homosexuality are least tolerant? The book uses a multimethod research design drawing on field interviews, original sources, and participant observation to process trace how the framing of homosexuality and the organization of LGBT activism change in historical time.