My research has a central theme of belonging and marginalization in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community in the United States with a focus on urban communities. My current research focuses on two major projects: work on urban citizenship in the South and Southwest through the study of festivals and an interdisciplinary team project with Strengthening Colors of Pride SA on the social determinants of health and resilience in the LGBTQ community of San Antonio.
My first project centers on questions of cultural citizenship and the recognition gap by examining how urban festivals are sites of (mis)recognition and belonging for LGBTQ people in the urban South and Southwest. Sociologist Michèle Lamont asserts that one issue faced by marginalized groups in society is a recognition gap, that the positive social worth of a group is unacknowledged and unrecognized by others. I became interested in large urban public festivals, because these festivals are supposed to be a time when the city comes together to appreciate the diverse contributions of city residents. During festivals whose culture gets included and valued, which events are allowed, and how different communities are represented become socially significant and fraught questions. What began as interest in a San Antonio festival event called Cornyation, a mock debutante pageant and political satire put on historically by Anglo and Latino gay men, turned in a major comparative study. I conducted a four-year qualitative study of LGBTQ visibility and involvement in four city festivals—Mardi Gras in Mobile (AL) and Baton Rouge (LA) and Fiesta in Santa Fe (NM) and San Antonio (TX). I argue that festivals are embedded with cultural structures or repertoires, including strong histories of racial segregation and social closure by social elites, that shape the visibility of LGBTQ communities. Involvement in these festivals does partially fill the recognition gap for LGBTQ people in these cities, including attention from cultural and political elites, and are an important part of the destigmatization process.
In addition to this independent project, I am part of an interdisciplinary research team called Strengthening Colors of Pride to study race, gender, and resilience among people in the LGBTQ community of San Antonio, a project funded with a three-year training and research grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as part of their culture of health initiative. In this community-based participatory research project, I work with Dr. Phillip Schnarrs of Dell Medical School and Mr. Robert Salcido of The Pride Center San Antonio to study the multiple levels of resources—personal, interpersonal, community, and city resources—that lead to resilience in the LGBTQ community in San Antonio. We have already collected 900 short surveys and 82 interviews in the LGBTQ community of San Antonio about resilience and the social determinants of health in this community.
My earlier research focused on movement-countermovement mobilization between the LGBTQ movement and Religious Right around anti-gay ballot measures like California Proposition 8; in my book Gay Rights at the Ballot Box, I contributed to the social movements literature on framing and tactical development by analyzing how both movements framed their political messages to the public in ways to persuade voters but also reinforce existing race, gender, and sexual inequalities. Recently, I published an article in Social Forces on the history of anti-gay framing and the development of anti-transgender frames by the Religious Right over time. I have also conducted smaller projects on social closure in the LGBTQ community, particularly inclusion/exclusion of lesbians and transgender people in political and social groups.
I’m the deputy editor of Gender & Society, a top-ranked gender studies journal.
I've been involved for several years as a board member of the THRIVE youth shelter.