9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN23 Sexuality

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Open Papers Building I, 1E10

Activism, conflict and engagement: the syncretic approach of the Portuguese LGBT movement

In recent years, there has been a socio-legal shift in Portugal, which has slowly responded favourably to some of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement's demands. However, this tendency has encountered opposition from particular value-discourses that resulted in setbacks in respect to LGBT relational-claims, namely same-sex marriage and same-sex parenthood. Faced with such resistance, the LGBT movement has modified its modus operandi, shifting from responding reactively to external events to becoming proactive and setting its own autonomous agenda. In so doing, LGBT activists have diversified their political, legal and social approaches, becoming actively involved in new relationships of engagement. The diversity of approaches used by the LGBT movement leads me to the main topic I wish to explore in this paper.
The international debate about questions of assimilationism and radicalism has occupied activists as well as scholars over the years. Drawing on this debate, I discuss the strategies used by the Portuguese LGBT movement to achieve positive political, legal and social outcomes - lobbying and direct action - and I offer specific examples to explain each.
My analysis of this social movement has exposed a third way of approaching and, perhaps, overcoming the split between assimilationism and radicalism. This is what I call the syncretic activism. I argue that the Portuguese case study provides evidence of a simultaneous and symbiotic deployment of both lobbying and direct action, combining assimilationist and radical approaches to activism. Moreover, I suggest that a central feature of this LGBT syncretic activism is the movement's multilayered agenda, which operates on several fronts simultaneously, rather than having one overarching priority. Thus, it is my claim that the Portuguese LGBT movement is goals-oriented, rather than ideology-guided.
In the concluding section of this paper, I consider the wider implications of syncretic activism for both theory and practice of social movements engaged in sexual diversity and social change.