Law and Order Queers

Law and Order Queers: Respectability, Victimhood, and the Carceral State
Under contract, UBC Press


Over the past three decades, debates in Canada surrounding the introduction of human rights protections, benefits for same-sex couples, and relationship recognition have tended to invoke a new queer legal subject, one draped in the garb of respectability. Largely absent from this turn to respectability, however, is engagement with the criminal law, particularly in cases where queers cannot be easily read as the victims of crime. Given the longstanding conflation between queerness and criminality in Anglo-American legal discourse, this is an unexpected development in Canada, where events including the partial decriminalization of homosexuality (1969) and the Toronto Bathhouse Raids (1981) served to mobilize communities and laid the foundation for the contemporary queer rights movement.

Law and Order Queers: Respectability, Victimhood, and the Carceral State weaves together practices of policing on the street, narratives about HIV non-disclosure from the courtroom, and the experiences of people in prison to tell a new story about queer rights in Canada. Drawing on original empirical research, this project argues that when queer people become ensnared in the repressive aspects of criminal justice, the contemporary legal system stops addressing the hardships they face due to their sexual and gender identities. While norms of substantive equality are now well entrenched in the fields of human rights law, family law, and constitutional law, these standards are cast aside when it comes to the administration of punishment. The project concludes by developing a theory of the law and order queer movement, arguing that when queer people code themselves as respectable victims of crime seeking protection from the punitive apparatuses of the carceral state, they run the risk of instantiating law and order agendas. As a result, they may inadvertently breathe new life into systems that continue to be used to discipline the most vulnerable members of queer communities.

Ultimately, Law and Order Queers challenges the conventional narrative that Canada, unlike other countries around the word, no longer criminalizes queer people. Rather, the project demonstrates that the same queer legal subjects who failed to benefit from the promise of human rights protections, same-sex benefits, and marriage equality continue to find themselves targeted by the carceral state.