Is libertarianism the best friend of queer communities?

May 24, 2014
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Libertarianism is often mocked as being the politics of the straight white male. But does it actually offer LGBT people freedom the state can’t deliver?

Emphasising small government, individual liberties and the benefits of markets, libertarianism stakes a bold claim to be the true emancipating force at work in a world compromised by oppressive state power.

However, libertarianism, as both a politics and a “movement”, is often criticised for de-prioritising racial and gender diversity.

Is libertarianism a force for entrenching oppression of LGBT people, or is it the best friend of queer communities? We invited the IPA’s Julie Novak and Comment is Free contributor Simon Copland to discuss the issue.

Is libertarianism the best friend of queer communities?

‘Oppression of LGBT people is treatment is clearly incompatible with the principles of classical liberalism.’ Masked supporters of Kenya’s LGBT community protest in Nairobi. Photograph: EPA

Julie Novak: Libertarianism is the LGBT community’s best friend

The coercive state, often in concert with religious orders, has brutalised, ostracised and persecuted certain minorities over many centuries.

People physically attracted to those of the same sex and those who flouted conventional stereotypes surrounding gender identity have long been a ready target for ill?treatment, with the worst cases including executions, imprisonment, or enforced medical treatments to override such allegedly deviant behaviours.

Such treatment is clearly incompatible with the principles of classical liberalism, often referred to today as libertarianism, with its emphasis on freedom of individual conduct, and the widespread toleration of such conduct so that freedom can be realised, insofar as it does not harm others.

This is not a widely held view. There are schools of thought, often associated with socialist and progressive movements, that libertarianism is incompatible with the attainment of greater freedoms and rights for LGBT people.

This suggestion seems patently absurd, and indeed, in contrast, one could reasonably claim that every major advance in LGBT rights has been fostered by – or is at least consistent with – libertarian ideals.

The decriminalisation of sodomy, first in South Australia in 1975 and, belatedly, in Tasmania in 1997, was an important step in a libertarian direction, since consenting adults performing certain sexual acts, in the privacy of their own homes, were not threatened by the police?power when doing so.

The recent high court decision to allow Sydney activist Norrie to be legally classified as neither male or female is clearly another libertarian step in the right direction. The state was forced to relent imposing its gender identity preferences in favour of (in this case) an individual with non?gendered preferences.

There is certainly still a fair way to go before the homophobic and transphobic state gets out of individual decision?making on the basis of their sexual preferences and gender identities, or at least enshrine a basic equality of treatment under the law.

Therefore, matters such as adoption, equal age of consent (in Queensland), fertility access, and marriage equality still remain on the agenda for liberalising reform.

An aspect of libertarianism that has gone underappreciated is the profoundly beneficial impact of economic freedom for LGBT people, and for others. In economically freer countries LGBT individuals are more readily able to attain healthy incomes, helping them assert their self?identities.

Less hampered markets also allow suppliers to creatively provide specialist goods and services for LGBT people, like safe meeting places, bars, cafes and nightclubs.

The promotion of civil, economic and personal liberties are at the forefront of libertarian philosophy, and this is why I subscribe to the view that, in the end, libertarianism is the best friend of people in queer communities.

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