Political Science

The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America

  • Laurel Lefkow

A classic book now available on audio
With narration by Laurel Lefkow, who reveals how the government enforced sex and gender conformity and relegated gays to second-class citizenship


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Jan 31, 2023
10 hours 33 minutes
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The Straight State is the most expansive study of the federal regulation of homosexuality yet written. Unearthing startling new evidence from the National Archives, Margot Canaday shows how the state systematically came to penalize homosexuality, giving rise to a regime of second-class citizenship that sexual minorities still live under today.

Canaday looks at three key arenas of government control—immigration, the military, and welfare—and demonstrates how federal enforcement of sexual norms emerged with the rise of the modern bureaucratic state. She begins at the turn of the twentieth century when the state first stumbled upon evidence of sex and gender nonconformity, revealing how homosexuality was policed indirectly through the exclusion of sexually “degenerate” immigrants and other regulatory measures aimed at combating poverty, violence, and vice. Canaday argues that the state’s gradual awareness of homosexuality intensified during the later New Deal and through the postwar period as policies were enacted that explicitly used homosexuality to define who could enter the country, serve in the military, and collect state benefits. Midcentury repression was not a sudden response to newly visible gay subcultures, Canaday demonstrates, but the culmination of a much longer and slower process of state-building during which the state came to know and to care about homosexuality across many decades.

Social, political, and legal history at their most compelling, The Straight State explores how regulation transformed the regulated: in drawing boundaries around national citizenship, the state helped to define the very meaning of homosexuality in America.

Awards and Recognition

  • Winner of the 2012 Biennial Book Award, Order of the Coif
  • Winner of the 2011 John Boswell Prize, Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History
  • Winner of the 2010 Ellis W. Hawley Prize, Organization of American Historians
  • Winner of the 2010 Lambda Literary Award, LGBT Studies by the Lambda Literary Foundation
  • Co-Winner of the 2010 Gladys M. Kammerer Award, American Political Science Association
  • Winner of the 2010 Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize, American Studies Association
  • Winner of the 2010 Cromwell Book Prize, American Society for Legal History