Political Science ETDs

Publication Date



Data suggest that there are at least 11 million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the United States. Further, evidence demonstrates that there is a sexuality gap' (Hertzog 1996) in American politics with LGBTs out-participating their heterosexual peers and gay politics dominating political media. However, scholars remain unable to explain why LGBT political identity forms or how this identity matters for political behavior. This dissertation examines the political foundations of LGBT identity and argues that discrimination, engagement in group-specific public spaces, and the influence of the Religious Right have fostered the development of group consciousness in gay Americans. Group consciousness subsequently structures minority political behavior by providing both 'the need to act' and 'the will to act' (Gamson 1968: p. 48). Using a large-scale survey of LGBT Americans that measures group consciousness and political behavior (Pew 2013), I demonstrate strong support for this argument, with LGBT group consciousness resulting from the political process and emerging to significantly influence participation, partisanship, and public opinion. In general, positive in-group association demonstrates the strongest results, with this measure of group consciousness increasing political participation by nearly 30% on average. By analyzing the foundations of group consciousness and its political outputs, this dissertation makes important theoretical and methodological contributions to political science. Theoretically, it expands on theories of group consciousness, details how and why group consciousness matters for politics, and applies these theories to an understudied, yet politically important, community. Methodologically, it provides the first statistical analysis of gay political identity and behavior, while also contributing two methodologically validated measures of group consciousness. In total, the results demonstrate that LGBT group consciousness is the result of a longstanding, and ongoing, political process that shapes both gay life and the broader political landscape. As long as gays continue to engage in the broader LGBT community and recognize the discrimination facing their community, LGBT group consciousness will remain an important force in American politics.

Degree Name

Political Science

Level of Degree


Department Name

Political Science

First Committee Member (Chair)

Hansen, Wendy

Second Committee Member

Maestas, Cherie

Third Committee Member

Niedzwiecki, Sara




LGBT politics, gay politics, minority politics, group consciousness, political behavior, public opinion

Document Type