Susan Burgess, "LGBT Inclusion in American Life: Pop Culture, Political Imagination, and Civil Rights" (NYU Press, 2023)


LGBT Inclusion in American Life: Pop Culture, Political Imaginations, and Civil Rights (NYU Press, 2023) is a tour de force that weaves together the various narratives about the transformation of a counter public, in this case, LBGT citizens, into rights bearing citizenship, and the transformation of mainstream political and cultural narratives, incorporating shifting conceptions that open up space for this integration. As Political Scientist Susan Burgess explains throughout the book, a basic exploration of public opinion data reflects the substantial shift that many Americans have had in their thinking about individuals who are part of the LGBT community, and about the community itself. But the public opinion data only goes so far in telling the story of this rapid transformation. Using the American political development framework of political time, Burgess sees profound political transformation, but through what she describes as queered political time, noting that substantive ideas in this context are vitally important. Thus, the focus of LGBT Inclusion in American Life is on the space where narratives and imagination are able to project new ideas that can then open up our thinking and provide opportunities to re-imagine fundamental social and political concepts.

Political imagination gives us a chance to consider alternatives; we can see new or different worlds that provide us with different ways to think about institutions and power, about families, about gender and sexuality. This space also provides us with paths into thinking about the future. Burgess focuses on worlds that have been created in popular culture that construct different situations, or that deconstruct our ideas and we can imagine what might come out of that deconstruction. Through plays, television shows, and movies, as are the focus here, we can see power—which is at the heart of politics—differently conceived, implemented, constructed, wielded. Burgess integrates nuanced and important analyses of popular culture artifacts like Bond films, war movies, and family-focused television series to tease apart the shifting ideas of individual and community moral standards (movies about military service), masculinity (Bond films), and the family (Leave It to Beaver, 30something, The Americans). Each section of the book examines the particular theme that is connected to the “central pillars of LBGT freedoms” like the right to marry legally, the right to serve openly in the U.S. military, and the right to have consensual adult sex without fear of criminal penalty. The legality of these rights shifted rather quickly over the past twenty years, and Burgess’ research dives into the connection between popular culture’s imagined spaces and the demand and reality of lived experiences. LGBT Inclusion in American Life: Pop Culture, Political Imaginations, and Civil Rights essentially provides the “rest of the story” – analyzing how these spaces of political imagination supplemented Americans’ understandings of the LBGT community and the individuals within that community, not necessarily through representation, but through changing narratives and expansive storytelling and world building.

Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022), as well as co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), Email her comments at or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly Goren

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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