Fragmented Citizens

The Changing Landscape of Gay and Lesbian Lives

432 pages

May, 2016

ISBN: 9781479809127



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Stephen M. Engel is Associate Professor and Chair of Politics at Bates College in Maine and an Affiliated Scholar of the American Bar Foundation. He is the author of American Politicians Confront the Courts: Opposition Politics and Changing Responses to Judicial Power and The Unfinished Revolution: Social Movement Theory and the Gay and Lesbian Movement, as well as co-editor of the volume, The Progressives’ Century: Political Reform, Constitutional Government, and the Modern American State.

All books by Stephen M. Engel

A sweeping historical and political account of how our present-day policy debates around citizenship and equality came to be 
The landmark Supreme Court decision in June 2015 legalizing the right to same-sex marriage marked a major victory in gay and lesbian rights in the United States. Once subject to a patchwork of laws granting legal status to same-sex couples in some states and not others, gay and lesbian Americans now enjoy full legal status for their marriages wherever they travel or reside in the country. For many, the Supreme Court’s ruling means that gay and lesbian citizens are one step closer to full equality with the rest of America. 
In Fragmented Citizens, Stephen M. Engel contends that the present moment in gay and lesbian rights in America is indeed one of considerable advancement and change—but that there is still much to be done in shaping American institutions to recognize gays and lesbians as full citizens. With impressive scope and fascinating examples, Engel traces the relationship between gay and lesbian individuals and the government from the late nineteenth century through the present. Engel shows that gays and lesbians are more accurately described as fragmented citizens. Despite the marriage ruling, Engel argues that LGBT Americans still do not have full legal protections against workplace, housing, family, and other kinds of discrimination. There remains a continuing struggle of the state to control the sexuality of gay and lesbian citizens—they continue to be fragmented citizens. 
Engel argues that understanding the development of the idea of gay and lesbian individuals as ‘less-than-whole’ citizens can help us make sense of the government’s continued resistance to full equality despite massive changes in public opinion. Furthermore, he argues that it was the state’s ability to identify and control gay and lesbian citizens that allowed it to develop strong administrative capacities to manage all of its citizens in matters of immigration, labor relations, and even national security. The struggle for gay and lesbian rights, then, affected not only the lives of those seeking equality but also the very nature of American governance itself.  Fragmented Citizens is a sweeping historical and political account of how our present-day policy debates around citizenship and equality came to be. 


  • “This is an impressive, well-argued and valuable book. All too often we associate the idea of LGBT citizenship with simply a concern about vindicating constitutional rights as if a proclamation by a court will ensure substantive equality once and for all. Stephen Engel persuasively challenges that view by positing a novel and important concept of a 'fragmented citizen.' This approach argues that rights do not operate independently of institutions and time.We must be attuned to the ways in which public and private institutions often haphazardly, tenuously, unexpectedly and even inconsistently recognize certain features of citizenship while denying others.LGBT citizenship in the United States provides a timely framework from which to develop this argument.”

    —Sonu Bedi, author of Beyond Race, Sex and Sexual Orientation: Legal Equality without Identity

  • “Engel delves into the problem of LGBT citizenship at what appears to be its moment of resolution. What he finds are incongruous advances, partial transformations, reconfigurations that open up new and unforeseen issues. In Fragmented Citizens, the LGBT movement becomes a lens through which abiding features of American political development are brought into focus. The result is a profound commentary on the limits of state recognition and the elusive quest for social justice.”

    —Stephen Skowronek, author of Presidential Leadership in Political Time: Reprise and Reappraisal

  • "[Engel] supports his thesis well with detailed and thoughtful analyses of key legal cases and decisions over the last 50 years, keeping tightly to his conceptual framework and offering a solid structure for understanding the chaotic development of rights of sexual minorities in the United States."

    Publishers Weekly

  • Fragmented Citizens is a major contribution to the interdisciplinary literature on LGBT rights. The book is meticulously researched and brimming with fascinating historical details….[A] considerable achievement.”

    Contemporary Sociology

  • "In this ambitious and important book, Stephen Engel breaks new ground by introducing a new concept—fragmented citizenship—to the burgeoning field of citizenship studies. He shows how this kind of democratic citizenship is embedded in the general logic of American political development and convincingly connects fragmented citizenship to contemporary LGBT political experience—thereby opening up a whole new way to talk about the civic status of LGBT Americans."

    —Richard M. Valelly, author of The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement