The Path to Gay Rights

How Activism and Coming Out Changed Public Opinion

352 pages

June, 2018

ISBN: 9781479850075



Add to Cart Available: 5/11/2018

Also available in


LGBT Studies


Jeremiah J. Garretson is Assistant Professor of Political Science at California State University-East Bay.

All books by Jeremiah J. Garretson

An innovative, data-driven explanation of how public opinion shifted on LGBTQ rights 

The Path to Gay Rights is the first social science analysis of how and why the LGBTQ movement achieved its most unexpected victory---transforming gay people from a despised group of social deviants into a minority worthy of rights and protections in the eyes of most Americans. The book weaves together a narrative of LGBTQ history with new findings from the field of political psychology to provide an understanding of how social movements affect mass attitudes in the United States and globally. 

Using data going back to the 1970s, the book argues that the current understanding of how social movements change mass opinion—through sympathetic media coverage and endorsements from political leaders—cannot provide an adequate explanation for the phenomenal success of the LGBTQ movement at changing the public’s views. In The Path to Gay Rights, Jeremiah Garretson argues that the LGBTQ community’s response to the AIDS crisis was a turning point for public support of gay rights. ACT-UP and related AIDS organizations strategically targeted political and media leaders, normalizing news coverage of LGBTQ issues and AIDS and signaled to LGBTQ people across the United States that their lives were valued. The net result was an increase in the number of LGBTQ people who came out and lived their lives openly, and with increased contact with gay people, public attitudes began to warm and change. Garretson goes beyond the story of LGBTQ rights to develop an evidence-based argument for how social movements can alter mass opinion on any contentious topic.


  • "Garretson seeks to complicate the mainstream narrative about what has caused the sea change toward the acceptance of the LGBTQ people in the United States...Will be of interest to political scientists and community organizers alike." 

    Library Journal

  • "This fine study examines how the change in public opinion took place over the years while looking at the ultimate causes of social change generally...An important addition to the LGBTQ bookshelf."


  • "The book's narrative is hopeful—it's a story of how countless personal interactions and individual changes of heart, not elite opinion or legal mandates, drove one of the most remarkable attitudinal shifts in modern history."


  • “This book is certain to be among the most important published this year. Support for gay rights has followed a different trajectory than support for any other minority group’s rights, building more slowly but accelerating more steeply.In The Path to Gay Rights, Garretson has compellingly told the story that explains why…a remarkable piece of scholarship.”

    —Marc J. Hetherington, Author of Why Washington Won’t Work: Polarization, Political Trust, and the Governing Crisis

  • The Path to Gay Rights examines why and how public support for gays and lesbians increased markedly in recent decades. Jeremiah J. Garretson explores the origins of this unusually rapid shift in public opinion, tracing it back to Americans’ increased contact with gay and lesbian individuals both directly and virtually through TV characters.The book provides a rich and layered account of events, activism, interest group activity, and political campaigns amplified by careful analysis of survey data, online searches, and Congressional votes. It provides invaluable insight into the dynamics of public opinion concerning gays and lesbians and social change more generally.”

    —Leonie Huddy, Co-Editor of The Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, Second Edition