Urban Bias, Rural Sexual Minorities, and the Courts


Urban bias shapes social perceptions about sexual minorities. Predominant cultural narratives geographically situate sexual minorities in urban gay communities, dictate the contours of how to be a modern gay person, and urge sexual minorities to come out and assimilate into gay communities and culture. This Article contests the urban presumption commonly applied to all sexual minorities and focuses specifically on how it affects rural sexual minorities, who remain largely invisible in the public discourse about sexuality and equality.

This Article makes two important contributions. First, by exposing urban bias, it contributes to a broader discussion about how law and society construct gay identity in exclusionary ways across race and class, and it expands that discussion to attend to place. The cultural prerogative to come out and into a gay community disregards social- and class-based circumstances that can necessitate alternative strategies for belonging, and it subordinates aspects of identity centered around families, religion, and place-based communities of origin. Urban bias erases the most marginalized sexual minorities’ experiences from public discourse and places the burden on individuals to make positive change for themselves.

Second, this Article draws attention to the legal dilemmas faced by a largely invisible population. Judges play a key role in perpetuating urban bias by internalizing stereotypes about gay people and gay identity and by explicitly approving the belief that sexual minorities do not belong in small towns. Acknowledging the existence of rural sexual minorities, understanding that various factors may render uprooting to an urban gay community undesirable or impossible, and appreciating that rurality brings distinct social experiences and legal needs are first steps in combatting discrimination against these vulnerable people. Rather than invoking characteristics common to rural life to make rural communities more hostile to residents who are sexual minorities, courts should account for those same characteristics in rural sexual minorities’ claims to legal protections and access to justice. This Article offers suggestions for how judges should take rural sexual minorities into account to maximize the latter’s ability to live comfortably in their homes.

About the Author

Luke A. Boso is the Richard Taylor Law Teaching Fellow at UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute.

By uclalaw