Lawrence v. Texas (2003) at Twenty: Law, Sexuality, and Social Justice

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on the Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Historians and Histories and WHA

Saturday, April 1, 2023, 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: Gender and Sexuality; Legal and Constitutional; LGBTQ History and Queer Studies


In 2003 the Supreme Court made a landmark ruling that struck down homophobic anti-sodomy laws throughout the United States. This roundtable will examine the ruling and consider the changing context of rights for sexual minorities since. Occurring at a moment when sexual and reproductive rights are at a critical juncture the panel will consider the role of the historian in advocating for rights within the American legal framework. The panel will appraise lessons from the case for the collaboration of historians, legal scholars, and social justice advocates. Panelists will also discuss backlash to the decision as well as commemoration efforts.

Session Participants

Chair: Margot Canaday, Princeton University
Margot Canaday is Professor of History at Princeton University where she teaches and writes about LGBT history. Her first book, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth Century America (Princeton, 2009), won the Organization of American Historians' Ellis Hawley Prize, the American Political Science Association's Gladys M. Kammerer Award (co-winner), the American Studies Association's Lora Romero Prize, the American Society for Legal History's Cromwell Book Prize, the Committee on LGBT History's John Boswell Prize, the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Studies, as well as the Association of American Law Schools' Order of the Coif Biennial Book Award. Canaday has won fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, the Princeton University Society of Fellows, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. With Thomas Sugrue, Stephen Pitti, Matt Lassiter, and Keisha Blain, she is co-editor of the series “Politics and Culture in Modern America” at the University of Pennsylvania Press. She recently co-edited a volume with Nancy Cott and Robert Self, entitled Intimate States: Gender, Sexuality, and Governance in Modern History (Chicago, 2021). Her second monograph, Queer Career: Sexuality and Work in Modern America, is forthcoming from Princeton University Press in early 2023.

Panelist: Nancy F. Cott, Harvard University
Nancy F. Cott is the Jonathan Trumbull Research Professor of American History at Harvard University. She taught U.S. history for twenty-six years at Yale and sixteen years at Harvard before retiring in 2018. Her interest in questions about gender, marriage, feminism, law, and citizenship resulted in her books The Bonds of Womanhood: "Woman's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835 (1977), The Grounding of Modern Feminism (1987), and Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (2001), among other works. After writing Public Vows, Professor Cott often led in writing amicus curiae briefs on the history of marriage, submitted in cases challenging same-sex couples' exclusion from marriage by states and in the federal Defense of Marriage Act. She also served as an expert witness in the federal case against California's Proposition 8 in 2009-10 and several other cases. The 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which extended the constitutional right to marry to same-sex couples, cited her book Public Vows and the historians' amicus brief.

Cott's current interests also include the history of sexuality, social movements, political culture, the international turn, and journalism, as is apparent in her latest books. Fighting Words: The Bold Young American Journalists Who Brought the World Home between the Wars (Basic Books, 2020) traces the public and private lives of four Americans (two men and two women) who lived abroad during their youth in the interwar decades. Writing for American newspapers, they confronted the era’s big conflicts— democracy versus authoritarianism, global responsibilities versus isolationism, sexual freedom versus traditional morality—and shaped how Americans saw their country’s international role. Intimate States: Gender, Sexuality, and Governance in Modern U.S. History, which she co-edited with Margot Canaday and Robert Self and contains original essays by more than a dozen historians, was published in 2021 by the U. of Chicago Press.

Cott served as president of the Organization of American Historians in 2016-17. She has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2008.

Panelist: Joshua Hollands, University College London
Dr. Joshua Hollands is a Lecturer (Teaching) in United States History at University College London (UCL). He received his PhD from UCL’s Institute of the Americas in 2019. His dissertation, under contract with the University of Illinois Press, examines the history of homophobic workplace discrimination in the US South and Southwest.

Each chapter of his thesis, entitled: Work and Sexuality in the Sunbelt: Homophobic Workplace Discrimination in the US South and Southwest, 1970 to the present, examine episodes of discrimination in different Sunbelt cities and companies. Chapters focused on individual organisations such as Apple Computer, Cracker Barrel, Duke University and ExxonMobil shed light on mainstream LGBT strategies for equality within corporations, as well as the extent to which victories at these companies impacted wider rights for sexual minorities in southern cities. Similarly, case studies on organisations of business elites in Sunbelt cities including Houston and Williamson County, Texas, demonstrate how battles over workplace rights in both the private and public sectors informed conservative rhetoric in opposition to, and in some cases, acceptance of LGBT rights during the closing decades of the twentieth-century.

His research has been awarded the Labor and Working Class History Association’s Herbert G. Gutman Prize for Outstanding Dissertation (2021). In 2017, Josh was awarded the Robert H. Zieger Prize for Southern Labor Studies from the Southern Labor Studies Association. His work was also a finalist for the Business History Conference’s Herman E. Krooss Prize for Best Dissertation in Business History. He has received scholarships, travel grants, and awards from the Wolfson Foundation, the Organization of American Historians (OAH), and the Historians of the Twentieth Century United States (HOTCUS).

From 2021-22, Josh is a Fulbright Scholar at Elon University in North Carolina where he is teaching and conducting research for his next project, a history of discrimination at the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain.

Panelist: John Howard, King's College London
John Howard is Emeritus Professor of Arts and Humanities at King’s College London, where he has taught courses in American history, Anglophone drama, nuclear studies, photography, and queer studies. He is one of ten co-authors of the Lawrence v. Texas historians’ brief, which he critiques in his 2009 essay “Southern Sodomy; or, What the Coppers Saw.”

John has published seven books, including two historical monographs from University of Chicago Press, two documentary photobooks from University of Valencia Press, and three edited volumes. Of these, his Emory University dissertation turned monograph Men Like That: A Southern Queer History was adapted as the 2016 documentary film The Joneses. John was primary supervisor of thirteen doctoral graduates, many of whom now teach at universities in the U.S., U.K., and Australia.

Of publications in progress, John is author of the first critical biography of radio broadcaster, stage director, and auteur filmmaker Michael Cacoyannis, best known for triple-Oscar-winner Zorba the Greek. John’s next two documentary photobooks are titled Cruising Ground and Post-Brexit Portraits.

John has received awards from the AHRC, British Academy, Delfina, Fulbright, Rockefeller, and King’s College London Students Union. Of baseball teams, he supports the Valencia Astros and Yokohama BayStars.

Panelist: Melissa Murray, New York University
Melissa Murray is the Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law at NYU School of Law, where she teaches constitutional law, family law, criminal law, and reproductive rights and justice. Murray’s writing has appeared in a range of legal and lay publications, including the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, the New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Nation. She is a legal analyst for MSNBC, and is a co-host of Strict Scrutiny, a podcast about the Supreme Court and legal culture. Prior to joining the NYU Law faculty, Murray was the Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received the law school’s Rutter Award for Teaching Distinction, and, from March 2016 to June 2017, served as Interim Dean. Murray is an honors graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was a Jefferson Scholar and an Echols Scholar, and Yale Law School, where she was notes development editor of the Yale Law Journal. Following law school, Murray clerked for Sonia Sotomayor, then a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Stefan Underhill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. She is a member of the American Law Institute and serves on the board of directors of the National Women’s Law Center, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Guttmacher Institute, and the American Constitution Society.