Business Is the Soul of Legitimation

Business Is the Soul of Legitimation


Local lesbian and gay businesses can operate like a bridge with the rest of the community, signaling the legitimacy of the group. Their presence has shown to make the enactment of non-discrimination policies in American cities and counties more likely.
In a paper published in the American Journal of Sociology, Fabrizio Perretti, Full Professor of Management at Bocconi, Giacomo Negro, and Glenn Carroll examined the local enactment of ordinances of nondiscrimination against lesbian/gay persons in US communities from 1972 to 2008.
“We found that that the rate of enactment of a non-discrimination policy by local governments increases in the presence of a greater number of commercial organizations that distinctly bridge lesbian/gay to non-lesbian/gay customers, and especially when there is greater diversity of types of businesses within that number.” In other words, when the group includes four travel agencies, the effect on policy is weaker than with a bakery, a cinema, a grocery and a travel agency.
“Such an observation does not mean that social movements carry little weight.” Professor Perretti said, commenting on the relation with activism. “Rather, distinct actions contribute to the consequences that matter for them. Market interactions around social movements enable the attainment of goals that movement activists also target.”
Experimental research indicates that increased contact is correlated with greater awareness and more positive attitudes toward “out-groups”. Thus, commercial organizations can sustain more linkages and keep the challenger group more visible in a local community, favoring more positive attitudes, or at least greater tolerance.
Diversity of commercial forms is relevant for two reasons: first, it provides a variety of instances of gays and lesbians that counter stereotypes. Second, it suggests a structure of the gay/lesbian community that matches the structure of the surrounding community.
For this latter reason, a greater presence of political organizations in the gay/lesbian community reduces the positive effect of the diversity of commercial forms. In mobilizing their constituents, some organizations can pursue extreme and dramatic actions. So, while commercial organizations highlight similarities, political organizations shine the light on differences.
“Our results raise the dilemma of assimilation versus liberation,” Professor Perretti concludes. “Forms of organizations that incorporate mainstream features spur legal change and assure that lesbian/gay people are not penalized for their sexual orientation as long as they are discreet about it. Instead, liberation advances an ideal of radical pride, cultural subversion, and uncompromising affirmation of identity, that gets lost with assimilation.”
Giacomo Negro, Fabrizio Perretti, and Glenn A. Carroll, “Challenger Groups, Commercial Organizations, and Policy Enactment: Local Lesbian/Gay Rights Ordinances in the United States from 1972 to 2008.” AJS Volume 119 Number 3. DOI:

by Fabio Todesco
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