Heteronormativity in Health Policy: The Social (Re)Construction of the Lesbian Mother

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 134 (University of Glasgow)
Sarah Cooper , Politics, University of Exeter
Claire A Dunlop , Department of Politics, University of Exeter
Often studies of heteronormativity explore its impact on LGBT populations and their personal identities. Yet, heteronormativity is sustained, regulated and transformed through narratives in the public sphere. We add to the growing literature focusing on public workings of heteronormativity with an examination of its uses and perpetuation in policy-making. Specifically, we examine the construction of lesbian couples in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Empirically, we explore health service commissioning narratives at the local level. Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) previously grappled with the concept of the ‘socially infertile’ woman; a problematic (if distinctive) framing that spanned both gay and older women and underpinned regional spending decisions. New guidelines in 2013 forced PCTs to revise their criteria. Drawing on policy documents and original interviews, we explore this new settlement and specifically the ways in which lesbian mothers have become increasingly become subsumed within a traditional, heteronormative construction of fertility and, wider, motherhood. Understanding the construction of heteronormative policy narratives in the health sector is important in two main ways. First, this case study illuminates the complex social relations that underpin the construction of heteronormativity in street-level policy settings. Second, the health sector is a particularly useful venue in which to study how heterosexual culture reproduces and institutionalizes itself in the face of ongoing challenge and change. In our case, the notion of parenthood in a physiological sense is rapidly being disrupted, with clinical researchers suggesting the possibility of same-sex couples sharing biological children in the near future.