Professor Shannon Gilreath (JD ’02) responds to political disarray, publishes textbook on sexual orientation for undergraduate political science students

Photo of Professor Shannon Gilreath in front of the Worrell Professional Center

Professor Shannon Gilreath

North Carolina has endured a frenzy of political disarray over the past year, from House Bill 2 backlash to the recent protests in Charlotte over the death of Keith Lamont Scott.  During this turbulent time, Professor Shannon Gilreath (JD ’02) has provided expert guidance, opinions and more to media sources, all while publishing a textbook for undergraduate political science students.

“When you do the sort of work I do, you’re almost always responding to some emergency,” Professor Gilreath says. “House Bill 2 was just another emergency that needed a response, and I think in many ways, the response of the mainstream gay groups and of the Department of Justice has been the wrong response. I felt my role was to try to clarify the question we should be asking before formulating the response.”

At the time House Bill 2 was signed into law, Professor Gilreath was teaching a seminar on sexual identity.  Ever since, he has been featured as a source of information and expert opinion in the local and national media, including the Chronicle of Higher Education, Christian Science Monitor and The Huffington Post, as well as the Winston-Salem JournaWFMYNews and other local outlets. Various media have also reached out to him regarding the recent Charlotte protests over the death of Keith Lamont Scott.

Scott’s death on Sept. 20 coincided with a meaningful anniversary for Professor Gilreath — five years since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation passed. Prior to the repeal, the Department of Defense recruited Professor Gilreath, now a nationally recognized expert on issues of equality, sexual minorities and constitutional interpretation, to consult and anticipate issues that arose drafting the legislation.  Among the legitimate questions of social justice were issues that centered on privacy and religious accommodation, according to Professor Gilreath.

“(The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’) was very important for the mainstream gay movement to further heterosexualize the face of the gay community…It was useful propaganda in the battle for marriage,” reflected Professor Gilreath, who initially was not deeply interested in either issue.

At first, “Those just did not seem like goals worth pursing to me when we don’t have national unemployment discrimination legislation.  We have extraordinary homelessness and addiction problems among gay youth.  We have high school dropout rates that far outstripped the national average and increasing rates of violence against gays.”

These are some of the issues Professor Gilreath addresses in his classes.  He supplements his lessons by referencing the national and local events and making example of North Carolina legislation, “some of the most anti-gay legislation in the country,” according to Professor Gilreath.

Similarly, in Sexual Orientation and Identity: Political and Legal Analysisthe comprehensive textbook he co-authored with North Carolina Central University School of Law Professor Lydia E. Lavelle, Professor Gilreath uses the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts to “trace the development of rights pertaining to sexual orientation and identity,” according to the book’s description.

The book is not aimed at law students but rather a political science audience, especially one interested in political theory and justice.

“My co-author and I wrote to explain how the legal system works and how it works differently, often than one would expect it to work, when gay and lesbian litigants become part of the equation,” Professor Gilreath explained.

The book was published earlier this year and is available for purchase online.  His previous books include Sexual Politics (2006) and The End of Straight Supremacy: Realizing Gay Liberation (2011).