Doctor of Philosophy
Western democracies are experiencing a widespread shift towards greater recognition of transgender rights in public policy, yet the timing of policy change differs across states. This dissertation asks: What explains the timing of transgender-inclusive public policy change? To explain this variation, I develop an original theoretical framework called “policy momentum.” Unlike existing work on policy diffusion, which typically emphasizes either domestic or international processes, I theorize how the combined pressure from each level creates the conditions for policy change to occur. Empirically, I contrast two policy areas in Canada and Australia. First, I analyze the creation of national antidiscrimination policies to protect transgender individuals. Canada and Australia prohibited discrimination based on gender identity in 2017 and 2013, respectively. Second, I examine the timing of military policy changes. The Canadian Armed Forces lifted its ban on transgender people in 1992, whereas the Australian Defense Force repealed its ban in 2010. To explain the sequence of events that led to policy change in each case, I rely on 40 elite interviews and more than 15,000 pages of previously classified archival documents. I demonstrate how the timing of policy change in each case is best explained by the policy momentum framework. In the context of antidiscrimination legislation, Canada was primarily influenced by policy adoption across the provinces and, to a lesser extent, the desire to maintain Canada’s international reputation as a human rights leader. Australia, by comparison, was most strongly influenced by its international obligations but the experiences of subnational governments also informed the policy change process. In the more conservative issue area of military policy, the combination of domestic pressure through the judiciary and changes in practices among peer countries led both the Canadian Armed Forces and the Australian Defence Force to lift their bans on transgender military service. This dissertation thus contributes to our knowledge of LGBT+ politics and the creation of more inclusive public policies. It also advances public policy scholarship by creating a more holistic explanatory framework that integrates the multidirectional and multi-jurisdictional sources of pressure that together produce national policy change.
Summary for Lay Audience
Since at least the early 1970s, transgender individuals have mobilized for greater political recognition. Transgender individuals are people who do not identify with the sex to which they were assigned at birth (i.e., male or female) or have a gender identity that does not conform with the labels of “man” or “woman.” Their efforts to convince policymakers and citizens to recognize their particular identities and challenges have historically been met with fierce opposition or indifference. In the last two decades, we have seen an increasing number of countries adopting policies that are inclusive of transgender people. However, there are important differences in the timing of public policy changes across Western democracies towards greater recognition. This dissertation thus asks: What explains the timing of transgender-inclusive public policy change? Many scholars argue that when governments adopt new policies, they are influenced by or are responding to their counterparts adopting similar policies. In other words, governments may feel pressure either from an international source (e.g., other countries) or a domestic source (e.g., provinces) to change its policies. Notwithstanding these important contributions, the international processes and domestic processes have yet to be fully integrated into a more complete theory of policy change. In this dissertation, I offer a new explanation called policy momentum that focuses on how the combined pressure from both the international and domestic levels create the conditions for policy change to occur. I demonstrate how policy momentum explains the timing of policy change in antidiscrimination legislation and military policy in Canada and Australia. To demonstrate how policy momentum explains each case, I rely on 40 interviews with politicians and individuals from human rights commissions and non-governmental organizations, as well as more than 15,000 pages of previously classified archival documents. This dissertation contributes to our knowledge of LGBT+ politics and the creation of more inclusive public policies. It also advances public policy research by creating a new explanation – policy momentum – that offers a more holistic understanding of the different sources of pressure that together produce national policy change.
McMahon, Nicole, "Policy Momentum and Transgender Policy Inclusion: Explaining National Policy Change" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8621.