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Queer militants, both academics and activists, often highlight how the gay movement has become increasingly conservative since the 1970s. Instead of being a progressive force for social justice, these critics point out, the gay movement has helped to cause and sustain a range of social inequalities. This article challenges that conventional narrative through an examination of the transformation of California’s sex offender registry—the first of its kind in the nation—in the 1970s and ’80s. During this period, some gay activists, along with many other groups, did help to make the registry more punitive for the “real” sex offenders. However, there was little else they could have done. The article suggests it would be more productive to focus instead on recuperating and elaborating on the radical ideas of those gay activists who once argued for the abolition of the sex offender registration entirely.

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