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Civility has been much on the minds of pundits in local and national political discussions since the 1990s. Periods of civil unrest or irreconcilable divisions in governance intensify concerns about civility. While its more archaic definitions refer to citizenry and civilization, civility is often promoted as the foundation or goal of deliberative democracies. However, less acknowledged is its disciplinary, repressive effects in maintaining or deepening racial, gendered, heteronormative, and ableist hierarchies that distinguish some populations for full citizenship and others for partial rights and protections.

In Part I, I examine a recent series of civility polls, their contradictory results, and how these contradictions can importantly expose the fissures of our contemporary moment and our body politic. In Part II, I describe the historical background of civility around race, gender, and sexuality and the unacknowledged difficulty in defining civility and incivility. In Part III, I extend this discussion to address the recent cases before the Supreme Court concerning LGBTQ+ employment discrimination and lack of accessibility. In conclusion, I identify what it would mean to analyze civility in terms of dignity on the basis of these cases about the equal rights and protections of their LGBTQ+ and disabled plaintiffs. We should be deeply suspicious with demands for civility that are often deployed to quell dissent from marginalized populations and to dampen democratic practices.