The term was originally proposed by the researcher in gender studies Jasbir K. Puar in 2007 to refer to the processes by which some powers line up with the claims of the LGBT community in order to justify racist, xenophobic and aporophobic positions, especially against Muslims, basing them on prejudices that migrant people are homophobic and that Western society is egalitarian. Thus, sexual diversity and LGBT rights are used to sustain political stances against immigration, being increasingly common among far-right parties.
The concept of homonationalism is used to critique the use of LGBT social movements to further ends based in social intolerance, while ignoring homophobia and lack of social equality in Western society as a whole. In this view, equality in Western society is symbolically represented by access to same-sex marriage and heteronormativity, and contrasted with countries without legal recognition of same-sex couples or that criminalize homosexuality, often associating those stances with Muslims. Since developing the concept, Puar has more recently argued that the concept should not be used as an accusation or an identity, but that it is instead a transnational process that represents a historical shift.
Bruno Perreau has criticized the premises of Puar's argument. While agreeing with her critique of nationalist claims among some LGBT groups, he argues that Puar idealizes those she calls the "sexually nonnormative racialized subject". Perreau explains that "deconstruction of norms cannot be dissociated from their reproduction". Jason Ritchie has also critiqued some of the ways homonationalism has been used, especially as a totalizing theory.