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Journal of Human Rights

ISSN: 1475-4835 (Print) 1475-4843 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjhr20

Special Issue: Not Such an International Human


Rights Norm? Local Resistance to Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual, and Transgender RightsPreliminary
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Cai Wilkinson & Anthony J. Langlois

To cite this article: Cai Wilkinson & Anthony J. Langlois (2014) Special Issue: Not Such
an International Human Rights Norm? Local Resistance to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and
Transgender RightsPreliminary Comments, Journal of Human Rights, 13:3, 249-255, DOI:
10.1080/14754835.2014.931218

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Journal of Human Rights, 13:249255, 2014
Copyright 2014 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1475-4835 print / 1475-4843 online
DOI: 10.1080/14754835.2014.931218

Introduction

Special Issue: Not Such an International Human


Rights Norm? Local Resistance to Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual, and Transgender RightsPreliminary
Comments

CAI WILKINSON AND ANTHONY J. LANGLOIS

The issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights has loomed large in
debates over human rights in recent years. In the domestic politics of Western countries, the
headline issue has been same-sex marriage, which as of May 2014 is legal in 16 countries
as well as a growing number of subnational jurisdictions including 19 US states (Lambda
Legal 2014). Internationally, meanwhile, the focus has been on the decriminalization of
homosexualityhomosexuality carries the death penalty in five countries and is criminal-
ized in a further 70 countries (BBC News 2014)and advocating for the recognition and
observation of the basic human rights of LGBT people to be protected from violence and
discrimination. Arguably, the clearest articulation of this stance was made by former US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a speech to mark International Human Rights
Day on December 6, 2011. While acknowledging both the sensitivity of the issue and
her own countrys imperfect record on LGBT rights, she presented a strong and cogent
argument in favor of LGBT rights being included in international human rights norms and
laws:

Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and dis-
tinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago,
the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human

Cai Wilkinson is a Lecturer in International Relations at Deakin University, Australia. Her


research focuses on issues of societal security and securitization in the former Soviet Union, and
she is currently working on projects about LGBT rights and human rights norms in Kyrgyzstan and
Russia.
Anthony J. Langlois is an Associate Professor and Head of International Relations in the School
of International Studies at Flinders University. He is the author of The Politics of Justice and Human
Rights: Southeast Asia and Universalist Theory (Cambridge University Press, 2001) and coeditor of
Global Democracy and its Difficulties (Routledge, 2009) and Australian Foreign Policy: Theories
and Debates (Oxford, 2014).
Address correspondence to Cai Wilkinson, Deakin University, Faculty of Arts and Educa-
tion, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria 3125,
Australia. E-mail: cai.wilkinson@deakin.edu.au

249
250 Cai Wilkinson and Anthony J. Langlois

Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They
also werent thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or
people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years,
we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full
measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common
humanity.

This recognition did not occur all at once. It evolved over time. And as it did,
we understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather
than creating new or special rights for them. Like being a woman, like being a
racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less
human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay
rights. (Clinton 2011: paras. 910)

This stance has been strongly backed by other international actors. Following Clintons
speech, both the United States and the United Kingdom sought to make observation of
LGBT rights a consideration in the provision of aid, with the Ugandan government being
a particular target (Corey-Boulet 2012; Sarpong 2012); while the European Union, which
began engaging with LGBT issues in the 1990s (Swiebel 2009), in June 2013 published
formal guidelines to promote and protect the enjoyment of all human rights by lesbian,
gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons for use in contacts with third
countries and with international and civil society organisations, using a case-by-case ap-
proach, in order to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTI persons within its
external action (Council of the European Union 2013: para. 6). In addition, UN Secretary
General Ban Ki-moon has taken up LGBT rights as a key issue during his second term, as
demonstrated not only in his speeches and public statements but also the Free & Equal
global public education campaign launched in July 2013 to promote the observation of the
human rights of LGBT people.1
However, while Secretary Ki-moons description of LGBT rights as one of the great,
neglected human rights challenges of our time (Office of the United Nations High Com-
missioner for Human Rights [OHCHR] 2013: video 15) has found widespread support
amongst Western states, the idea of LGBT rights being human rights has been met with
far less enthusiasm and even outright hostility by other states and interest groups. Indeed,
in many ways, it appears that the greater the progress made in relation to establishing
LGBT rights as a human rights norm, the more intense resistance to this trend becomes
from what Clifford Bob (2012) calls the global right winga network of conservative
activists who are actively attempting to repudiate the notion of LGBT rights being human
rights.
It was awareness of this resistance and its often all too real impact on the lives of
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people and their allies that served
as the impetus to explore the dynamics of contestation more closely and to examine whether
LGBT rights really are becoming an international human rights norm in practice as well as
in name. The initial result was a panel held at the 2013 International Studies Association
Annual Convention with the cosponsorship of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender,
Queer and Allies Caucus and the Human Rights Section entitled Not Such an International
Human Rights Norm?: Local Resistance to LGBT Rights. Collectively, the panelists sought
to identify common themes and issues in debates over LGBT rights in different countries
and regions, with individual papers exploring how resistance to LGBT rights is framed
Introduction 251

and by whom, as well as the forms that it takes in particular locales. In addition, panelists
were asked to consider the implications of local resistance for LGBTQ people, and for the
notion of LGBT rights as well as the notion of universal human rights more broadly. The
panel was well attended and well received, providing a tangible indication that the topic
was of wider interest and would be worth continuing to explore. And, largely thanks to
the initiative of the then-editor of the Journal of Human Rights, Richard P. Hiskes, along
with the willingness of the panelists to revise their papers into fully fledged, peer-reviewed
articles, this special issue is the result of that further exploration.
It is not our intention in this introduction to summarize each article in turn; the indi-
vidual abstracts fulfill this function efficiently, making repetition superfluous even with the
most elegant paraphrasing. Rather, we would like to highlight and briefly discuss a number
of the issues and themes that became apparent over the course of preparing the special issue.
Four points in particular stand out. Firstly, we note the particularities and tensions that are
present in choices of terminology used when talking about LGBT rights; secondly, and fol-
lowing on from semantic questions to some extent, the critical stance that the majority of the
contributors take towards the homonormativity (Duggan 2002) of dominant articulations
of LGBT rights and the implications for advancing identity-based human rights claims.
Third, we note the similarities between dynamics of resistance in different localesdespite
local conditions and contextswhich provides further confirmation of Weiss and Bosias
(2013) argument in their recent edited book Global Homophobia: States, Movements, and
the Politics of Oppression that current resistance to LGBT rights is fundamentally political
and modular and needs to be examined as such, separate from personal beliefs about ho-
mosexuality. Finally, we signal the performativity of debates over human rights that mean
that even in the fiercest cases of resistance, the process of contestation unavoidably results
in change that is likely to increase support for recognition and observation of the human
rights of LGBT people. Significantly, all of these issues speak to broader ongoing debates
over not just LGBT rights but also human rights and international politics, as we discuss in
the rest of this introduction.

Terminological Choices
Although LGBT (or GLBT) is arguably the most common acronym used to describe non-
heterosexual and gender variant people and issues pertaining to them, there is a wide variety
of terms in use, with many reflecting particular concerns about inclusivity/exclusivity and
the political implications of the appellation in question. Efforts to ensure inclusivity have
often taken the form of adding additional letters to LGBT: Q for queer and/or questioning,
I for intersex, and A for asexual and/or allies (i.e., non-LGBTQI supporters of LGBTQI
people) have all been added with increasing frequency, creating an acronym that, while no-
tionally inclusive, risks becoming unwieldy in use, leading some to suggest new acronyms
such as QUILTBAG (the U standing for undecided) as a more memorable and easily
pronounceable alternative.2
Others have sought to move away from LGBT and its variations in favor of terms that
are viewed as more culturally neutral, with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)
being increasingly used by many international organizations and institutions, including
the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Alternatively, queer
is used by some as an umbrella term or shorthand to describe all nonheterosexual and
gender variant people on the grounds of their non-normativity. Given the history of queer
as a pejorative term, this is far from uncontroversial, with debates about the reclaiming of
the term often evoking strong feelings on both sides (Brontsema 2009). Nonetheless, one
252 Cai Wilkinson and Anthony J. Langlois

significant point in favor of queer as a term and concept is that it highlights the normativity
and intersections of sexual and gender identities, rather than treating them as discrete
categories as the acronym LGBT suggests (Namaste 1994: 224226).
Given the politics and specificities of any term, in editing this special issue we have
left the choice of terminology to the individual authors on the basis of what is most
appropriate for their research. Regardless of the term or acronym employed, however,
it would be a mistake to assume that all identities that are notionally encompassed by
LGBTQIA are sufficiently (let alone equally) represented, in discourse or practice. In
the case of discussion of LGBT rights, both the B and T are often neglected (while
intersex remains entirely absent), reflecting the fact that the term is for the most part
used to denote sexual rights that envisages same-sex-attracted people enjoying full sexual
citizenship (Richardson 2000). Yet intersex, bisexual, and transgender peoples experiences
of human rights frequently differ considerably from those of cisgender same-sex-attracted
people due to the dominance of binary conceptualizations of sex and gender. For example,
despite a growing recognition of transgender rights (Currah, Juang, and Price Minter
2006), transgender people remain pathologized and marginalized both legally and socially
(Bettcher 2014; Suess, Espineira, and Walters 2014), with the consequences for transwomen
of color being especially severe, as the horrific statistics from the Trans Murder Monitoring
Project demonstrate (TvT Research Project 2011). Bisexuals, meanwhile, frequently find
themselves categorizedand treatedas either gay or straight, rather than their sexual
identity being recognized in its own right (Galupo 2011) and intersex people continue to
fight for recognition of their sex as neither male nor female and the right to bodily autonomy
rather than being subjectedoften at a very young ageto surgeries designed primarily to
normalize their bodies (Dreger 2006).

Homonormativity
The marginalization of the B and T and the absence of I in mainstream debates over
LGBT rights is symptomatic of what Duggan (2002: 179) calls homonormativity in that
arguments in favor of LGBT rights continue to be framed by dominant heteronormative
assumptions and institutions and thus contribute to the maintenance of normative concep-
tualizations of gender and sexuality. While beginning to remedy the lack of attention to the
particular experiences of transgender, intersex, and bisexual people is regrettably beyond the
scope of this special issue, a theme common to almost all of the contributionsimplicitly
if not explicitlyis a critical awareness of the implications of homonormativity for the
advancement of SOGI rights.
Of those that engage directly homonormativitys impact, Zivi (this issue: 290) high-
lights the repronormativity of marriage equality arguments that make the right to
marriage almost synonymous with family and responsible parenting in her analysis of
gay marriage debates in the United States. Significantly, while recognizing the poten-
tial of same-sex marriage to redefine marriage norms by enacting new marriage con-
figurations, she cautions that the linking of gay marriage to good parenting carries the
risk being used to police acceptable relationship forms rather than being an unequiv-
ocal sign of progress. Rahman (this issue), meanwhile, takes a more meta-level view
of homonormativity and how it is used to define progress. Centrally, he argues per-
suasively that the positioning of LGBT rights by Western actors as markers of mod-
ernizing progress is contrasted with resistance to LGBT rights in Muslim cultures
in order to generate a homocolonialist discourse of Western exceptionalism that in
Introduction 253

turn perpetuates resistance (Rahman this issue: 275). Homocolonialism provokes Mus-
lim homophobia [. . .] reinforcing Islamophobia because the resistance to sexual diver-
sity is taken as fundamentally indicative of Muslim otherness to modernity (280).
The dynamics of homonormativity and indeed homocolonialism are similarly evident in
Wilkinsons (this issue) exploration of Russias antigay laws and their justification via a
discourse of traditional values that is notable for its forthright rejection in both interna-
tional and national fora of the notion that LGBT people are born this way, which has
been used to advance the case for LGBT human rights since the early 1990s (Kollman and
Waites 2009).

Resistance as Political and Modular


In Global Homophobia, Weiss and Bosia (2013: 56, emphasis in original) conceptualize
political homophobia as a specifically political and modular force that is distinguishable
from personal and private beliefs about the acceptability of homosexuality and that is
employed as a strategic tool by states and societal actors in the pursuit of their political
goals, one of which is state building, and which is imposed in a consistent way across
diverse contexts. Bosia (this issue: 258) picks up this theme in his contribution to this
issue, arguing for the focus to be shifted away from the actions of activists on both sides of
debates over LGBT rights to look at the role of state homophobia in producing the strange
fruit of a global LGBT rights discourse in that articulations of the gay bogeyman by
states compels sexual minorities not only to respond in the states terms but to think
through them as wella dynamic that has arguably contributed to the homonormativity
of mainstream LGBT rights claims.
Turning attention to the notion of resistance being modular, meanwhile, Browne and
Nashs (this issue) study of how antigay marriage arguments traveled from Canada to the
United Kingdom, while in many ways confirming both Zivis and Rahmans respective
arguments about how social practices are used to constitute national and Western identities
in that both these countries are ones where LGBT rights are advanced, also provides a clear
example of the modular nature of political homophobia as they chart the development of
transnational, material, and discursive oppositional networks that draw on similar ideo-
logical arguments (323). However, they also note that such networks exhibit distinctive
characteristics related to their geotemporal locations, adding a useful multilevel dimen-
sion to the analysis (Browne and Nash this issue: 323). Echoing this conclusion about the
importance of local contextual factors in determining the outcome of attempts to establish
LGBT rights as a norm, Ayoubs (this issue) article comparing the reception of LGBT hu-
man rights norms in Poland and Slovenia demonstrates similar dynamics of modularity. In
particular, his study highlights the connections between religion and national identity, with
religion increasing resistance in cases where its moral authority is historically embedded
in the popular idea of the nation (Ayoub this issue: 338).

Performing Change
Finally, all of the articles speak to the fact that both discourses and practices of resistance
unavoidably contribute to changes in norms even as it seeks to prevent it. The key question,
therefore, as Zivi rightly notes in her performative analysis, is what the nature of these
changes will be, since it cannot be assumed that victories come without costs given that
norms by their nature rarely benefit everyone equally. Langlois (this issue) examination
of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and criticisms relating to provisions for sexual
254 Cai Wilkinson and Anthony J. Langlois

orientation and gender identity (SOGI) rights, which he extends into a discussion of the
cultural politics of advancing rights claims, addresses this question directly. Importantly,
he observes that change is not wholesale or uniform. Rather, change operates differently,
and at different speeds, in different settings: In terms of governance processes, change
can appear fast, extensive, and official, since it is possible to establish new legislation and
institutions in short periods of time. However, as a sociocultural practice, change is far less
linear and is contingent upon compatibility with existing rules of the political game. The
temptation might be to assume that these tensions are negative and retard the diffusion of
norms, yet, on the basis of his case study, Langlois suggests that the performative nature
of rights claims means that the process of contestation is likely to lead to change, albeit
potentially only very slowly, in favor of greater institutional recognition in both principle
and practice of SOGI rights.
Such a conclusion may seem overly optimistic, especially in the face of apparently
worsening homophobia in certain parts of the world at present. However, the contributions
to this special issue give reason to endorse it at least cautiously, for as the dynamics of
homophobia and resistance to the idea that LGBT rights are human rights are more fully
understood and the homonormativity of LGBT rights claims recognized, so it may gradually
become easier to develop strategies that can advocate effectively for the human rights of
LGBT people in a less exclusionary and divisive way.

Notes
1. See https://www.unfe.org/en/about.
2. See http://queerdictionary.tumblr.com/post/3899608042/quiltbag.

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