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Transnational LGBT Activism

Transnational LGBT Activism: Working for Sexual Rights Worldwide

Ryan R. Thoreson
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Transnational LGBT Activism
    Book Description:

    The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) was founded in 1990 as the first NGO devoted to advancing LGBT human rights worldwide. How, this book asks, is that mission translated into practice? What do transnational LGBT human rights advocates do on a day-to-day basis and for whom? Understanding LGBT human rights claims is impossible, Ryan R. Thoreson contends, without knowing the answers to these questions.

    InTransnational LGBT Activism, Thoreson argues that the idea of LGBT human rights is not predetermined but instead is defined by international activists who establish what and who qualifies for protection. He shows how IGLHRC formed and evolved, who is engaged in this work, how they conceptualize LGBT human rights, and how they have institutionalized their views at the United Nations and elsewhere. After a full year of in-depth research in New York City and Cape Town, South Africa, Thoreson is able to reconstruct IGLHRC's early campaigns and highlight decisive shifts in the organization's work from its founding to the present day.

    Using a number of high-profile campaigns for illustration, he offers insight into why activists have framed particular demands in specific ways and how intergovernmental advocacy shapes the claims that activists ultimately make. The result is a uniquely balanced, empirical response to previous impressionistic and reductive critiques of Western human rights activists-and a clarifying perspective on the nature and practice of global human rights advocacy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4325-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: “Studying Up” and the Anthropology of Transnational LGBT Human Rights Advocacy
    (pp. 1-27)

    On a warm spring evening during my fieldwork, I sat in a lecture hall in Washington, D.C., listening to the keynote address at a conference on sexual transgression. At the podium, the speaker incisively critiqued the complicity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations in perpetuating anti-immigrant stereotypes and practices in Germany, where Lesben und Schwulenverband in Deutschland (LSVD) had built on legislative victories with a series of campaigns to promote tolerance toward LGBT persons. Among other strategies, activists had endorsed acceptance of homosexuality as a criterion for immigration into the country; put posters in Turkish neighborhoods of Berlin...

  5. 1 From the Castro to the UN: IGLHRC in Historical Perspective
    (pp. 28-60)

    LGBT rights are often dismissed as new and invented, yet the establishment of the human rights regime and its attentiveness to marginalized populations are also relatively recent phenomena. Contemporary understandings of rights have antecedents stretching back for millennia,¹ but the formation of the UN in 1945 and adoption of the UDHR in 1948 created a formal apparatus to standardize, monitor, and advance human rights as universal principles. As soon as the UN formed, racial minorities in the United States appealed to the nascent body to protect their human rights and hold their government accountable for rampant violations.² Over the following...

  6. 2 Bodies of Law: Activists and Brokerage in Practice
    (pp. 61-90)

    LGBT human rights advocacy is often described in monolithic terms. In politics and popular media, references to a “gay agenda” or a “gay rights movement” are ubiquitous. Often, this oversimplification is reproduced in otherwise exemplary scholarly work. Joseph Massad, for instance, glosses ILGA, IGLHRC, and other advocates of LGBT human rights as “the Gay International,” a vast array of “missionary tasks, the discourse that produces them, and the organizations that represent them.”¹ Such broad generalizations assume that LGBT human rights NGOs share certain frameworks, motivations, and goals. Yet as chapter 1 illustrates, there are reasons to doubt this homogeneity. IGLHRC’s...

  7. 3 Fusing Human Rights and Sexual Politics: Advocating for LGBT Human Rights Worldwide
    (pp. 91-121)

    Brokers routinely referred to IGLHRC as an “LGBT human rights organization,” a formulation that also appeared in its promotional and advocacy materials. The description seems self-evident, but the conjunction of these two qualifiers—a focus on LGBT people on one hand, and the use of the human rights framework on the other—set IGLHRC apart from most other NGOs. While NGOs like AI and HRW engaged LGBT issues, that was only part of their larger commitment to human rights. Conversely, the Human Rights Campaign in the United States, Stonewall in the United Kingdom, and other domestic LGBT NGOs invoked rights,...

  8. 4 LGBT Human Rights Advocacy and the Partnership Principle
    (pp. 122-152)

    As a wider field of NGOs incorporated SOGI into human rights advocacy, brokers faced pressure to distinguish IGLHRC from groups doing similar work. IGLHRC’s staff retreat in September 2010 not only revisited organizational goals and the tactics necessary to achieve them, but also sought to identify what was not helpful for brokers to pursue. Part of this involved defining a theory of change for the organization, which would determine what actions staff would or would not take.

    When I asked what set IGLHRC apart, Johnson outlined two aspects of its work:

    I can give you the stock answer, which is...

  9. 5 Knowledge as Power: The Structural and Strategic Complexities of Information Politics
    (pp. 153-181)

    On July 5, 2010, Reverend Erich Kasirye e-mailed activists to report that the disembodied head of a gay activist, Pasikali Kashusbe, had been found in a pit latrine on a farm in rural Uganda. According to the e-mail, Pasikali, a member of the pro-LGBT Anglican group Integrity Uganda, had been missing for nearly a month prior to the gruesome discovery. About five hundred meters away from the latrine, a mutilated torso without genitals had also been found. The story rapidly spread through the blogosphere and was reprinted by publications like theAdvocate,where it offered a grisly example of the...

  10. 6 Demanding Rights, Compelling Recognition: LGBT Advocacy in the Global Human Rights Arena
    (pp. 182-210)

    Institutionalization, or the codification of viewpoints in laws, policies, and practices, has been part of IGLHRC’s mission since Dorf sought to secure a place for LGBT persons in AI’s mandate in 1990. Institutionalizing processes meaningfully shape how global norms are produced.¹ The targets of these processes and the ways they unfold, however, are shaped by situational, fast-changing calculations that brokers make, which are often obscured in bird’s-eye views of human rights norms and their development.

    Any analysis of human rights norms is enriched by attentiveness to human rights practice. In this chapter, I consider IGLHRC’s history as an institutionalizing force,...

  11. Conclusion: For Everyone, Everywhere: Universality, Relativism, and the Anthropology of Human Rights
    (pp. 211-228)

    In divisive debates about gender, sexuality, and law, proponents and opponents of LGBT human rights have vested interests in reifying claims in particular ways. Proponents frame LGBT rights as straightforward issues of dignity and fairness, insisting universal human rights must be extended to and enjoyed by all. Opponents construct these rights—and, typically, LGBT populations—as foreign, contrary to local morality and custom, and inexorably shaped by global power disparities. In highly politicized environments, there has been precious little space to acknowledge the nuances and partial truths of these positions.

    Contests over SOGI thereby reanimate familiar epistemological and political disputes...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 229-230)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 231-260)
  14. Index
    (pp. 261-282)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-283)