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LGBTQ Issues and U.S. Foreign Relations

Summary and Keywords

The impact of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) issues on U.S. foreign relations is an understudied area, and only a handful of historians have addressed these issues in articles and books. Encounters with unexpected and condemnable (to European eyes) sexual behaviors and gender comportment arose from the first European forays into North America. As such, subduing heterodox sexual and gender expression has always been part of the colonizing endeavor in the so-called New World, tied in with the mission of civilizing and Christianizing the indigenous peoples that was so central to the forging of the United States and pressing its territorial expansion across the continent. These same impulses accompanied the further U.S. accumulation of territory across the Pacific and the Caribbean in the late 19th century, and they persisted even longer and further afield in its citizens’ missionary endeavors across the globe. During the 20th century, as the state’s foreign policy apparatus grew in size and scope, so too did the notions of homosexuality and transgender identity solidify as widely recognizable identity categories in the United States. Thus, it is during the 20th and 21st centuries, with ever greater intensity as the decades progressed, that one finds important influences of homosexuality and gender diversity on U.S. foreign policy: in immigration policies dating back to the late 19th century, in the Lavender Scare that plagued the State Department during the Truman and Eisenhower presidencies, in more contemporary battles between religious conservatives and queer rights activists that have at times been exported to other countries, and in the increasing intersections of LGBTQ rights issues and the War on Terror that has been waged primarily in the Middle East since September 11, 2001.

Keywords: LGTBQ, foreign policy, culture wars, religious right, gay, lesbian, queer, transgender, Lavender Scare, War on Terror

There are myriad reasons for the fact that comparatively little has been written on LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) issues in U.S. foreign policy. Certainly, diplomatic history’s traditional focus on states as actors has helped to obscure questions of sexuality and gender identity. As Manuela Lavinas Picq and Markus Thiel have written, “LGBTQ politics start with the personal as analytical referent, in contrast to most mainstream [international relations] scholars who eschew the ‘private’ in favor of a focus on the assumed ‘public.’” 1

An equally important explanation for this silence is the gradual historical process by which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer identity categories solidified in the United States. Before these terms existed and were imbued with today’s widely understood meanings as personal identities that also convey membership in a larger social group, social and political action for LGBTQ people was not possible, nor was organized discrimination against them possible in any nationwide or transnational manner. Over the course of the 20th century, as these identities became more choate, they also had a growing impact on U.S. foreign policy.

Although the acronym LGBTQ circulates widely in the 21st century, uncertainty lingers about the meaning of its component terms. Scholars in the history of sexuality consistently cite the mid-to-late 19th century as the first hesitating and awkward introduction of the term “homosexual” in the United States, inevitably accompanied by its opposite term (“heterosexual”), and the term identifying the murky middle ground between these supposed poles (“bisexual”). The more colloquial terms “gay” and “lesbian”—used far more often as self-identifiers than the clinical term “homosexual”—gradually arose in the United States at roughly the same time. The rise of an identifiable “transgender” identity came even later, spurred onwards when the first American to undergo gender reassignment surgery, Christine Jorgensen, returned to the United States from Denmark in 1953, accompanied by significant publicity from an intrigued and titillated national media. The term “queer,” currently used in activist and academic circles, is even more recent in achieving meaning and circulation, dating to the 1990s. While not designating a specific identity category, “queer” is instead a challenge to any sort of naturalized binary in which one group of people is deemed more privileged and powerful than the other (for example: heterosexual-homosexual, male-female, white-colored, citizen-foreigner, wealthy-poor). When a person’s or a state’s behavior reinforces these traditional power hierarchies, such behavior is termed “heteronormative,” while working to dismantle them is termed “queering.”2

Social Fears of Contagion and Infiltration

Social fears—either of infiltration or contamination from undesirable elements, presumably from outside the United States—led to various federal policies implicitly linking LGBTQ issues with U.S. foreign relations. The first of these came during the Progressive Era in the form of immigration restrictions. Alongside race-based exclusions that originated in the late 1800s, especially against Chinese immigrants, came restrictions that were broadly designed to combat the encroachment of “degeneracy” in the nation, which historian Margot Canaday describes as “a racial and economic construct that explained ‘the immorality of the poor.’”3 While immigrants who were homosexuals or gender nonconformists were not explicitly barred during the Progressive Era, both populations were policed by two “anti-degeneracy” provisions in federal immigration law. One such restriction, the “public charge clause” in the Immigration Act of 1882, forbade entry to any immigrant likely to require public support in the country, due to a lack of financial resources or personal traits that made employment less likely. In 1891, the public charge clause was joined by another provision that outlawed aliens convicted of a “crime of moral turpitude.”4

With the public charge clause, the federal government had an imperfect instrument for policing sexual and gender nonconformity, given that the clause itself was designed primarily as a tool against poverty and ostensibly had no relation to sexuality or gender. At the time, however, poverty and perversion were deemed to go hand-in-hand, such that proof of perversion alone could serve as a strong indication of poverty and therefore justify invocation of the clause. Thus, various applicants for immigration were turned away either at U.S. consulates abroad or at ports of entry if they exhibited traits that suggested homosexuality, gender inversion, or if their physical genitalia were malformed. Certainly, the lack of required proof for claims of homosexuality—no record of sodomy convictions or the like need exist to invoke the clause—made the public charge clause a legally problematic norm for the Bureau of Immigration to employ in this way, but it also allowed the clause to be enforced liberally. In contrast, the moral turpitude clause required proof of a conviction, either before one’s arrival in the United States or, as later amended, within a few years of one’s arrival in the country. Thus, a homosexual’s expulsion from the country for moral turpitude required conviction based on sexually related crimes, a far less common occurrence than simply being perceived as a pervert. When considering these tools together, it is clear that Bureau of Immigration officials at the dawn of the 20th century sought to exclude homosexuals and gender nonconformists, even if it meant using the imprecise tools of the public charge and moral turpitude clauses, neither of which spoke explicitly of homosexuality or gender identity as barriers to admission into the country.

By the 1950s, this imprecision had been rectified; the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 explicitly prevented those who were homosexual from immigrating and also enabled their deportation after their arrival in the United States. These feats were achieved by means of the “psychopathic personality clause” of the law, which relied on the consensus among psychologists—a consensus that would unravel in the decades after the law’s passage—that homosexuality was a psychopathic trait.5 The clause allowed immigration authorities to comb through various sorts of evidence to establish one’s homosexuality (and therefore one’s psychopathy), not only in public criminal records, but also sexual histories from interviews with the person, interviews with acquaintances, or assessments of psychologists. Generally speaking, one homosexual encounter, or even the perceived propensity towards such, sufficed to establish an immigrant’s homosexual condition and led to restriction or removal from the country.6 It is somewhat ironic that a law designed to make immigration standards conform to the civil rights movement—historian Mae Ngai notes that the McCarran-Walter Act was the first law to enshrine the “general principle of color-blind citizenship,” even while leaving quotas favoring European immigration in place—was used to further the exclusion of LGBTQ immigrants from citizenship.7 And yet, this expansion of explicit homophobia in government policies typified the immediate post-World War II era, as medical paradigms grew in influence on public policy, and concerns about sexual perversion were tied to fears of communist infiltration of the state. Indeed, it would take LGBTQ activists until passage of the 1990 Immigration Act to end the restrictions on LGBTQ immigration under McCarran-Walter, well after the American Psychiatric Association in 1974 removed homosexuality from its list of pathologies.

As the McCarran-Walter Act explicitly enshrined American fears of social contamination from homosexuality and gender nonconformity into law, a related fear—of communist infiltration of the government, especially at the U.S. State Department—led to a witch-hunt in the federal government during the early Cold War, the so-called “Lavender Scare.” Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin proved especially effective in exploiting these fears. As part of a populist, Washington-outsider movement that advocated greater aggressiveness against the Soviet threat than the Truman Administration seemed willing to assert, McCarthy and his allies successfully utilized homophobia to smear various members of Washington’s patrician foreign policy elite as effeminate, effete, and seemingly inclined towards both homosexuality and sympathy for communism.8 Although McCarthy never actually produced his infamous list of 205 “names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department,” the subsequent investigations into the private lives of State Department employees uncovered thousands of men and women who either confessed to or were suspected of being homosexuals.9 This peculiar substitution—supplanting a supposed list of known communists with an extensive witch-hunt to weed out homosexuals—indicates the fear and vitriol that accompanied homosexuality in the early Cold War: a betrayal of gender and sexuality norms seemed to portend a deeper betrayal of the nation. As such, the well-known “Red Scare” of the early Cold War became a full-fledged “Lavender Scare.”

In 1953, within his first 100 days of taking office, President Eisenhower codified the notion that homosexuals were national security risks. Executive Order 10450 effectively forbade homosexuals (or, in the words of the Order itself: those who partook in “sexual perversion”) from employment in the federal government. The reasoning was that even those homosexuals not espousing any explicit disloyalty to the state would be susceptible to blackmail from forces seeking to infiltrate the federal government, especially communists. Thus, for the next two decades, known homosexuals (or those investigated and suspected of such) were excluded from federal employment. Ironically, as part of his fall from grace, Senator McCarthy’s own integrity was “destabilized by portrayals of the senator as dependent upon, dominated by, or beholden to men without a legitimate claim to political authority.”10 Allegations that McCarthy was himself gay never took hold, but even McCarthy’s more minor transgressions of Cold War masculinity norms—he was unmarried when he was elected and relied on younger, inexperienced, and often incompetent men, like Roy Cohn and G. David Schine, to investigate communist infiltration in government—fueled attacks on his character that eventually silenced McCarthy. Yet, even after McCarthyism faded, Eisenhower’s Executive Order remained in place; known gay men and lesbians remained barred from federal employment and were deprived of security clearances into the 1970s and beyond, especially in agencies charged with developing and implementing foreign policy (the NSA, CIA, and Department of Defense). A re-evaluation of the claim that homosexuals were security risks would have to wait for a different moment, when LGBTQ activist groups garnered increasing clout, thanks to the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Impact of the “Culture Wars” on the U.S. Foreign Policy Apparatus

LGBTQ and Christian Right activism matured in the United States almost simultaneously in the 1970s and have served as major forces in the “culture wars” ever since. Smaller LGBTQ activist groups, working before the 1969 Stonewall Riots, were joined thereafter by a new generation of activists with more clout and a broader agenda. With the rise in 1973 of the movement’s first large-scale and well-endowed national activist group, the National Gay Task Force, coupled with the election and subsequent assassination of openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, in 1977, the movement became a fixture in U.S. politics. Meanwhile, the Christian Right was moving from a position of quiescent non-engagement to vocal participation in the political sphere. The 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision, the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment, and Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” crusade, in 1977, to repeal civic ordinances that protected gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, and public spaces all served as catalyzing moments. Groups like the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority built upon Bryant’s successes and played key roles in Ronald Reagan’s electoral coalition, and by the 1980s, the LGBTQ rights movement and the Christian Right had become “perfect enemies,” as journalists Chris Bull and John Gallagher put it, capable of countering each other on various issues and mobilizing further, thanks to a visceral distaste for the opposing group.11

The Mariel boatlift, in 1980, was one of the first foreign policy crises tied to homosexuality in the era of the “culture wars,” as it forced the Carter Administration to prioritize the U.S.’s goal of undermining Castro’s regime over the distasteful prospect of welcoming large numbers of gay Cuban migrants who arrived in the boatlifts.12 However, far less leniency would be shown to gay non-citizens once the AIDS crisis hit with full force later in the 1980s. Following a wave of sensationalist U.S. media reports in 1987, focusing on “recalcitrant AIDS carriers”—people who were HIV-positive and persisted in having sex—Senator Jesse Helms and Congressman William Dannemayer, both strongly supported by the Christian Right, introduced legislation to forbid HIV-positive foreigners from visiting or immigrating to the United States.13 The bill was overwhelmingly approved in Congress, and the restrictions remained in place until the 2008 Congress repealed the legislation, which President George W. Bush signed and President Obama implemented in 2009.

The Lavender Scare-era concerns over the susceptibility of LGBTQ employees to betray the nation also persisted into the era of the “culture wars.” While federal court decisions—at the goading of LGBTQ activist Frank Kameny and groups like the National Gay Task Force—overturned the ban on gay and lesbian civil service employees in 1973, LGBTQ government workers with security clearances still faced dismissal. This situation improved somewhat during the Reagan Administration, when the National Security Agency and then the State Department acquiesced to LGBTQ demands (and the persistent threat of court action) to overturn these policies.14 Nonetheless, the CIA—bolstered by judgments from the Rehnquist Court—persisted in excluding homosexuals from employment into the 1990s, when the Clinton Administration finally integrated the intelligence agency. While such battles stirred emotions and vitriol in the “culture wars,” the reliance on court decisions and executive orders kept these incidents one step removed from the U.S. Congress, which was more accountable to voters and political activists from both the Christian Right and the LGBTQ movement.

A marked increase in vitriol accompanied the very public Senate battle over the first openly gay nominee for an ambassadorship, James Hormel, in 1997. Nominated by President Clinton to serve in the mainly ceremonial post as Ambassador to Luxembourg, Hormel encountered fierce opposition, mainly from Republicans with mobilized Christian Right constituencies (Senators Trent Lott and Check Hagel were particularly outspoken). Hormel’s nomination stalled in the Senate, before the president finally placed Hormel in the position via a recess appointment in 1999.15 While openness to gay ambassadors has grown in the Senate since then (Michael Guest, a George W. Bush appointee, was the first gay man to win Senate confirmation as an ambassador in 2001), the question of how they are received abroad remains more contentious, rendering increasing conflict with culturally conservative countries, even ostensible U.S. allies. After being labeled with an anti-gay slur by the Cardinal Archbishop of Santo Domingo in 2015, the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, James Brewster, received strong support from the State Department, whose spokesperson noted: “U.S. policy is dedicated to eliminating barriers to equality, fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and engaging LGBTI communities around the world.”16 Yet, this newfound U.S. government commitment to promoting LGBTQ rights as universal human rights has begotten controversy, not only in the Dominican Republic, but elsewhere as well, especially in Africa and the Middle East. It also remains highly controversial for the Christian Right in the United States.

The Global Work of U.S.-Based LGBTQ and Christian Right Activists

The same sort of tug of war between the Christian Right and LGBTQ activists persists in an arguably more vibrant foreign policy scene: in the actions of American-based NGOs, both at the United Nations and in their work around the globe. As a consequence of globalization, international politics have been realigned: “While the sovereign state remains the central international actor, its authority has been reconstituted … and, in some cases, superseded by global processes and institutions.” This proliferation of power nodes outside of the nation-state has led the United Nations to become a “central terrain for social movements,” and both LGBTQ and Christian Right activists have moved more forcefully into this sphere since the 1990s.17 The first LGBTQ rights NGO to receive consultative status from the UN’s Economic and Social (ECOSOC) Council, the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), did so in 1993, with other NGOs ultimately following this path as well, so that a total of twelve such groups—two with headquarters in the United States—attained consultative status by 2015.18 Among the 187 Christian religious NGOs with consultative status, U.S.-based Christian Right groups are heavily represented, including: Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, and the Family Research Council.19 This representation has assured that issues of sexual and gender identity remain as contentious in United Nations proceedings as in the domestic sphere of the United States.

The transnational alliances built by these U.S.-based actors to promote their agendas at the UN are often quite unique from what is found in the domestic sphere. The Christian Right in particular has forged effective working relationships with both the Vatican and Islamic countries at various UN conferences, ensuring that voices in support of the so-called “natural family” secure solid support on issues like access to abortion, parental prerogatives over children, the extent of sexual education, and recognition of sexuality and gender diversity. LGBTQ issues have by no means dominated the agendas at UN conferences in Cairo on population and development (1994), nor on women in Beijing (1995), nor even on HIV/AIDS. But these issues have been fiercely debated in all such venues, placing the U.S. government in a position of choosing sides on these issues. In 2001, for example, the Bush Administration fell in line with countries such as Egypt, Iran, and Pakistan in banning mention of “men who have sex with men” from the Final Declaration of Commitments from a General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS.20

The most divisive considerations at the UN of LGBTQ rights has involved expanding the UN’s Declaration on Human Rights, first passed in 1948, to included protections for sexual orientation and gender identification—the so-called SOGI declaration. When the issue was first presented to the General Assembly for a non-binding vote, the Bush Administration announced its intent to vote against it. Yet, in January 2009, the Obama Administration reversed course and voted for the SOGI declaration, thereby marking a major transition in U.S. policy and committing the U.S. government to promoting LGBTQ rights as human rights. The SOGI declaration failed at the General Assembly, garnering only 67 votes out of the 190-plus countries. And, in fact, a countermeasure promoted mainly by Muslim countries, stating that such issues are the exclusive purview of the domestic domain, nearly equaled the vote total in support of SOGI.21 When the smaller Human Rights Council voted on the SOGI amendment in 2011, however, the measure passed, thereby allowing greater leeway for UN agencies to collect information on abuses against LGBTQ people across the globe and to advocate for policy changes among member states.

The Obama Administration has also grown more vocal when other countries have passed anti-gay legislation. Passage of a law in Russia restricting media promotion of homosexuality just before the 2014 Sochi Olympics led the Administration to condemn the law, though without imposing sanctions (as it did when Russia seized the Crimea) and without the same rigor displayed in efforts to secure the extradition of Edward Snowden. Similarly, passage of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014, which further criminalized same-sex relations and authorized penalties against individuals or NGOs aiding same-sex activity, was condemned by the State Department. Indeed, when the U.S. government opted to cancel or delay some military support to the Ugandan government, it marked the first-ever act targeting a foreign government over LGBTQ rights. That said, these measures were calculated so as not to jeopardize the United States’ military ties with Uganda or reduce the US’s strategic reliance on the Museveni regime.22 Importantly, behind the framing of the Ugandan law were not just local politicians and activists, but also members of the Christian Right from the U.S., while LGBTQ activists in the country also secured support from various international NGOs. The Uganda case thereby demonstrates how American NGOs on both sides of the “culture wars” have successfully partnered with organizations in various countries to broaden their global reach over the past few decades.

LGBTQ Issues and the War on Terror

Tracing the connections of LGBTQ rights with the War on Terror since September 11, 2001, further elucidates the growing importance of these issues to the United States’ foreign policy. Indeed, LGBTQ issues now play a significant ideological role—alongside women’s rights, religious liberty, and tolerance of ethnic minorities—in America’s sensitive relations with the Muslim world, which can too easily be characterized as portending a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam.23 Such assessments often take into account the sobering facts regarding the criminalization of homosexual acts in the developing world. As of 2013, thirty-one of the seventy-six countries that criminalize such behavior were Muslim-majority countries, including all five countries in which such crimes are punishable by death.24 (The fact that the United States was removed from such lists only in 2003, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision, seems a distant memory.) Other points of evidence supporting the notion of a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam include news headlines detailing the plight of LGBTQ populations in ISIS-controlled parts of Iraq and Syria, with some gay men thrown to their deaths from rooftops after religious trials.25 Meanwhile, some German cities have introduced special services to support LGBTQ refugees arriving as part of the current flow of migrants from the Middle East, for fear they will be harassed by fellow refugees in asylum homes.26

These more recent realities stand atop earlier tensions in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks: the 2001 arrest of fifty-two Egyptian men accused of homosexuality—and tried on charges of sedition in military courts—in a raid on Cairo’s Queen Boat nightclub; the grisly murder of openly gay and staunchly anti-immigrant Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 at the hands of a Muslim radical; and the introduction, in 2006 in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, of a values questionnaire for citizenship applicants from Muslim countries that asks, among other questions, “Imagine that your adult son comes to you and explains that he is homosexual and would like to live together with another man. How do you react?”27 As such, the perception has solidified that LGBTQ rights increasingly serve as a wedge between the West and the Muslim world. The embrace (or at least tolerance) of LGBTQ rights has increasingly become a litmus test for citizenship in the West, while Muslim countries persist in, and even increase, persecution of their own LGBTQ citizens.

In all of the above cases, U.S. and European relations with Muslim counterparts have not been significantly impacted by questions of LGBTQ rights. The U.S. government staunchly supported the Mubarak regime at the time of the Queen Boat incident and continues to support the regime of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, since his rise to power after a June 2013 coup, even as discrimination against LGBTQ citizens intensifies. Recent multiparty negotiations with Iran on a nuclear deal were not impacted—nor were the strong commercial and security relations of the United States with Saudi Arabia—as a result of these countries’ embrace of the death penalty against LGBTQ citizens. This quiescence is analogous to the cool reception in the West of Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström’s criticism of Saudi women’s rights in February 2015. When the Saudi government responded by briefly suspending diplomatic and commercial relations with Sweden, other governments in Europe and North America—themselves ostensibly committed to a “feminist foreign policy” (and a pro-LGBTQ foreign policy as well)—remained silent. As international relations scholar Robert Egnell summarizes: to foreign-policy traditionalists, “a feminist perspective would be idealistic, naïve—and potentially even dangerous—in the realpolitik power struggles between nations.”28 U.S. policymakers seemingly embrace this view, both with states that are its partners and with adversaries in the Middle East. When the State Department does support feminism and LGBTQ rights in the region, it tends to be against such destabilizing insurgent groups as the Taliban and ISIS.

Discussion of the Literature

A recent special issue of the journal Diplomatic History is devoted to the current dearth of published scholarship on LGBTQ issues in U.S. foreign policy history, while also advocating for more scholarly investment in this area. As contributor Mark Philip Bradley admonishes, “The time has more than come to better understand how queering the history of American foreign relations might transform our own scholarly practice, and the field itself.”29 Indeed, almost all of the groundbreaking histories in this field have been composed since 2000, including Robert Dean’s investigation of the Lavender Scare and David K. Johnson’s ensuing deeper treatment of the same topic, along with details on how nascent LGBTQ activist groups combatted the Cold War homophobia that imperiled the careers of diplomats and other foreign policy officials.30 These early contributions now serve as the groundwork for a new generation of scholarship on LGBTQ issues and the Cold War, including work from Naoko Shibusawa and an impending publication from David Minto.31

Alongside this foundational work on the impact of homophobia on the U.S. foreign policy apparatus, various scholars have examined the broader ways in which state mechanisms have excluded homosexuals and gender nonconformists from access to immigration or to full citizenship. Margot Canaday’s work, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America, has provided a particularly insightful contribution to the restrictions placed on LGBTQ immigration since the late 1800s. Her further work in the same book, on queer exclusions from welfare programs and from military service, are complemented by earlier work on military exclusions from Allen Berube and Leisa Meyer.32 While none of this work explicitly addresses U.S. foreign relations, it does chronicle a strong historical effort by the United States government to project an image of intolerance towards gender and sexuality diversity on the world stage.

When considering the more recent era of the “culture wars,” historian Julio Capo has highlighted how the Mariel boatlift served as a flashpoint between the United States’ state-sanctioned homophobia and its Cold War foreign policy objectives.33 This work highlights one key future direction for the field: chronicling those moments since the rise of the “culture wars” when LGBTQ issues have impacted foreign policy. One can anticipate similar future work regarding the 1987 ban on non-citizens with HIV from immigrating into the United States, coverage of Senate fights over appointing gay ambassadors, the United States’ change of policy regarding the SOGI amendment to the UN Declaration on Human Rights, and clashes with the Ugandan government and with Putin’s Russia over homophobic legislation. Work on these topics—when the United States’ foreign policy establishment was forced to take a stand on LGBTQ issues—is, at this stage, limited but growing.34

Furthermore, while historians lag behind in this realm, political scientists have begun to chronicle the gradual evolution in global politics away from a “statist” system of actors into what political scientist Paul Amar terms a “parastatist” system, heavily dependent on NGOs and other non-state actors to forge and carry out policy. As part of this development, America’s domestic squabbles over LGBTQ rights have become internationalized though the work of non-state actors pursuing both pro-LGBTQ agendas and those seeking to defend traditional sexuality, gender, and family roles.35 Further work from historians on such developments at the UN and on the work of Western-based NGOs across the developing world can be anticipated as the field matures.

Similar endeavors will ultimately be required of historians to keep pace with the provocative work of critical theorists regarding LGBTQ rights’ deployment in the War on Terror. Literary scholar Jasbir Puar has cautioned that American LGBTQ activist groups and citizens risk becoming a complicit constituency of an interventionist, Islamophobic U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Newly empowered as full-fledged citizens at home, queer constituents risk embracing a “homonationalism” that buys into the “clash of civilizations” paradigm in the Middle East.36 Meanwhile, raising the specter of a new cultural imperialism, scholar Joseph Massad has warned LGBTQ activist groups in the United States to refrain from activities in the Muslim world. Massad argues that homosexuality already is seen as a colonial-era import from the West in places like Egypt, and, thus, in cases of anti-LGBTQ violence, “it is not the same-sex practices that are being repressed …, but rather the sociopolitical identification of these practices with the Western identity of gayness and the publicness that these gay-identified men seek.”37 Despite criticisms of Puar’s and Massad’s work, they both highlight the complexity for activists and the U.S. government when promoting LGBTQ equality in the War on Terror: no path forward exists that doesn’t risk further complicating U.S. relations with the Muslim world.38

Primary Sources

A major reason for the dearth of historical work on LGBTQ issues in U.S. foreign relations is that the primary archive used by diplomatic historians is largely silent on such issues. The records of the U.S. Department of State, housed by the National Archives and Records Administration, remains an essential resource for diplomatic historians. However, researchers who have studied these papers find only scant mention of such issues, even in moments of particular crisis regarding LGBTQ issues, such as the Lavender Scare of the Truman Presidency. This dearth of material requires persistence from scholars, as these records—despite their overall silence—can garner unforeseen and unexpected insights on the ways that sexuality has affected U.S. foreign relations.

Those who persist with such research also tend to consult alternative archives, often within other governmental agencies. Margot Canaday’s work is particularly effective at integrating work from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and other government agencies regarding the treatment of LGBTQ immigrants and citizens, while work from Meyer and Berube, on the U.S. military, consult archives from the various branches of the service and utilize oral histories. Other historians chronicling particular crises regarding homophobia and foreign relations—whether the Lavender Scare or the Mariel boatlift—have consulted papers in the relevant presidential libraries, since government officials working for the White House often contributed more open and direct discussions of LGBTQ issues than those working within the foreign policy apparatus.

With the growth of LGBTQ activism over the past half-century, and growing efforts from archives to collect work from such activists, scholars now also enjoy more opportunities to consult such records. Those writing on the Lavender Scare can now consult the papers of legendary LGBTQ activist Frank Kameny, who fought for decades to overturn government restrictions on the employment of homosexuals. Kameny’s papers are now housed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Other important destinations for papers from LGBTQ activists—some of whom have been active internationally—include the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries in Los Angeles, the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center at the San Francisco Public Library, and the GLBT Historical Society archives in San Francisco. Various universities and LGBTQ community centers across the country also have archival collections that chronicle certain aspects of transnational LGBTQ activism.

Further Reading

Amar, Paul. The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

    Belmonte, Laura, et al. “Colloquy: Queering America and the World.” Diplomatic History 40.1 (January 2016): 1–62.Find this resource:

      Buss, Doris, and Herman, Didi. Globalizing Family Values: The Christian Right in International Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.Find this resource:

        Canaday, Margot. The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

          Capo, Julio. “Queering Mariel: Mediating Cold War Foreign Policy and U.S. Citizenship among Cuba’s Homosexual Exile Community, 1978–94.” Journal of American Ethnic History 29.4 (Summer 2010): 78–106.Find this resource:

            Dean, Robert. Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of Cold War Foreign Policy. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.Find this resource:

              Johnson, David K. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                Picq, Manuela Lavinas, and Thiel, Markus, eds. Sexualities in World Politics: How LGBTQ Claims Shape International Relations. New York: Routledge, 2015.Find this resource:

                  Puar, Jasbir. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                    Shibusawa, Naoko. “The Lavender Scare and Empire: Rethinking Cold War Antigay Politics.” Diplomatic History 36.4 (2012): 723–752.Find this resource:


                      (1.) Manuela Lavinas Picq and Markus Thiel, “Introduction: Sexualities in World Politics,” in Sexualities in World Politics: How LGBTQ Claims Shape International Relations, eds. Picq and Thiel (New York: Routledge, 2015), 3.

                      (2.) “Queering” need not, then, have a sexual or gender component. One can queer a hierarchy by upsetting racial, class, or citizenship norms—to name just a few realms—as well.

                      (3.) Margot Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 22.

                      (4.) Both the public charge clause and the moral turpitude clause are discussed in Canaday, Straight State, 24ff.

                      (5.) Canaday, Straight State, 214ff.

                      (6.) Canaday, Straight State, 215.

                      (7.) Mae Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 238.

                      (8.) Robert Dean, Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of Cold War Foreign Policy (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 63–96. See also David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 65–78.

                      (9.) Speech of Joseph McCarthy, Wheeling, WV, February 9, 1950. Reprinted as “Enemies from Within,” History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web.

                      (10.) Andrea Friedman, “The Smearing of Joe McCarthy: The Lavender Scare, Gossip, and Cold War Politics,” American Quarterly 57.4 (2005):1105.

                      (11.) Chris Bull and John Gallagher, Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement, and the Politics of the 1990s (New York: Crown Publishers, 1996).

                      (12.) Julio Capo, “Queering Mariel: Mediating Cold War Foreign Policy and U.S. Citizenship among Cuba’s Homosexual Exile Community, 1978–94,” Journal of American Ethnic History 29.4 (Summer 2010): 78–106.

                      (13.) Phil Tiemeyer, Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003), 169.

                      (14.) Philip Taubman, “C.I.A; Homosexuals Press Fight on Right to Be Agents,” New York Times, February 1, 1984.

                      (15.) Dennis Jett, “Why Have There Been So Few Gay Ambassadors?Washington Post, July 26, 2013.

                      (16.) Michael Lavers, “Dominican Cardinal Uses Slur to Describe Gay U.S. Ambassador,” Washington Blade, December 7, 2015.

                      (17.) Doris Buss and Didi Herman, Globalizing Family Values: The Christian Right in International Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), xxii. The second quote is original to Peter Waterman, “Social Movements, Local Places, and Globalized Spaces: Implications for ‘Globalization from Below,’” in Globalization and the Politics of Resistance, ed. B. K. Gills (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 2000), 135.

                      (18.) The ILGA’s status was rescinded in 1994, when Senator Helms exposed the participation in ILGA of groups allegedly supporting pedophilia, including the U.S.-based North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). ILGA only won its status back from ECOSOC in 2011. The U.S.-based NGOs with consultative status are the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and International Wages Due Lesbians. See Francine D’Amico, “LGBT and (Dis)United Nations: Sexual and Gender Minorities, International Law, and UN Politics,” in Picq and Thiel, Sexualities in World Politics, 54–74.

                      (19.) On the overall number of religious NGOs, see Marie Juul Petersen, “International Religious NGOs at The United Nations: A Study of a Group of Religious Organizations,” The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, November 17, 2010.

                      (20.) Picq and Thiel, “Introduction,” Sexualities in World Politics, 3.

                      (21.) The countermeasure drew 57 votes. D’Amico, “LGBT and (Dis)United Nations,” 60.

                      (22.) Michael Bosia, “To Love or To Loathe: Modernity, Homophobia, and LGBT rights,” in Picq and Thiel, Sexualities in World Politics, 49.

                      (23.) Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).

                      (24.) Countries with a death sentence for same-sex acts are: Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen. Lucas Itaborahy and Jingshu Zhu, “State-Sponsored Homophobia, a World Survey of Laws: Criminalization, Protection And Recognition of Same-Sex Love,” International Lesbian and Gay Association, May 2013.

                      (25.) Ashley Cowburn, “ISIS Has Killed at Least 25 Men in Syria Suspected of Being Gay, Group Claims,” Independent, January 5, 2016.

                      (26.) Anthony Faiola, “Gay Asylum Seekers Face Threat from Fellow Refugees in Europe,” Washington Post, October 24, 2015.

                      (27.) On the Queen Boat, see Nicola Pratt, “The Queen Boat Case in Egypt: Sexuality, National Security, and State Sovereignty,” Review of International Studies 33 (2007): 129–144; On the Fortuyn murder, see Ian Buruma, Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance (New York: Penguin Press, 2007), 37–70; on German citizenship exams, see Charles Hawley, “Muslim Profiling: A German State Quizes Muslim Immigrants on Jews, Gays, and Swim Lessons,” Spiegel Online, January 31, 2006.

                      (28.) Jenny Nordberg, “Who’s Afraid of a Feminist Foreign Policy?” New Yorker, April 15, 2015.

                      (29.) Quoted in Laura Belmonte et al., “Colloquy: Queering America and the World,” Diplomatic History 40.1 (January 2016), 19.

                      (30.) Dean, Imperial Brotherhood; and Johnson, Lavender Scare.

                      (31.) Naoko Shibusawa, “The Lavender Scare and Empire: Rethinking Cold War Antigay Politics,” Diplomatic History 36.4 (2012): 723–752; and David Minto, “Special Relationships: Transnational Homophile Activism and Anglo-American Sexual Politics” (unpublished manuscript).

                      (32.) Canaday, Straight State; Allan Berube, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II (New York: Free Press, 2000); and Leisa Meyer, Creating G.I. Jane: Sexuality and Power in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).

                      (33.) Capo, “Queering Mariel.”

                      (34.) Paul Amar, The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013); Buss and Herman, Globalizing Family Values; Thiel and Picq, Sexualities in World Politics; Oliver Philips “Zimbabwean Law and the Production of a White Man’s Disease,” in Sexualities and Society: A Reader, eds. Jeffrey Weeks, Janet Holland, Matthew Waites (New York: Wiley Press, 2003); Lydia Boyd, Preaching Prevention: Born-Again Christianity and the Moral Politics of AIDS in Uganda (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2015); and Melani McAlister, Our God in the World (work in progress).

                      (35.) Amar, Security Archipelago, 74ff.

                      (36.) Jasbir Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).

                      (37.) Joseph Massad, Desiring Arabs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 177.

                      (38.) One of the most poignant critiques of Massad’s work comes in the analysis of Turkish LGBT activists’ role in the anti-Erdogan protests of 2013, from Mehmet Sinan Birdal, “Between the Universal and the Particular: The Politics of Recognition of LGBT Rights in Turkey,” in Picq and Thiel, Sexualities in World Politics, 124–138. On Massad, see especially, 134ff.