From the earliest days of its recognition in the United States, the condition that came to be known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has been associated with the gay community. In fact, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first made written notice of the syndrome in 1981, the acronym GRID (gay-related immune disease) was commonly, although not officially, used to describe it. In the five years that followed, the causal agent, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), was discovered, specific demographic groups were identified as at heightened risk of infection, and transmission routes—including sexual activity, intravenous drug use, and transfusion of blood and blood products—were determined.
Identification of HIV with the gay community as a major risk group had important ramifications for prevention and treatment policy, as the community mobilized a rights-based approach that advocated harm reduction over abstinence and access and affordability of treatment over the interests of the private market. These concepts carried into later debates as the world recognized the global severity of HIV and grappled for the first time ever with a goal of universal treatment access in the world’s poorest countries where the pandemic is most severe. Identification of HIV with values, conceptual structures, leadership, and mobilization drawn from the gay community also had ramifications on the social and political contexts of AIDS treatment and prevention globally, as governments and cultures that had ignored or demonized their gay populations have increased their interactions with them as “risk groups” and as political actors. Despite the remarkable inroads made into accessibility of treatment, the world remains without a vaccine, a cure, or the political will to fully implement universal treatment access, which means that eradication of the global pandemic remains elusive.
Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) is the only region in the world where annual HIV infection rates continue to grow. According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in 2019 approximately 1.4 million people in the region were living with HIV. The main factors that have contributed to the spread of the epidemic over the past two decades include injecting drug use, the stigmatization and marginalization of vulnerable groups, the increasing spread of HIV into the general population, and the lack of evidence-based prevention and treatment programs necessary for controlling the epidemic. Limited access to life-saving antiretroviral treatment has intensified the impact of the epidemic in EECA and increased mortality rates among people living with HIV (PLWH).
In the post-Soviet space, Russia is experiencing by far the biggest HIV/AIDS epidemic. This can be attributed largely to the government’s failure to introduce evidence-based prevention measures for vulnerable groups, e.g., harm reduction programs, which are recommended by international health organizations. Other countries in the region have been more pragmatic in their approach and introduced harm reductions programs on a broader scale. In Ukraine, the efforts to combat HIV, which led to an initial stabilization of the epidemic in 2012, have been endangered by the military conflict in the eastern part of the country and subsequent internal displacement, which has increased HIV vulnerability. In comparison with Russia and Ukraine, the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia are less affected by HIV. However, labor migration to Russia constitutes a persistent risk factor for HIV transmission from higher-prevalence Russia to lower-prevalence South Caucasus and Central Asia.
Although initially the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been mainly driven by injecting drug use, it is also clearly linked to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) politics and policies in EECA. Because of widespread stigmatization and marginalization, the spread of HIV within LGBT communities remains underreported and is barely visible in official HIV statistics. This makes it difficult for prevention programs to reach out to vulnerable groups. In all countries in the region, prevention efforts among LGBT communities remain inadequate and largely depend on local civil society organizations (CSOs), which lack the capacities to provide nationwide information campaigns and other prevention programs for the LGBT community. In addition, the work of CSOs that advocate for HIV prevention among LGBT groups is further undermined by repressive laws, e.g., the 2013 “gay propaganda law” in Russia, which has increased the stigmatization of LGBT people and has made prevention outreach more difficult. Research has contributed to our understanding of HIV vulnerability and its impact in EECA. Further research is needed, however, into the social and political factors that explain the persistent failure of regional decision-makers to adequately address the growing HIV epidemic.
HIV/AIDS in Europe highlights the centrality of politics at local, state, and international levels to the successes and failures in fighting transnational, global threats. Though several European states have led the international struggle against HIV/AIDS and have made great strides in treatment and prevention, others host the fastest-growing epidemics in the world. Even in states with long histories of treatment, specific subpopulations, including many LGBTQ communities, face growing epidemics. This variation matches trends in public policy, the actions of political leaders, and social structures of inequity and marginalization toward affected populations. Where leaders stigmatize people living with HIV (PLHIV) and associated groups, the virus spreads as punitive policies place everyone at increased risk of infection. Thus, this epidemic links the health of the general public to the health of the most marginalized communities. Mounting evidence shows that a human rights approach to HIV/AIDS prevention involving universal treatment of all vulnerable communities is essential to combating the spread of the virus. This approach has taken hold in much of Europe, and many European states have worked together as a political force to shape a global human rights HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention regime.
Despite this leadership, challenges remain across the region. In some Eastern European states, tragic epidemics are spreading beyond vulnerable populations and rates of transmission continue to rise. The Russian case in particular shows how a punitive state response paired with the stigmatization of PLHIV can lead to a health crisis for the entire country. While scholars have shed light upon the strategies of political legitimization likely driving the scapegoating and stigmatization of PLHIV and related groups, there is an immediate need for greater research in transnational social mobilization to pressure for policies that combat these backward political steps. As financial austerity and defiant illiberalism spread across Europe, key values of universal treatment and inclusion have come into the crosshairs along with the European project more generally. Researchers and policymakers must therefore be vigilant as continued progress in the region is anything but certain. With biomedical advances and the advent of the “age of treatment,” widespread alleviation from the suffering of HIV/AIDS is a real possibility. Realizing this potential will, however, require addressing widespread political, social, and economic challenges. This in turn calls for continued interdisciplinary, intersectional research and advocacy.
AIDS is a new disease that was first recorded in 1981. In the 1980s and early 1990s, there were concerns that it would decimate populations; prevention was slow to take hold, and there was no cure. By the mid-1990s it was clear, in the developed world, that it would be mostly contained to specific populations. Effective but expensive treatment was unveiled in 1996. However, in Africa there were fears of a continent-wide epidemic. AIDS emerged in central Africa (HIV1) and west Africa (HIV2) and spread from there. In the 1990s it reached southern Africa, the current epicenter.
It has become evident that AIDS has not meant the collapse of economies and nations or the hollowing out of populations. Treatment options mean people can live normally provided they adhere to the drug regime, but they are costly. The worst epidemic is in the southern cone of Africa. Here it continues to have political consequences, although causality is hard to ascribe.
Unique features of the disease are that the modes of transmission include its geographic location and the excessive involvement of donors in the response; the lack of African ownership makes it a global political problem. At the moment the lives of millions of Africans depend on the generosity of the West, and that future is uncertain. AIDS is a greater challenge to southern and eastern African states than anywhere in Africa and indeed the world. The international engagement particularly in the provision of treatment means the disease has global political ramifications.
Ideas play a key role in political mobilization around the world, and often ideas travel cross-nationally. It is important to recognize the diverse influences and iterative processes that produce political ideologies and influence mobilization. The sociological literature on diffusion offers scholars a framework for thinking about and recognizing the channels through which ideas move. When tracing such channels, scholars must also be cognizant of the ways that movement of this sort affects ideas and ideologies themselves; international concepts will always be read through domestic lenses, and local realities prompt reinterpretation of global ideas. The Black Consciousness Movement offers a case study to analyze some key channels through which global ideas moved and impacted a university student movement in 1970s South Africa. Influenced by anti-colonialism and antiracism discourses originating in Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States, Black Consciousness thinkers took these ideas and refashioned them into their own ideology. They used relational networks as well as channels like art, theatre, fashion, and development projects to mobilize a constituency and to propagate their own ideas, which have endured beyond the end of the formal Black Consciousness Movement.
Identity has come to figure prominently in the study of foreign policy since the 1990s when it was first introduced by constructivist theorists in International Relations. Consensus on what identity is and what it does in relation to foreign policy does not exist and is unlikely to be ever forged. Some scholars investigate state identity—how it impacts foreign policy processes while simultaneously being impacted by international structures. Others use the concept of identification to examine what foreign policy means for the constitution of modern political subjectivities. Still others seek to bring together constructivist identity scholarship together with more established approaches in Foreign Policy Analysis. This article considers the contextual emergence and evolution of the “identity and foreign policy” scholarship in its many different and differing streams. The large volume of literature produced on this subject over the past two and a half decades defies an easy summary of its theoretical and empirical contributions, but an overview of the main controversies and debates should provide the reader with a solid foundation for further research.
K. Amber Curtis and Laura R. Olson
Religion is among the most powerful forces in the world and therefore one of the most prominent sources of both individual and group identification. Because of this, scholars have spent decades attempting to pinpoint its impact on numerous psychological, social, and political outcomes. A review of extant work shows religion in general (and religious identity in particular) affects mental and physical health; social relations, outgroup hostility, and conflict; and political attitudes and behavior.
Importantly, however, the social scientific study of religion has conceptualized and operationalized religious “identity” along different lines: sociologists and political scientists typically define it as religious affiliation (assessed demographically or by self-placement into nominal religious categories) or religiosity (based on one’s frequency of worship attendance and/or how personally “important” one feels religion is), while social psychologists show greater interest in how psychologically central religion is to one’s self-concept. These distinct approaches underscore that scholars have both meant disparate things by their usage of “identity” and “identification,” as well as measured each term in nonequivalent ways. Moving forward, greater interdisciplinary dialogue—and ideally the establishment of a common metric—would be beneficial in order to better isolate why religion is a more central social identity for some people than others; the extent to which identification with religion overlaps with religiosity; where religious identity fits in among the multitude of identity options with which citizens are confronted; and how the determinants of strong versus weak religious identification vary across person, context, and religious tradition.
Lars Tore Flåten
In 1925, the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded. The main aim of the RSS was to make India into a nation state defined according to Hindu cultural and religious values, which in the RSS version reflected a distinct high-caste outlook. Internal enemies, namely Muslims, Christians, and Marxists, had no place in such a state. This ideology goes under the name Hindutva, which can be translated as Hinduness. Due to the large-scale and religiously based violence experienced in the final stages of its freedom struggle, independent India adopted democracy and secularism as its foundational values. Hindu nationalist parties were present, but never influential in the first decades after independence. This circumstance was about to change in the 1980s, as the newly founded Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with strong links to the RSS, decided to mobilize on the Ayodhya issue. According to the BJP, the Ayodhya temple had been demolished by the Muslim ruler, Babur, and replaced with a mosque. The time had come to rebuild the temple.
This campaign catapulted the BJP onto the political scene in India. The strategy, however, was not without its flaws, and the weaknesses connected to the BJP’s Ayodhya campaign summed up the party’s main challenges. It has been difficult for the BJP to promote the existence of a nationwide Hindu identity in heterogeneous India, characterized by religious pluralism, different regional political cultures, and caste divisions. Particularly caste has proved difficult for the BJP, since the party is associated with high-caste values. Moreover, the way in which the BJP has utilized anti-Muslim rhetoric and campaigns has alienated potential alliance partners. The BJP has managed to overcome most of these challenges and was elected to power at the national level in 1998 and then again in 2014. In addition, the party governs many different states. During several national election campaigns, the BJP has actually chosen to background the most contentious issues in order to attract alliance partners. Instead, the party has conveyed its message of Hindu cultural unity in more subtle ways, most prominently through educational reforms. The BJP has also managed to adapt to regional variations and conveys its ideology in different ways throughout India. The landslide victory of Narendra Modi and the BJP in the 2014 elections represents a new phase in the history of the party. With a majority of its own, one could expect that the BJP would implement its Hindu nationalist agenda. For the most part, Modi has kept some degree of distance from Hindutva. However, through a division of labor, it appears that Modi has left the Hindutva agenda to the states governed by the BJP as well to the well-organized and influential Hindu nationalist movement.
Marc Becker and Richard Stahler-Sholk
Political developments in Latin America have driven academic interest in Indigenous movements. This phenomenon emerged most clearly in the aftermath of massive uprisings that led to a flood of publications framed as “the return of the Indian” to the public consciousness. Much of our understanding of the history and trajectory of social movement organizing is a result of publications in response to these protests. Contemporary political concerns continue to inform much of the cutting-edge research on Indigenous movements. These issues include relations between social movements and elected officials (often framed as debates over horizontalism versus authoritarianism) and whether the extraction of natural resources can lead to economic development, including intense discussions over neoextractivism and the sumak kawsay, the Quechua term for living well (with equivalent phrases in other Indigenous languages, often translated in Spanish as buen vivir).
Indigenous peoples have become important social and political actors in contemporary Latin America. The politicization of ethnic identities in the region has divided analysts into those who view it as a threat to democratic stability versus those who welcome it as an opportunity to improve the quality of democracy. Throughout much of Latin America’s history, Indigenous peoples’ demands have been oppressed, ignored, and silenced. Latin American states did not just exclude Indigenous peoples’ interests; they were built in opposition to or even against them. The shift to democracy in the 1980s presented Indigenous groups with a dilemma: to participate in elections and submit themselves to the rules of a largely alien political system that had long served as an instrument of their domination or seek a measure of representation through social movements while putting pressure on the political system from the outside. In a handful of countries, most notably Bolivia and Ecuador, Indigenous movements have successfully overcome this tension by forming their own political parties and contesting elections on their own terms. The emergence of Indigenous peoples’ movements and parties has opened up new spaces for collective action and transformed the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the state.
Indigenous movements have reinvigorated Latin America’s democracies. The political exclusion of Indigenous peoples, especially in countries with substantial Indigenous populations, has undoubtedly contributed to the weakness of party systems and the lack of accountability, representation, and responsiveness of democracies in the region. In Bolivia, the election of the country’s first Indigenous president, Evo Morales (2006–present) of the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party, has resulted in new forms of political participation that are, at least in part, inspired by Indigenous traditions. A principal consequence of the broadening of the democratic process is that Indigenous activists are no longer forced to choose between party politics and social movements. Instead, participatory mechanisms allow civil society actors and their organizations to increasingly become a part of the state. New forms of civil society participation such as Indigenous self-rule broaden and deepen democracy by making it more inclusive and government more responsive and representative. Indigenous political representation is democratizing democracy in the region by pushing the limits of representative democracy in some of the most challenging socio-economic and institutional environments.
Indigenous social movements have become influential political actors in Latin America over the past three decades. Indigenous peoples continue to experience higher than average political, social and economic marginalization throughout the region. The powerful organizations created by Indigenous groups and the positive outcomes they have achieved despite these barriers have produced a body of research that examines how these social movements emerged, why some have succeeded in influencing policy, the construction of collective identity, and the strategies and tactics used. Indigenous movements have made claims based on their status as pre-colonial peoples; their demands include land rights, control over natural resources, cultural recognition, and political autonomy. Indigenous movements in countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and Mexico have used disruptive tactics such as marches and roadblocks to demand the attention of governments, the public and media. They have also strategically participated in building alliances across borders, supporting political parties, and undertaking legal action against powerful actors including the state and extractive industries. The high-profile Indigenous protest cycle that marked the 1990s and early 2000s across Latin America began to wind down during the first decade of the 21st century, but Indigenous movements continue to engage in both politics and protest. In the digital age, they have adapted their tactics to include social media and other technologies.
People are strongly motivated to maintain psychological security, or equanimity, which causes them to process and act on information in ways that are favorable to protecting against anxiety (i.e., psychological “defense”). People rely on at least three interlocking mechanisms to maintain security—investment in social relationships, self-esteem, and meaningful worldviews—and these mechanisms perfuse nearly every aspect of life. By consequence, people’s political beliefs, attitudes, and leadership preferences reflect motivated efforts to maintain security. Research derived from terror management theory and related theories of security maintenance shows that security needs influence political decision making in three major ways. First, they amplify people’s affinity for political stances that affirm their preexisting worldviews and bolster their sense of belongingness, affiliation, and esteem. Second, security needs tend to draw people toward conservative viewpoints; however, a more potent consequence might be to harden or polarize existing political stances. Finally, security needs cause attraction to charismatic and powerful political personalities (i.e., politicians). Although the theoretical basis for these conclusions is strong, and there is research to support them, it remains challenging to apply this analysis to specific persons, situations, and political issues because it is not always clear which security-relevant facets within complex circumstances will be most salient or influential. Nevertheless, a security-based analysis of political decision making has impressive explanatory potential and helps observers to understand polarization and “tribal” tendencies in politics, among other things.
Interest representation plays a systemic role in European Union (EU) policymaking and integration, recognized as such in the Treaty on European Union. Interest organizations supply technical and political information to the EU institutions, and EU institutions use interest organizations as agents of political communication. Interest organizations act as a proxy for an otherwise largely absent civil society, with a teeming population of groups advocating for every imaginable cause. Where groups are absent, so EU institutions have stimulated their formation. The result is a pluralist system of checks and balances, although the literature includes findings of “islands” resembling corporatist practice.
EU institutions have designed a range of procedures in support of “an open and structured dialogue between the Commission and special interest groups,” now largely packaged as a “Better Regulation” program. Measures include funding for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), consultation procedures accompanied by impact assessments, a Transparency Register to provide lobbying transparency, and measures for access to documents that enable civil society organizations to keep EU institutions accountable. A multilevel governance system further strengthens pluralist design, making it impossible for any one type of interest to routinely capture the diversity of EU decision-making. A key controversy in the literature is how to assess influence and whether lobbying success varies across interest group type. EU public policymaking is regulatory, making for competitive interest group politics, often between different branches of business whose interests are affected differently by regulatory proposals. There are striking findings from the literature, including that NGOs are more successful than business organizations in getting what they want from EU public policymaking, particularly where issues reach the status of high salience where they attract the attention of the European Parliament. A key innovation of the Lisbon Treaty involves a European Citizens’ Initiative, which takes dialogue between civil society and EU institutions outside the ecosystem inhabited by civil society organizations and EU institutions known as the “Brussels bubble” and into the member states.
Christina Kiel and Jamie Campbell
Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and international institutions have proliferated since the end of World War II. This development has changed the landscape of international relations not only for states, but also for nongovernmental organizations and social movements.
The advocacy of international nongovernmental organizations (INGO) plays a central role in pushing IGOs and their member states toward action. INGOs’ success in doing so depends on a number of factors, opportunity prime among them. Political opportunity structures (the institutional arrangements and resources available for political and social mobilization) determine lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) INGO access to power holders and thus their chances of bringing their concerns, and possible solutions to those concerns, to IGOs. The opportunity structures vary significantly from one IGO to the next. For example, the political opportunity structure offered by the European Union (EU) has been favorable to LGBT activism, while the United Nations is much less open to comprehensive inclusion of LGBT and sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE) human rights.
As LGBT issues move onto an IGO’s agenda, a symbiotic relationship develops between the IGO and advocacy organizations. The changing opportunity structures influence NGOs’ structure, strategy, and resource mobilization. Coordination between advocacy groups with similar goals becomes easier when many organizations have physical offices at IGOs. For diplomats and bureaucrats working at the IGO or national representative offices, INGOs can be beneficial, too. In particular, advocacy organizations are experts and purveyors of information. However, the interdependence between INGOs and IGOs has the potential of silencing voices that do not neatly fit into the internationalist, liberal rights-based discourse.
Besides the political opportunity structures in IGOs, the frames INGOs use to advocate for issues have been found to be essential for campaign success. One tactic that often constitutes successful framing is the grafting of issues to existing norms. In the LGBT context, the frames proposed by activists include human rights, health (specifically HIV-AIDS), and women and gender.
International institutions assure that similar issues will be politicized in multiple countries. In order to meaningfully affect domestic populations, the policy needs to translate to the local level through norm diffusion. The mechanisms of diffusion include material inducement (e.g., conditions for membership), learning, and acculturation and socialization.
Erin C. Cassese
Intersectionality is an analytic framework used to study social and political inequality across a wide range of academic disciplines. This framework draws attention to the intersections between various social categories, including race, gender, sexuality, class, and (dis)ability. Scholarship in this area notes that groups at these intersections are often overlooked, and in overlooking them, we fail to see the ways that the power dynamics associated with these categories reinforce one another to create interlocking systems of advantage and disadvantage that extend to social, economic, and political institutions. Representational intersectionality is a specific application of intersectionality concerned with the role that widely shared depictions of groups in popular media and culture play in producing and reinforcing social hierarchy. These representations are the basis for widely held group stereotypes that influence public opinion and voter decision-making. Intersectional stereotypes are the set of stereotypes that occur at the nexus between multiple group categories. Rather than considering stereotypes associated with individual social groups in isolation (e.g., racial stereotypes vs. gender stereotypes), this perspective acknowledges that group-based characteristics must be considered conjointly as mutually constructing categories. What are typically considered “basic” categories, like race and gender, operate jointly in social perception to create distinct compound categories, with stereotype profiles that are not merely additive collections of overlapping stereotypes from each individual category, but rather a specific set of stereotypes that are unique to the compound social group. Intersectional stereotypes in political contexts including campaigns and policy debates have important implications for descriptive representation and material policy outcomes. In this respect, they engage with fundamental themes linked to political and structural inequality.
Emily R. Gill
Tension has long existed in the United State between the equality claims of LGBT individuals, on the one hand, and free exercise claims by those who hold that compelling equal treatment violates their convictions, on the other. This tension increased, however, after the United States Supreme Court extended marriage equality to same-sex couples nationwide. Equality advocates hold that antidiscrimination laws simply allow LGBT individuals to enjoy the same rights as others. Many religious advocates, however, believe that they are being prohibited from living out the implications of their conscientious beliefs. Neutrality between these conflicting claims cannot be achieved, as policies that appear neutral to one group appear non-neutral to the other.
Private voluntary organizations are one site of conflict. Although private organizations should not typically be forced to reflect the values of the larger society, not all organizations are similarly situated within it. Groups such as the Boy Scouts should be able to exclude at will. Public authority does not itself always support the values of free and equal citizenship, and organizations may evolve over time as the Scouts itself has done. Organizations that exist within larger entities, however, fall into a different category. The Supreme Court was correct to uphold Hastings Law School in forcing the Christian Legal Society as a registered student organization to admit all comers. These groups also represent the values of a public entity and can continue to operate as independent entities if they so choose.
The provision of services in connection with same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies has been another site of conflict. In Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop (2015), the Supreme Court found narrowly that bakery owner Phillips could refuse to create cakes for same-sex wedding celebrations, as the state of Colorado had displayed animus toward Phillips’s religious beliefs. Commercial establishments, however, are public accommodations and generally should not be allowed to discriminate against customers on the basis of their identities. Discrimination against the activity or conduct of formal commitment is also discrimination against the identity or status of a same-sex couple. These kinds of cases do not admit of neutral solutions. Some suggest that those with religious reservations could advertise that they do not serve same-sex couples, but this is reminiscent of Jim Crow in the post–Civil War South.
Jurisdictional pluralists suggest that the government designate a sphere of noninterference as a jurisdictional boundary that it will not cross. Thus individuals and associations with religious commitments would be free to pursue these interests with minimal interference. However, a prior authoritative structure must exist to define the nature and scope of this jurisdiction, just as the Constitution defines the relationships between the national government and the states. Applications for religious exemptions should not be treated more generously when they conflict with LGBT equality concerns than with equality claims based on race or gender. Although religious individuals and groups should be able to exercise their religious convictions within their areas of competence, in a liberal society and state they cannot define the limits of these areas.
Susanne Olsson and Simon Sorgenfrei
Islam in the Scandinavian countries—Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—has a long history. There are evidences of contacts between Scandinavia and the Muslim world at least since the Middle Ages. The presence of Muslims in Scandinavia is however of a later date and more established from the 1950s, when immigrants arrived, mainly due to the needs in the labor markets; they successively established congregations and mosques, as they realized that they were to stay in their new countries. Following this period, Muslim migrants have arrived due to geopolitical factors, such as war, which have increased the number of Muslims and their presence and visibility in public space and public debate, which in turn has affected the media image of Islam and Muslims and influenced research. The research on Islam and Muslims has a long history in Scandinavia as well. With the increase of Muslim inhabitants in Scandinavian countries, scholarly interests have also related more to the present and to the study of their own Muslim populations, as well as case studies related to Islamophobia, media images, Muslims in the school systems and labor market, and specific incidents, such as the cartoon crisis and its aftermath.
Sharyn Graham Davies
The terms LGBT and Islam mentioned together in a sentence rarely evoke positive connotations. Rather, LGBT and Islam are often considered inherently incompatible. While there is little evidence on which an inherent incompatibility can be claimed, persecution of LGBT people across the globe is routinely carried out in the name of Islam. Yet at its heart, Islam can be a powerful force acknowledging sexual and gender diversity. Of all the world’s great religions, Islam is arguably the most sex positive of all.
Three main avenues provide understanding of sexuality and gender in Islam. First is the Qur’an, or the Islamic holy book. Second is hadith, which are the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Third are fatwah, which are the rulings of religious leaders. Certainly, most of this literature positions sexuality as properly confined to heterosexual marriage between a gender normative woman and a gender normative man. However, it is often difficult to distill such an imperative from cultural aspects that inflect all readings of religious scripture. In other words, it is often not Islam per se that prohibits same-sex sexuality and gender diversity but rather cultural interpretations of religious aspects. Moreover, it is not uncommon for fatwah to contradict each other, and thus which fatwah are followed comes down to which imam or religious leader espouses it.
A further difficulty with discussing sexuality and gender vis-à-vis Islam, or indeed any religion, is that terms such as sexuality and gender are inherently modern and were developed long after understandings of religion were culturally and politically enshrined. As such, particular understandings of the categories of woman and man within scripture exist in a state where interrogation is not possible. If Muhammad were alive today, he would have linguistic tools available to him to talk about sexuality and gender in a much more nuanced way. To thus discuss LGBT subject positions within Islam, given that Islam was largely developed before words like gender and sexuality were invented, is difficult. Nevertheless, such discussion is warranted and fruitful and shows that while many interpretations of Islam seek to vilify LGBT, many aspects of Islam and its practice are inclusive of sexual and gender diversity.
Since the 1980s, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) social movements worldwide have put significant energy into securing relationship rights. In the 1970s, however, the general sentiment in such movements in the Occident had been anti-marriage and anti-nuclear family. This changed in the 1980s due to three factors: the impact of HIV/AIDS, which emphasized how vulnerable same-sex families are; the rise of families headed by same-sex parents who did not have the same protections as their different-sex counterparts; and globalization, which transferred the ideas about same-sex relationships among movements and created energy and useful policy connections. During the 1990s, a wave of marriage alternatives spread around the world, sometimes extended by legislatures and other times by courts. The rise of alternatives has raised these questions: are they a temporary compromise on the path to marriage equality; are they a replacement for marriage that is free of its historical discriminatory heritage; or are they proposing an additional legal institution alongside marriage?
In the 2000s and since, marriage equality became realistic and more common as two dozen countries gradually extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, initially in Europe and North America, but later also in Australasia, in the entire Americas, and even—in fewer countries—in Asia and Africa. Incrementalism is the generally accepted theory for why progress occurs in some countries and delays in others. However, scholars have criticized the theory as descriptively inaccurate and, normatively, as portraying marriage as the final frontier for LGBTQ equality—thus contributing to that community’s emphasis on marriage equality to the neglect of other possible advocacy avenues. Further, the incrementalistic account should take into consideration that the path toward recognition is not linear and is international as well as national. Supranational courts have played an important role in the progress toward recognizing same-sex relationships; at the same time, the globalization of LGBTQ relationship rights has also resulted in a strong backlash and in regression in some countries.
The Commonwealth is the international governmental organization of states that emerged from the British empire, and since 2000 it has emerged as a focus for contestation relating to the regulation of same-sex sexualities, gender diversity, and diverse sex characteristics. Following colonial criminalizations focused on same-sex sexual acts, and later formal decolonizations, there have appeared many national movements for decriminalization and human rights in relation to sexuality and gender. The Commonwealth has emerged as a site of politics for some significant actors claiming human rights in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics. This has been led by specific organizations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, increasingly with intersex people and allies, but it is also important to consider this in relation to queer people, understood more broadly here as people in all cultures experiencing forms of sexualities, biological sex and genders outside the social structure of heterosexuality, and its associated sex and gender binaries. A range of forms of activist and non-governmental organization (NGO) engagement have occurred, leading to shifts in Commonwealth civil society and among some state governments. This has required researchers to develop analyses across various scales, from local and national to international and transnational, to interpret institutions and movements.
The British Empire criminalized same-sex sexual acts between males, and to a lesser extent between females, across its territories. In certain instances there were also forms of gender regulation, constraining life outside a gender binary. Such criminalization influenced some of those claiming LGBT human rights to engage the Commonwealth. Research shows that a majority of Commonwealth states continue to criminalize some adult consensual same-sex sexual activity. Yet the history of struggles for decriminalization and human rights within states in the Commonwealth has led up to such recent important decriminalizations as in India and Trinidad and Tobago in 2018.
LGBT and queer activist engagements of the Commonwealth itself commenced in 2007 when Sexual Minorities Uganda and African allies demanded entry to the Commonwealth People’s Space during a Heads of Government meeting in Kampala. Activism has often focused on the biannual Heads of Government meetings that are accompanied by civil society forums. A particularly significant phenomenon has been the emergence of a “new London-based transnational politics of LGBT human rights,” evident in the creation from 2011 of new NGOs working internationally from the United Kingdom. Among these organizations was the Kaleidoscope Trust, which shaped the subsequent formation of The Commonwealth Equality Network as an international network of NGOs that became formally recognized by the Commonwealth. Significant developments occurred at the London Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April 2018; Prime Minister Theresa May expressed “regret” for past imperial criminalizations while announcing funding for Kaleidoscope Trust and other UK-based groups to use in international law reform work. These developments exemplify a wider problematic for both activists and analysts, concerning how LGBT and queer movements should engage in contexts that are still structured by imperial legacies and power relations associated with colonialism, persisting in the present.