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LGBT and Queer Politics in the Commonwealth  

Matthew Waites

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.

Article

LGBT Military Service Policies in the United States  

Andrew Goodhart and Jami K. Taylor

For most of its history, the U.S. military has maintained a policy of exclusion toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people serving in uniform. The justifications for these exclusions have included the view that being homosexual or transgender is a psychological disorder, that it undermines military morale and effectiveness, and a fear that LGBT people would be vulnerable to foreign espionage. Explicit policies banning consensual homosexual sex—and excluding from service those who engage in it—date to the period between World Wars I and II, but de facto efforts at exclusion have existed since the early days of the republic. Regulations governing homosexuals in the military came under pressure in the 1970s and 1980s as societal views toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people changed, and those LGB service members discharged under the policy increasingly challenged their treatment in court. (Public pressure to change regulations governing transgender people in the military arose mostly in the 2000s, though litigation efforts date to the 1970s.) In addition to general shifts in public and legal opinion, the debate over LGB people serving in the U.S. military was affected by the experience of foreign militaries that allow LGB people to serve. United States law began to loosen formal restrictions on LBG people serving in uniform with the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in 1994, but it still required LGB people to serve in secret. Changing public perceptions of LGB people and problems implementing the ban galvanized support for eliminating such restrictions. In 2010, President Obama signed legislation repealing DADT and removing all restrictions on LGB people serving in the military. However, transgender people do not enjoy the same rights. The Trump administration has revised Obama-era rules on transgender service members to enable greater exclusion. The issue is being contested in the courts and appears ripe for further political and legal dispute.