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Courts, the Law, and LGBT Politics in India  

Saatvika Rai

In India, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalized sodomy (penile nonvaginal sexual acts) in 1860 during British colonial rule. Under this law and the traditional cultural norms, the LGBT community faced harassment and violence from the police, medical establishment, religious and conservative organizations, and families. The Indian queer movement mobilized in the early 1990s, primarily through activism for legal reform. Criminalization of sodomy prevented the LGBT community from freely mobilizing in public spaces, reporting acts of violence and harassment, and coming forth for testing and treatment of HIV/AIDS, and therefore was an impediment to their health and well-being. LGBT rights groups challenged the constitutionality of Section 377 on the basis of violating the right to equity (Article 14), nondiscrimination (Article 15), freedom (Article 19), and life and privacy (Article 21). Decriminalization of Section 377 has been a long, three-decade battle in the courts involving multiple judicial rulings. In 2009, the Delhi High Court decriminalized sodomy and declared Section 377 unconstitutional. The ruling was challenged by conservative and religious groups in the Supreme Court for going against social norms, threatening the institution of marriage, and promoting homosexual practices that would increase the spread of HIV/AIDS. In 2013, the Supreme Court heard the case, overturned the High Court ruling, and recriminalized Section 377. The Court declared that Section 377 was constitutional and applied equally to all persons. Thereafter, the Supreme Court passed three other judgments that directly impacted Section 377: It expanded the rape laws under Section 375 of the IPC to include penile nonvaginal acts (2013), provided legal rights to the transgender community as a nonbinary third gender (2014), and established the right to privacy under the Constitution (2017). The Supreme Court reassessed its decision, and on September 6, 2018, decriminalized Section 377 in a historic judgment. Legalizing queer sexuality was a positive step forward., yet considerable legal reform is still needed. The LGBT community still lack civil rights such as marriage, adoption, tax benefits, inheritance, and protection in the workplace. LGBT rights mobilization through the Indian courts has evolved from a focus on HIV/AIDS and health to broader human rights and privileges as equal citizens.

Article

Violence Against and Policing of LGBTQ Communities: A Historical Perspective  

Courtenay W. Daum

Law enforcement has a lengthy history of policing LGBTQ communities. Throughout the 20th century, police utilized laws prohibiting same-sex sexual conduct to criminalize LGBTQ individuals, and to target public gathering places including gay bars. Sodomy prohibitions were supplemented by mental health diagnoses including assumptions about criminal pathologies among LGBTQ individuals and the government’s fear that LGBTQ individuals’ sexual perversions made them a national security risk to subject LGBTQ communities to extensive policing based on their alleged sexual deviance. The successes of the gay rights movement led the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental health disorder in the 1970s, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that prohibitions on sodomy run afoul of the Constitution ended the de jure criminalization of LGBTQ individuals based on their sexual conduct. Today, policing of LGBTQ communities consists of both overpolicing and underenforcement. Law enforcement regularly profiles some facets of LGBTQ communities in order to selectively enforce general criminal prohibitions on public lewdness, solicitation, loitering, and vagrancy—consistent with the goals of “quality of life” policing—on gay men, transwomen, and LGBTQ youth, respectively. The selective enforcement of these laws often targets LGBTQ people of color and other intersectionally identified LGBTQ individuals in order to criminalize their existence based on ongoing stereotypes about sexual deviancy. In addition, police regularly fail to recognize LGBTQ individuals as victims of crimes, with the exception of particularly heinous hate crimes, and do not adequately attend to their needs and/or subject them to secondary victimization. As such, the relationship between many LGBTQ communities and law enforcement continues to be characterized by antagonisms and mistrust.

Article

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

Canada’s LGBT Movement and Interest Groups  

David Rayside

The Canadian LGBT movement has had enormous success in gaining political and legal recognition for sexual minorities—as much as any of its sister movements in other countries. This is especially remarkable because the sexual repressiveness of the Canadian social and political climate remained largely in place until the 1990s. And although activist groups across the country have had challenges in marshalling resources, mobilizing beyond the regional level, and overcoming internal inequities, advocacy pressure has been effective enough to produce a political sea change with few precedents in other issue areas. Starting in the 1990s, Canada experienced a country-wide “takeoff” in the formal recognition of sexual diversity, most dramatically in the legal status given to same-sex relationships. Even if a vocal minority of the general public opposed such moves, the acceptance of sexual minorities as legitimate members of the Canadian mosaic has become politically normalized. Sexual diversity is far from being fully accepted, and those communities traditionally under-represented in the LGBT movement still face marginalization in a period of growing socioeconomic inequality. But the movement has made impressive gains, aided by social and institutional factors that have allowed activist leverage when the political winds blew in their favor. This success, however, presents new challenges, creating complacency within and beyond LGBT circles and increasing the difficulty of mobilizing people and resources. The decline of religiously conservative opposition to the public recognition of sexual diversity in Canada has also created room for the movement to become more fragmented than it has been in the past. And yet there is still much need for advocacy. Socially conservative politicians are still pandering to public anxiety about recognizing sexual diversity. Activist attention is still needed in areas such as schooling, policing, social service provision, and immigration. Trans people, “two-spirited” Indigenous people, and sexual minorities within Canada’s large ethnocultural and religious minorities are often on the margins of their own communities, the broader society, and the LGBT movement itself. From the early 1970s through the mid-2000s, the Canadian movement’s trajectory was similar to activism elsewhere. A “liberationist” period generated a long-lasting strand of radicalism alongside a slowly growing current focused on seeking rights through mainstream political channels (Adam, 1987, 1999). The analysis to follow first points to distinctive elements of the Canadian social and political context and then traces the evolution of what would become the LGBT movement from these early stages and into a period of legal and political “takeoff.” It points to strong commonalities in movement agendas, even across imposing regional lines, but also recognizes the challenges of mounting coherent movement responses to remaining inequities in a political environment so marked by activist success.