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date: 19 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: LGBT, sexual orientation, gender identity, human rights, NGOs, intergovernmental organizations, international norms, United Nations, European Union, political opportunity structures, norm diffusion, framing, LGBT politics

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