Involved in the Everyday: How IR Scholarship Must Reflect the Lives of LGBTQ+ Persons
By: Alondra Duncan-Belford
Over the past two decades, there has been a growing recognition of LGBTQ rights as a crucial human rights issue. While the United Nations (UN) has yet to formally recognize these rights, it has taken concrete steps to address concerns within the international community. However, support for the LGBTQ community remains a topic of debate among states. After the 2016 Orlando Pulse Shooting, the UN Security Council issued a statement critiquing the attacker for isolating individuals based on sexual orientation. In 2014, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution encouraging the High Commissioner to update the “Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity” report to express concerns about the violence and discrimination against queer people. Then-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon updated the resolution to recognize same-sex marriage in places where it was already legal, but no steps have been taken to advocate for legalization in countries where it is still currently illegal. While it is evident that the international community is gradually becoming more tolerant, much more still needs to be done, particularly in the realm of international relations scholarship.
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon vowed in 2015 to pursue “personal diplomacy” to promote LGBTQ rights globally, without fear of consequences. As a result of this statement, many countries altered their laws to be more considerate and tolerant of LGBTQ rights. While this is a step in the right direction, this does not help the discussion of key policy issues in which queer people are directly affected. Scholars and journalists of international relations need to talk about how queer people are affected by policy and security issues rather than treating LGBTQ issues as an independent issue that is not intertwined with others. In a 2018 talk on feminist rights, Polish scholar Agnieszka Graff highlights that broad levels of organizing can ultimately lead to “arguing…into a corner where you are antagonizing people you supposedly want to liberate.”
Policymakers, international relations scholars, and journalists often overlook the increasing significance of the LGBTQ community in shaping global politics, failing to recognize that sexual orientation can inform and enhance it. Moreover, international and local organizations should shift the narrative from victimizing those killed in living to their true selves to empower those working for equal rights while recognizing the massive role queer rights play in major policy and security issues.
Twenty-two countries in the world do not have an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization on record, none of which include the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council. Russia, however, is the strictest of the permanent five members, with homosexuality still being considered a crime. Regardless, it’s important to figure out how to discuss these issues without the risk of punishment just because of someone’s identity. LGBTQ rights need to be discussed in a way that does not create fear but empowerment. Public faces in international relations (journalists, policymakers, scholars, etc.) need to cover LGBTQ issues in a way that does not make them feel ostracized but in a way that makes them feel addressed like any other group.
Many current issues of international relations have facets that directly impact queer people. Consider the war in Ukraine. The law that prevented men from crossing the border also impacted trans women who could not access medical resources and were categorized the same as cisgender men. In addition to the challenges of obtaining the legal permission for gender transition, the rising inflation has made gender-affirming surgeries and drugs increasingly costly. For instance, in Ukraine, individuals seeking to transition must first be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which refers to the experience of a sense of mismatch between one’s assigned gender at birth and one’s current gender identity. The ongoing war has shifted medical attention to wounded victims, with few resources left to allocate to gender affirmation appointments and surgeries.
Migration laws in Mexico have disproportionately affected queer immigrants attempting to enter the United States, who are in more danger of remaining in Mexico. U.S. President Joseph R. Biden has upheld immigration policies put in place by former President Donald J. Trump to block access to many immigrants looking to cross the Mexican border into the United States. Even though the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has addressed that queer people face greater risks by being forced to stay in Mexico, these requests have gone largely ignored. Consequently, many immigrants are sent back to their home countries, facing violent attacks and kidnappings in their home countries.
The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan resulting from the infamous American exit has directly impacted queer people, who can no longer live their true identities. The new Taliban government has openly referred to homosexual relations as a sin in Islamic law and those in violation will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Women are unable to travel without a male companion, leaving lesbians and bisexual women in same-sex relationships in grave danger and unable to relocate outside of the country. Even if women and queer individuals could escape, many neighboring countries also criminalize same-sex offenses, leaving these people with nowhere to go and forced to conceal their true identities.
When engaging in discussions about contemporary issues, it is crucial for scholars to take into account the conscious impact on the LGBTQ+ community. Tragic stories related to the LGBTQ+ experience should not be reduced to simply recounting another person’s death due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, nor should they focus on the religiosity of queer individuals. Rather, we must recognize that LGBTQ+ issues are fundamental human rights issues and should be treated as such. But we cannot ignore the fact that these issues have a stake in everything else. The world has to stop ostracizing queer people and embrace them for who they are: queer.
We will not be ignored.
Alondra Duncan-Belford, a proud queer person, is a second-year dual degree M.A./M.B.A. candidate at Seton Hall University with a specialization in Foreign Policy Analysis. They are passionate about international law, global development, and the rights of underrepresented communities around the world. Alondra earned their Bachelor’s degree in Government and Latin American Studies from the College of William & Mary in 2021.