Creating and Sustaining Awareness of LGBTQI Rights

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Monday, June 26, 2017 to Friday, June 30, 2017
Conversation type: 

LGBTQI rights are fought for with a spectrum of tactics. In some states, gay citizens and allies march in pride parades and mark themselves with rainbows; in others, activists work in secrecy to protect their safety. Homophobia takes many forms and stems from a multitude of sources, each one different from the next. LGBTQI rights are human rights and must be upheld accordingly, but this lack of uniformity leads to distinct challenges in advocating for these rights on a global scale. Today, activists around the world confront a multitude of bigotry as they fight for the universal protection of queer individuals. In this conversation, participants discussed challenges and strategies for promoting LGBTQI rights through local and international actions across a range of situations.

Thank you to our featured resource practitioners who led the conversation:

  • Joel Bedos (IDAHOT Committee)
  • Alex Sheldon (Movement Advancement Project)
  • Hudad Tolloui (Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO)
  • Katsiaryna Borsuk (Frontline Defenders and the Belarusian Queer Film Festival Dotyk)

Advocating for LGBTQI Rights Across Cultural and Religious Lines

Bigotry can stem from cultural biases, interpretations of religions, and social norms—but, as Alex Sheldon pointed out, bigotry often stems from lack of education on LGBTQI people and issues. Many contributors highlighted the importance of education in LGBTQI advocacy. Sheldon discussed the importance of combatting misinformation through the use of evidence-based research and storytelling. Sheldon cites these tactics as useful for dispelling harmful falsehoods such as the myth that LGBTQI people have overcome all of the obstacles to equality, or the thought that being gay is a defect that can be cured. Joel Bedos mentioned stories of change journeys as tools for advocacy. For example, German Chancellor Merkel and President Obama  changed their minds about same-sex marriage—Bedos emphasized the power of these stories as growth models to show people who do not support LGBTQI rights how to change. Katsiaryna Borsuk discussed the effectiveness of advocacy from parents of LGBTQI citizens. Borsuk advocated for this form of storytelling in democratic, transitional, and authoritarian states.

This use of parents and family played into another common sentiment among contributors, which was the use of common values to frame LGBTQI rights. Bedos highlighted the importance of understanding the basis of individual biases and positioning advocacy efforts in relation to positive values while countering specific fears. Sheldon agreed, and stressed the importance of avoiding jargon and combative language when discussing LGBTQI rights. Bedos suggested linking advocacy to values such as care, fairness, and liberty. He mentioned a campaign in Moldova that linked homophobia to fear and acceptance to bravery, showing that the roots of bigotry are ignoble while advocating for LGBTQI rights through appeals to honor. In another post, Bedos discussed how conceptions about family—a concept that is often used to uphold oppressive traditionalism-- can be used to further LGBTQI causes. This tactic is featured in the guide Using family as a frame in social justice activism: A guide for activists and funders in Europe.

As participants noted, part of the power of appealing to common values is that this strategy can be adapted to fit multiple situations. Many commenters focused on the importance of considering context when advocating for LGBTQI rights across cultural, legal, and religious lines. Borsuk brought up the importance of choosing tactics that do not contradict social norms and rules. She cited Pride Parades as a mechanism for raising awareness and gaining support in liberal democratic societies because of established rights to speech and assembly that would not be useful in countries with authoritarian regimes because it could lead to a worsening of conditions. She mentioned the example of Russia’s Anti-Gay Propaganda Law, which outlaws public activities that contradict established family values and morals or could be harmful to children. Meanwhile, Hudad Tolloui showed how the legal structure of Iran informed Iranian activists on how to proceed—Iranian LGBTQI advocates implement new scientific research, emphasize disagreements among clerics, and point to instances where the law has changed over time to further their cause. Commenters emphasized awareness of context as an important tool for advancing LGBTQI freedom despite cultural barriers.

Hold Governments and Communities Accountable for Violations

When roughly one third of countries criminalize same-sex relationships and few offer protection for the safety of LGBTQI citizens, one wonders how to hold these hostile governments responsible for their citizen’s safety. One commenter discussed the effectiveness of data collection as a mechanism for charging states with their citizen’s wellbeing by publicly revealing the number of LGBTQI citizens in a population, the population density of these citizens, and the number of crimes perpetrated against these individuals. However, Borsuk  pointed out that this data is not necessarily useful in oppressive regimes that do not collect this information or register violence against LGBTQI people as hate crimes. In these situations discrimination is documented by LGBTQI initiatives. She also stated her belief that focusing on hate crimes can lead to LGBTQI citizens being seen as victims rather than exposing corrupt legal systems and consistent discrimination.

In the same post, Borsuk advocated for the international community holding governments to universal human rights standards. Bedos emphasized the importance of works such as the Yogyakarta Principles, a work that outline the implementation sexual orientation and gender identity justice in human rights standards, in paving the way for UN legislation that explicitly seeks to address LGBTQI issues. These topics have also been broached in Universal Periodic Reviews. Many contributors agreed that the codification and implementation of these standards pressures governments to protect LGBTQI rights.

Integrate LGBTQI Rights into Human Rights Conversations

As previously stated, many contributors agreed that protections for LGBTQI citizens in international law is crucial for holding governments accountable for violations against queer citizens. Multiple participants also agreed that the way to create this important legislature is by linking LGBTQI rights with human rights. Katsiaryna Borsuk emphasized the importance of this in preventing cultural traditionalism from becoming enshrined in international law. She said that traditionalist groups, such as the Group of Friends of the Family (GoFF) within the UN, push to block LGBTQI rights in international legislature. Therefore, according to Borsuk, connecting LGBTQI rights and human rights is important because it challenges oppressive policies through the ongoing conversation of cultural traditionalism versus the universality of human rights.

Other discussions centered around how integrating LGBTQI rights into conversations about human rights can help a movement gain allies and promote solidarity. Tolloui wrote that this integration can show how rights are interrelated. He said that in Iran, where there are many human rights violations, people sometimes question why a minority community’s rights are important. This sentiment leads to apathy towards LGBTQI movements. Activists fight this through showing LGBTQI rights as human rights and framing them as being connected to the struggles of others, particularly those of women’s rights groups. Borsuk also advocated for solidarity with other causes, stating the importance of “expressing our concerns for their needs and rights no less than ours.” This solidarity can be achieved through the frame of human rights promotion. Bedos agreed, and linked this sentiment back to approaching allies in terms of common values as opposed to common causes—in this case, the common value of upholding human rights and striving for equality that is prevalent among activist communities.

Examples and Resources:

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

Conversation Leaders

Joel Bedos IDAHOT's picture
Joel Bedos
IDAHOT Committee
Alex Sheldon's picture
Alex Sheldon
Movement Advancement Project
HudadTolloui's picture
Hudad Tolloui
Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO)
Katsiaryna Borsuk's picture
Katsiaryna Borsuk
Front Line Defenders and the Belarusian Queer Film Festival Dotyk