Book Review: Queer Wars by Dennis Altman

cover77865-mediumAn interesting discussion of the globalization of equal rights movements for LGBT folk. Worth reading if you want an overview of these movements around the world.

While this is said of South Korea, it could be about any oppressed minority in any country:

‘Oppression is real and ubiquitous, yet invisible enough to make calls for advocating homosexuals’ rights look “excessive” or “privileging”.’

An interesting tidbit about Spain:

During Franco’s regime homosexuals (mostly males) were sent to special prisons called galerías de invertidos (‘galleries of deviants’)…

Apparently, they were sending people to prison for it in the mid-20th century…

Spain legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, the third country to do so.

…but still legalized same sex marriage 10 years before us!

Of course, there’s a huge discussion devoted to homophobia and bigotry as linked to conservatism and fundamentalism.

The growth of evangelical Christianity and fundamentalist Islam and Hinduism in many parts of the world means that polarization around sexual rights is unlikely to diminish soon. What Clifford Bob terms the ‘Baptist–Burqua network’ actually includes almost all major fundamentalist religions, which can form bizarre alliances in their eagerness to oppose sexual rights. International organizing to oppose gay rights –and, more broadly, anything that suggests the blurring of gender lines or acceptance of sexual diversity –has paralleled the growth of international gay organizing. American-based organizations defending ‘family values’ have been particularly active in promoting an antihomosexual line both in international fora and within a number of overseas countries. Since 1997 the World Congress of Families, a grouping of a number of rightwing religious organizations, has heavily promoted ‘traditional family values’ through international conferences and support for anti-homosexual groups around the world. They have built strong alliances with religious groups in Russia, particularly with those legislators and clergy who have been promoting anti-homosexual laws. ‘The Russians’, according to Larry Jacobs of the Congress, ‘might be the Christian saviours of the world.’

This is so disturbing. So messed up. So ironic. Yet, somehow, so fitting.

The development of homophobic rhetoric and legislation in Uganda is often linked to the work of American pastor Scott Lively, a born-again Christian who has campaigned against abortion and homosexuality through a number of US-based organizations. In 2009 Lively was brought to Uganda by local evangelists, and used the opportunity to encourage official homophobia, resulting in the first draft of the anti-homosexuality bill. How far Lively is responsible for this and subsequent bills is unclear, but in 2012 he was sued in the US Federal Court by Sexual Minorities Uganda for encouraging persecution and ‘crimes against humanity’; at the time of writing, several courts have upheld the constitutionality of the charges and he faces trial. The use of American law to limit the activities of antigay activists overseas is likely to be contested through a number of legal channels, and suggests new steps towards using the legal system within western countries to limit global homophobic networks.

Good god. The more I read this kind of stuff, the more I’m led to believe that conservatives are in the wrong as a group. I don’t know.

I mean, this is about equality for all. Human rights. Don’t we believe all men are created equal?

Inevitably the stress on the most obvious examples of persecution means that it is easy to overlook the myriad of subtle ways in which discrimination continues, and that many homosexuals internalize this discrimination in ways that restrict them in living fulfilling lives.

This is key. It’s why people are for equality.

So, this is where we stand today:

As the successes of the gay rights movement in some places have been mirrored by increasing homophobic repression in others, the result has been growing international polarization. 

Because of this, we have to be cautious how we move forward.

Opponents of gay rights continue to make similar claims: that liberal treatment of sexuality violates religious traditions and national values, and will lead to family and social breakdown. Sexual minorities continue to be targets of violence and political scapegoating across much of the world. In many cases, efforts to promote or impose gay rights have seemed to play into the hands of oppressive governments. The reality of international polarization and the sensitivities about western imperialism in those countries that have only recently escaped colonial domination raise a real question for activists: how best to promote human rights and liberation within a divided world.

So what do we do?

Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to these questions, and any effective international engagement must be nuanced, case specific and aware of the limited capacity that outsiders have to intervene in any community. If we value pluralism and the political autonomy of communities that are still recovering from the injustices of colonialism, we should also be wary of any attempt to impose western standards.

But what can do?

Since international campaigners are likely to misunderstand the kinds of changes that will gain local acceptance, the international effort should focus on universal protection against criminalization and violations of personal safety. If international consensus can be built around these minimal protections, this will support more transformative local changes without dictating them.

This is a difficult issue. It’s hard to know what to do. But we have to keep standing up for what we know is right – and at the same time be sensitive to how we approach other cultures.

Thanks to NetGalley and Polity for a copy in return for an honest review.


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