The Missing Queer
Photo: Ludovic Berton, Wikimedia Commons
It is written in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights that every human is born free and equal. However, for millions of Queer people, this is not the case.
The term ‘Queer’ is most commonly used as an umbrella term to define a range of sexualities and gender diverse peoples. It can also be used to illuminate the baggage we as Queer people bring to the table of society. Queer people go through society differently to our heterosexual counterparts because society continues to view us as the other.
As I write this article, relatives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Lesbian and Queer (LGBTQ) Chechens are being told to kill their Queer relatives and pay a ransom. State authorities have arrested and kidnapped forty gay men as a part of a crackdown on homosexual citizens. Subsequently, two men have died as a result of torture by authorities. Evidently, as Richter-Montpetit emphasises, both homophobia and transphobia are both ‘powerful tools of statecraft’. So where is the outrage in the mainstream media outlets and from Western states which regard human rights to be a priority? There has been no significant coverage by major news organisations and states have remained silent on the issue.
International relations (IR) theory is built on the foundations of a heteronormative and patriarchal structure which has been used to propel the heterosexual male further while leaving behind all other citizens. Therefore, it is not surprising that Queerness is, and has been observed as, perverse and inherently demon-like by religious leaders and far-right politicians. Specifically, incorporating Queer theory into IR exposes how policies are morphed through ‘sexual norms and logics’. Thus, by incorporating Queer theory into IR theory, it questions the status-quo and recognises the plight of the LGBTQ community in broader society and in the process gives a platform to the marginalised. In 2017, the world was introduced to the purge of kidnappings, torture and murder of Queer people in Chechnya. Chechen Dictator Ramzon Kadyrov has denied the existence of Queer people in Chechnya. In a BBC interview, Kadyrov describes being gay as ‘made up’ and as being ‘invented’ by ‘Western European security services’.
For too long Queer people have been on the sidelines of IR. Representation is a very simple but powerful concept which has influenced the course of IR to mould itself around heteronormative, masculine ideals. The Malthusian couple, as Cynthia Weber explains, has become a central point for IR. Not only are the voices of women suppressed in IR, but the voices of Queer people are also becoming increasingly muted on the world stage. Foreign policy does not consider the lives of Queer people to be a subject point in the modern age, rather it is in the background, muted by masculinised policies of war and terrorism. Indeed, homosexuality is still criminalised in over 70 countries according to the United Nations Free and Equal campaign and in seven of those countries being Queer is punishable by death. It is vital to the survival of the international order and to the development of IR studies that Queer people are included in key talks in areas such as human rights, climate change and security. Most importantly, the rights of Queer people must be at the forefront of conversations in foreign policy, because the alternative would be detrimental to a healthy society. This is equivalent to advocating for the basic human right to life. In the West, many states are starting to recognise Queer rights such as marriage equality. Nonetheless, these conversations only seem to be insulated within Western circles of influence. This must be expanded to include continents such as Africa and the Middle East where Queer rights are frequently under siege. We are everywhere. A worldwide community that does not stop in the West.
I am an openly Queer-identifying person and in my IR seminars and lectures at university I am able to bring to the table experiences which my heterosexual counterparts would never encounter. Queer people understand the power of repressing your true identity in order to conform to a society which views anything other than the norm to be inhuman. Politics and IR have always made me curious. They are the rule book of our increasingly globalised world and essential if we are to make sense of the masculine policies which pride war over peace. The field of IR is becoming increasingly crucial for us to develop a sense of this chaotic and turbulent world. Queer people must be involved and engaged in these discussions and queer rights must be embedded into international policies. However, being open about your queerness is not easy, especially when representing countries where it is illegal (and in some cases is punishable by death) to be yourself.
It is not enough for IR to simply recognise that Queer people have different perspectives to their heterosexual counterparts. Queer theory must be embedded into IR theory. I argue that it is essential for Queer theory to remain critical of traditional IR theory because it allows us to understand the ongoing oppression towards the LGBTQ community worldwide and incorporate a continuously repressed group of people which for centuries have been pushed into the shadows to only be forgotten about.
Wong and Schuwitz reported that the Trump-Pence Administration issued a memo in October 2018 stating that any diplomats working for the United Nations or any other international organisation located in the United States would need proof of marriage to continue working in the United States. This policy fundamentally restricts the flow of new ideas into the international community, ideas which could incorporate queer ideas into foreign policy. Not to mention, it also puts at risk those who are not have not ‘come out of the closet’ and who are at risk of exposure in countries which may not truly accept them let alone allow same-sex marriage.
Throughout Africa, where colonial powers have had a dominant presence, the stigma of homosexuality follows. Colonial era anti-sodomite laws, which explicitly condemn and outlaw homosexuality, have branded it as repugnant and immoral. Tanzania, a former British colony, has now declared a ‘gay crackdown’, with the government endorsing and advocating both physical and verbal abuse towards people who are assumed to be Queer. It is that word, ‘assume’, which has the capacity to become deadly, because one cannot assume someone’s sexuality without reducing them to stereotypical, degrading tropes. Furthermore, with such restrictions on people’s lives, HIV will have the capacity to flourish in a homophobic environment due to homophobic policies which disregard the lives of Queer people. Policies such as these only cause further suffering for Queer people at the hands of bigots.
It only takes the absence of one Queer person to make the difference between the life and death of Queer people worldwide. Despite the progress we have made as a society we still have a long journey before we reach global recognition and are viewed as equals on the world podium.
Finlay Spalding is a second year undergraduate student majoring in International Relations and Middle Eastern studies at Deakin University. He has an interest in human rights and international affairs.