Beyond the Pink Picket Fence: Are Gays and Lesbians Still Queer, and What are the Ethical Demands of their (Inter)National Politics Now?

The big legal problem now is dealing with the backlash – like the North Carolina and Mississippi statutes – and all the rallying around religious liberty.  And I think we still need to work on alternatives to marriage, get rid of tying so many benefits to marriage, and of course get rid of the joint tax return.  But a more fundamental issue is the rocky relationship between the more traditional (usually older) “gays” who have worked hard to achieve the “normalcy” denied them all their lives, and the comparatively radical (usually younger) queers who reject binaries, embrace fluidity, sometimes advocate polyamory, etc., and who increasingly reject or confront those who seem to have settled in to a homonormativity.

This fundamental confrontation comes at a time when queers of all stripes in many parts of the “emerging” world face marginalization, stigmatization, and brutality (and sometimes death or mandated sex change operations) because of patriarchal imposition of traditional binary sex roles and gender expression.  Whereas, for Africa, China, and many other regions Western notions of gay and lesbian may be too rigidly defined, too tied to essentialist notions of one’s sexual identity, and too capitalist in their daily implications, those who hunt down non-sexually-conforming individuals seem to have few qualms about applying essentialist categorizations to convict the “guilty.”

I think it would be beneficial to discuss what this may mean for queers in the West, going forward.  Should there be a politics of engagement with queers in the developing world?  Should there be an international advocacy for LGBTQ rights, building on the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, that finds a way to mobilize not only the “gays” and “lesbians” in the U.S., but also those who identify as queer, gender queer, etc., and who may not agree with the politics that led successfully to fuller “incorporation” of gays into the American social and legal system?  And how are individuals in Africa and elsewhere responding to such overtures?  Are such proposed interventions welcome, or seen as principally more clumsy acts of paternalism?

Are there, in other words, ethical demands that can move queers to join together with traditional gays to enact human rights legislation beyond our shores?


Part of panel Transnational Issues in LGBTQ Politics
October 2, 2016, 09:00–10:45