Genocide in Global Queer Politics and Scholarship

How is genocide related to sexuality and gender in existing scholarship, and when should genocide be spoken of in global queer politics? In the context of contemporary forms of oppression internationally and with particular reference to anti-homosexuality in African states such as The Gambia and Uganda, this paper analyses the meaning of genocide in relation to LGBT and queer politics. The concept genocide originated in the work of Raphael Lemkin, and following World War II this led to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948). Genocide is often believed to imply mass killing; yet many current scholars in Genocide Studies – for example in the Journal of Genocide Research – argue that the term has a wider meaning concerning the destruction of group identity, achievable through various social practices.   Recent oppressive practices and activist responses in African states such as Uganda and The Gambia therefore demand reflection on this concept, and the form of genocide discourse, in relation to queer peoples. An analysis of the changing forms of genocide discourse in relation to queer people will be presented, first demonstrating surprisingly circumscribed usage of this concept in literatures related to Nazi Germany and the use of the pink triangle during the Holocaust. Secondly the paper will discuss how the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has extended genocide discourse, through including sexual violence among genocidal acts and suggesting extensions of definition for group categories. In the later sections the paper moves to focus on contemporary African societies, particularly The Gambia, also with reference to Uganda. NGO reports and movement sources, and state laws, are examined in order to evaluate the applicability and value of the concept genocide. The concluding analysis will illuminate power relations and oppression in intimate life. The theme of genocide under discussion might also have relevance in certain contexts in the Middle East, for example in relation to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, although this region will be beyond the scope of the presentation.

While introducing the contested and changing meaning of genocide into queer scholarship, the paper will caution against introduction of the concept genocide into international queer politics and movement discourses, at least until the issue has been debated and located in relation to critically queer decolonizing analyses of homonationalism (Puar) and the locations of homophobia (Rao), and in the wider context of North/South power relations. Yet in the context of wider debates in genocide studies, and deployments of genocide to defend indigenous peoples for example, discussion is nevertheless needed within academia, and within international sexual politics and LGBT and queer movements, of whether, or when and where, reference to genocide can be appropriate. This paper therefore raises a significant new theme for the future of LGBTQ scholarship and politics, and seeks to address it in light of intersectional and critical perspectives. It contributes to opening up attention to international issues, in a manner which seeks to balance concern to avoid western imperialism with appreciation of the silencing dynamics at play within a society like The Gambia, which lacks NGOs or safe social spaces through which queer or non-heterosexual people can voice their claims.


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