"A cohesive yet complex account of the phenomenon of global homophobia. This impressive scholarship will be useful for scholars and students in LGBT studies, women's and gender studies, comparative political science, and political history."
Susan Burgess, author of The New York Times on Gay and Lesbian Issues
Global Homophobia: States, Movements, and the Politics of Oppressionby Meredith L. Weiss (Editor), Michael J. Bosia (Editor)
While homophobia is commonly characterized as individual and personal prejudice, this collection of essays instead explores homophobia as a transnational political phenomenon. Contributors theorize homophobia as a distinct configuration of repressive state-sponsored policies and practices with their own causes, explanations, and effects on how sexualities are
While homophobia is commonly characterized as individual and personal prejudice, this collection of essays instead explores homophobia as a transnational political phenomenon. Contributors theorize homophobia as a distinct configuration of repressive state-sponsored policies and practices with their own causes, explanations, and effects on how sexualities are understood and experienced in a range of national contexts. The essays include a broad range of geographic cases, including France, Ecuador, Iran, Lebanon, Poland, Singapore, and the United States.
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States, Movements, and the Politics of Oppression
By Meredith L. Weiss, Michael J. Bosia
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESSCopyright © 2013 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All rights reserved.
Political Homophobia in Comparative Perspective
MICHAEL J. BOSIA AND MEREDITH L. WEISS
The way I see it, homophobia—not homosexuality—is the toxic import. Thanks to the absurd ideas peddled by American fundamentalists, we are constantly forced to respond to the myth—debunked long ago by scientists—that homosexuality leads to pedophilia. For years, the Christian right in America has exported its doctrine to Africa, and, along with it, homophobia.... Not all Ugandans are homophobic. Some say there are more pressing issues to worry about than gay people and believe we should have the same rights as anyone else. But they are not in power and cannot control the majority who want to hurt us.
—frank Mugisha, "Gay and vilified in Uganda"
The wave of anti-authoritarian revolts that began to roll across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 coincided with another contemporary trend: a widespread, caustic focus on sexuality, in the form of overtly political homophobia. Egypt figures in both. Among the most striking incidents in contemporary homophobia was Cairo's 2001 "Queen Boat" case, which saw fifty-two men prosecuted in a special national-security court on charges related to same-sex intimacy. A decade later, as Hosni Mubarak toppled from power, the Muslim Brotherhood and the military filled the vacuum; after decades of authoritarianism, few other social forces could hope to do so. Given the extent to which Mubarak had suppressed Egyptian civil society, one would hardly expect to see active mobilization either for or against sexuality rights at that point. Yet homophobia hit the ground running. When the Brotherhood joined forces with old enemies in the junta to support a set of constitutional amendments in Egypt's first post-Mubarak vote in 2011, mysterious forces issued warnings that a defeat would bring a triumphant secularism that would unveil women, ban the call to prayer, and—echoing apocryphal global discourse—permit men to marry men (Slackman 2011).
Of all the fears contending forces could summon to reinforce their political stature in Egypt, why leap to sexuality? Or if sexuality be the target, why skip past far more globally prevalent calls from Western leaders and international institutions for the decriminalization of same-sex sexuality, directly to imagined demands for same-sex marriage, as if sexual minorities everywhere claim the same rights that define LGBT organizing in only a handful of countries? Egyptian sexual minorities have no durable networks; the small LGBT organization Bedayaa was founded only in 2010, primarily for social and educational purposes. A joint statement they issued with other Arab sexual minority groups in May 2011, still in the heady first months after Mubarak's ouster, called merely for "peaceful coexistence" and denied any intent "to persuade you to accept our gender identity." Marriage equality has hardly been a priority.
The invocation of such incongruous marriage fears demonstrates the particular power of homophobia, not as some deep-rooted, perhaps religiously inflected sentiment, nor as everywhere a response to overt provocation, but as a conscious political strategy often unrelated to substantial local demands for political rights. This volume seeks to understand and explain political homophobia as a state strategy, social movement, and transnational phenomenon, powerful enough to structure the experiences of sexual minorities and expressions of sexuality. We consider political homophobia as purposeful, especially as practiced by state actors; as embedded in the scapegoating of an "other" that drives processes of state building and retrenchment; as the product of transnational influence peddling and alliances; and as integrated into questions of collective identity and the complicated legacies of colonialism. Specifically, we target the open deployment of homophobia in political rhetoric and policy, as a remarkably similar and increasingly modular phenomenon across a wide range of countries. While the more brutal examples of hatred and violence grab headlines, we see this dynamic just as clearly in less overtly repressive contexts—for instance, the Philippines, where an emerging LGBT-rights movement has begun to contest the clout of the Catholic church in the (constitutionally secular) state (see Weiss, this volume). This broad application of more and less oppressive homophobic strategies suggests that homophobia may be better globalized than homosexuality (Murray 2009).
In our analysis, "unexpected" forms of political homophobia must be examined as typical tools for building an authoritative notion of national collective identity, for impeding oppositional or alternative collective identities that might or might not relate to sexuality, for mobilizing around a variety of contentious issues and empowered actors, and as a metric of transnational institutional and ideological flows. Moreover, policy and organizational reactions to repression both locally and globally often take up LGBT rights rhetoric in ways that constitute new sexual identities where LGBT rights had not been invoked before. Today's homophobic political strategies range from straightforward or seemingly "rational" processes of marginalization—of branding gay rights, like so often women's or ethnic minorities' rights, as either "special interests" and thus not a priority, or as a threat to the nation—to often violent vilification and abuse. The most familiar example of the latter is the dehumanizing humiliation of Muslim men at Abu Ghraib, in Bosnia, and elsewhere, through forced (homo)sexual postures and brutal sodomy. Such sexualized violence parallels wider racialized, misogynist, and militarized forms of Islamophobia (Hersh 2004; Puar 2005), even while Western "saviors" bewail Muslim states' paucity of human rights, especially for women, but also for sexual minorities.
Such processes of identification and ostracism have long been recognized as part of state formation when couched in terms of race, including the crystallization of racial categories and ever-stronger ethnic claims in the course of nation building and as part of the legitimization of political and economic power (Marx 1998; Olzak 1983). That same effort to control populations and to mold citizens toward a certain norm, both as an end in itself and a means to consolidating authority, applies equally well to sexuality, even where LGBT rights are more secure. The politically charged homophobia that can enforce heteronormativity or prod citizens to suspect and fear a new category of social evil seems, in this light, a "natural" part of state making and interstate intervention, however underexamined previously.
We seek in this volume to explore the how and why of the transnational diffusion and domestic enactment of political homophobia, including (with varying degrees of specificity) transphobia. We trace evidence of parallel processes in cases ranging from contemporary Uganda, where Kapya Kaoma reveals how U.S. evangelical Christian activists have joined forces with local political, social, and religious leaders to promote newly repressive policies; to Iran, as examined by Katarzyna Korycki and Abouzar Nasirzadeh, where sodomy may now be punished with death by hanging; to Indonesia, where Meredith Weiss finds that pressures for Islamization are increasingly refracted through lenses of gender and sexuality; to postcommunist Europe, where as Conor O'Dwyer details, Polish and Russian authorities have targeted small gay-rights movements for sometimes violent and public suppression. As these and the other chapters herein demonstrate, contemporary homophobia subsumes—and indeed, frequently elides—complex dimensions of gender and sexuality.
In many ways, these patterns outline the development of a modular notion of homophobia as part of U.S. national security strategies during the Cold War, as David Johnson describes, and stepped up anew particularly against the backdrop of the "war on terror" and crises of sovereignty, as Michael Bosia details, as well as the Bush administration's transnational evangelical activism (as Kaoma explores). Presaging contemporary modularity, too, is the spread of homophobia under Western colonial flags in the nineteenth century (Binnie 2004: 77–78; Sanders 2009) and as a tool of health professionals particularly in the twentieth (Terry 1999). Embedded in Western imaginaries, but exported and adopted alongside economic and technological practices, homophobia brings to mind a range of "globalized localisms" (Santos 2006) that arise in the West but grow roots in the rhetoric and policies of powerful actors much farther afield.
"Homophobia" likewise has become political both as part of a larger push to delegitimize in advance rights that have not been claimed and as a diversion from larger crises and threats to existing authorities, including those arising from the pressures of globalization. David Murray evocatively captures this sleight of hand, with reference to Barbados, "These discourses [against homosexuality], combined with the absence of local gay and lesbian voices in the media, result in what I call a 'spectral' sexuality that haunts the Barbadian mediascapes, where a threatening, perverted and/or sick sexualized body or group of bodies are continually incarnated in discourse but never fully instantiated in the flesh. These deviant ghostly bodies haunt the dominant media discourse of a national body imagined to be heterosexual and masculine, which is perceived to be under attack from outside and inside forces" (2009a: 148). Such diversions reflect a complex but little-heeded dimension of neoliberal globalization in which the sexual politics of national identity and bodily discipline can either distract from (as in Uganda) or undercut (as in Malaysia) economic deregulation, depending on the position of those who exploit homophobic politics. By promoting the "fear of small numbers" (Appadurai 2006)—of minorities—state and social opinion leaders incriminate a tiny, sometimes barely or not (yet) self-identified minority, often drawing more on imported than domestically sourced language, agendas, and strategies.
A set of core similarities thus undergirds this modularity within individually distinctive cases and dynamics. To tease out that common thread, which runs through all the chapters to come, we first explore better ways to conceptualize homophobia as a specifically political and modular force, then examine how homophobia has been studied thus far and why researchers and policy makers have so clearly and chronically bypassed or misconstrued it. Finally, we consider the practical and theoretical implications of a careful, critical focus on politicized homophobia. Analytically, we differentiate overt claims to political legitimacy through homophobia from private, religious, and interpersonal sentiments that have not been taken up as political tools, with the understanding that there is no necessary and fixed relationship between political homophobia and extant private homophobia or even local sexual discourse.
While we recognize that private, religious, and interpersonal sentiments are political in that they are produced and reproduced in contexts of power, the discourses and policies of modular political homophobia in fact have had the power to reshape local structures of sexuality. This is not to say that Presidents Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Kaczynski of Poland, or Prime Ministers Mahathir and Najib of Malaysia, for instance, have not been motivated by personal religious belief in pressing homophobic agendas, or that they lacked social allies who shared these sentiments. Whether in Louisiana, Russia, Singapore, or Malawi, we can and must distinguish between private beliefs and political homophobia, even while acknowledging the potential for private or religious sentiments to pervade political contests or processes of state and nation building. We suggest that the salience of these attitudes as strategic tools has more to do with local and global politics than with private meditations, as evidenced by similar models of political homophobia across traditions and in both secular and religious states.
Conceptualizing Homophobia as Political and Modular
More often than not, social scientists and queer theorists have largely ignored or mischaracterized the emergence of political homophobia, despite its often stunningly violent and repressive aspects as well as its frequent absurdity. As this wave of repression increases in virulence, coming to encompass imprisonment and harassment as well as torture and execution, the study of sexuality has missed the fact that political homophobia requires no substantive self-defined LGBT community or local, above-ground organizing among sexual minorities before splashing onto shore and seeping into elites' political strategies. Similarly overlooked is the role of Western leaders in offering sustenance and support to the birth of more specifically tailored, localized homophobia, as embodied, for instance, in the passage of a constitutional amendment in 2005 in Uganda banning "gay marriage" in line with U.S. (but not Ugandan) iconography. It seems the all-too-rosy glow of Western leadership in exporting LGBT rights has rendered the West's equally prominent role in the diffusion of homophobia nearly invisible.
In fact, this homophobic wave is despite, and profoundly contradicts, the significant progress that LGBT rights have made in a handful of Western states and even fewer localities outside the West. While political homophobia is invoked where fundamental rights to sexual and gender self-determination remain unclaimed and sexual minorities have not thought in terms of a shared political identity or full legal equality, it lingers, too, as an easily accessible form of social differentiation and privilege, even where legal equality is achieved or in sight. Homophobia has, in short, gone modular, being imposed in a consistent way across diverse contexts. Sexuality itself lacks similar wings: as much research demonstrates, it is not similarly modular (Blasius, this volume; Broqua 2013; Epprecht 2005; Hoad 2000).
Meanwhile, the fact that so much research focuses narrowly on the transformation of sexual identities leaves us without concepts needed to theorize either the mutual influence of such changes on homophobia and sexuality or the global diffusion of similar forms of homophobia. As the study of sexuality has moved beyond the West, scholars have trained their gaze on the influence (or not) of Western models of sexuality spread by global LGBT activists or tourists, not on the politics of the homophobia local sexual minorities increasingly face on their own streets. Even while historians have examined homophobic state policies in the past, and anthropologists, its sociocultural manifestations (e.g., Rubin 93; Murray 2009b), researchers concerned with the contemporary nexus of social movements and the state limit their analysis of homophobia to its manifestation as a target of LGBT rights activism, decoupled from the state. In fact, there is no focus on specifically state-sponsored or politically charged homophobia to match the emphasis on specifically LGBT human-rights activism, nor do we have a theoretical framework for understanding homophobia as a named and explicit feature of political contestation over state authority, tracing its influences, origins, and multiple global manifestations. Even queer theory, given its disciplinary proclivities, focuses on homophobia often as a facet of heterosexism that forms and transforms the sexual subject who is organizing to claim certain rights.
This emphasis on LGBT human rights activism rather than on a repressive apparatus might itself be a reflection of lingering homophobia within academic circles. Political science, for example, continues to treat gay politics as marginal to and outside the parameters of state and society proper—a tendency that is part and parcel of the enduring dismissal of research on marginal identities across the social sciences, including work done by gays and lesbians, who are simultaneously derided as "frivolous" and feared as "uniquely powerful" (Duggan 1994: 2). In the reductionist views of mainstream academics, LGBT politics represents only one application (and a rarely considered one at that) of new social movement theory, so that homophobiaas-politics is reduced to nothing more than a variable reflecting static religious values and traditional attitudes about sexuality, whether organized by public opinion or by political leadership.
Excerpted from Global Homophobia by Meredith L. Weiss, Michael J. Bosia. Copyright © 2013 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
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Meet the Author
Meredith L. Weiss is an associate professor of political science at the University of Albany and the author of Student Activism in Malaysia: Crucible, Mirror, Sideshow. Michael J. Bosia is an associate professor of political science at St. Michael's College in Vermont.
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