Raising Our Voices: How Sexual and Gender Minorities Have Struggled for (and Gained) Inclusion in Spaces for Global Democracy

Published: November 1, 2011

Movements of sexual and gender minorities have struggled (and succeeded) to raise their issues within important spaces of global politics. Advancing discussions on sexual rights, and more specifically sexual orientation and gender identity, has been challenging for these movements and their allies. Organizing globally and engaging with global norms and global institutions has significantly furthered recognition, respect, voice and influence for these marginalized groups.


Terminology and identity politics have shaped these movements and their strategies. Words like lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) are often used when talking about active exclusion and targeting of groups/individuals; however, not everyone identifies with ‘LGBT’ terminology. Equally, some are not comfortable with a language of ‘minorities’. Recently concepts of ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’ (SOGI) have become widely used in rights-based discourse. This terminology avoids reference to particular identities, as all people are entitled to sexual rights, and all people have a sexual orientation and/or gender identity.


Exclusion of sexual and gender minorities takes many forms. Sometimes the oppression is explicit, as when self-identified advocates are overtly silenced. Indeed, many states have perpetrated human rights abuses against these groups. Yet the exclusion of sexual and gender minorities can also be more subtle, as when ‘culture’, ‘religion’ and ‘traditional values’ are invoked to reject LGBT concerns. A climate of fear can surround anyone who might think to speak out. Yet at times, the exclusion of LGBT groups arises not so much because of the particular sexualities that they represent, but because they bring into the open contentious areas of sexuality and gender in general.


Marginalisation of sexual and gender minorities has also been extensive in regional and global organizations, where procedural obstacles have been imposed to prevent both their associations and their issues from receiving consideration. This exclusion began in 1993, when LGBT groups were denied official consultative status with the United Nations. It continues to this day with the 2010 rejection of observer status to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) for a pan-African lesbian group.


Despite the obstacles, and perhaps because of them, there has been remarkable development of regional and global movements for SOGI rights. They have demanded a voice in global governance as far back as the 1975 International Women’s Year Conference in Mexico City. In 1978 the only worldwide federation of LGBT groups was founded. Currently, there are many groups of sexual and gender minorities consistently raising their voices in key spaces of regional and global politics. Just as importantly, these groups have built alliances with other human rights organisations to ensure that SOGI issues are mainstreamed throughout a human rights agenda.


Important advances have been achieved through these efforts. For example, despite some blockages to UN accreditation, there are also hard-fought victories in this arena, including the first global south LGBT group (from Brazil) to gain full UN ECOSOC accreditation in 2009. UN World Conferences on Women have also been watershed moments, providing opportunities for movement building and the development of important UN language around sexuality. The international trade union movement has provided a further important site of global politics on SOGI issues, as have civil society spaces such as the World Social Forum. The pandemic of HIV/AIDS has presented unique opportunities (and challenges) for movement development and alliance building, through the lens of health and human rights. HIV/AIDS has also forced states to engage in difficult discussions around sexuality and gender.

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