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Human rights and law

Human rights and law

Legal rights can be a useful tool for challenging heteronormativity. Over the last decades, we’ve seen a wave of liberalisation of previously restrictive legal regimes sweep across Latin America and Asia granting sexual rights and recognition. At the same time, we’re now witnessing mounting state-sponsored repression of same-sex sexualities in Africa. In recent years some bilateral and philanthropic donors have expressed more of an interest in the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LGBT people. But ‘legal’ approaches can also be potentially damaging if they are not sensitively handled. For example, the UK Government’s announcement in 2012 that it was considering tying aid to LGBT rights records led African Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) activists to publish a statement in which they laid out their opposition to this course of action.

Often people have to name themselves and adopt an identity, such as Men who have sex with men (MSM) or LGBT, in order to negotiate with powerful institutions and secure rights protections.This can have negative unintended consequences. For example, for some people who do not comply with heteronormativity, invisibility or being able to exist under the radar is a preferable strategy to one that demands visibility and labeling. Others have pointed out that rights discourses can reinforce and regulate rather than disrupt negative norms related to gender and sexuality.

There can also be positive outcomes. For example by adopting a legal approach that relates to labour rights, sex workers have found debates moving away from who sex workers are and instead focusing on how they can work safely and productively. Similarly, recent United Kingdom legislative changes related to trans people has led to increased transgender recognition and rights including issuing birth certificates, although some argue this strategy has reinforced gender normativity.

(Image credits: ivo visualista/ Flickr under Creative Commons License)

Aid, Resistance and Queer power
A. Hakima / Pambazuka 2012
This article argues that to understand resistance to aid conditionalities in relation to LGBTI rights it is necessary to understand the political history of aid in Africa. The author cautions that issues related to sexuality cannot be...
Engendering gay and lesbian rights: The equality clause in the South African Constitution
J. Cock / Elsevier 2013
The paper focuses on the origins and impact of the ‘‘gay rights clause’’ in the post-apartheid constitution of South Africa. The clause, explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,...