It’s been a big and extremely depressing week for the rights of sexual minorities. Despite some minor victories in Texas and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s veto, anti-gay bills remain on the agenda in many US states. Things continue to get worse in Uganda and Russia. What can be done to help stop the abuse?
Unlike many other human rights issues, as former Duck contributor Clifford Bob points out, sexual minority rights promotion is an area with a large and well organized counter-movement. In Bob’s new book, he outlines how this “Baptist-Burqa” network of often religiously-motivated activists can complicate the abilities of international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and activists to actually influence policy. Bob provides a very rich and detailed case study of advocacy related to gay rights in the United Nations: as expected, when an organized counter-movement exists, rights advocates are often thwarted in their attempt to improve human rights practices. Although this finding may seem intuitive, the existence of counter-movements has been largely missing in the transnational advocacy literature, which has focused primarily on how INGOs advocate for the end of torture and political killings against political dissidents. In these situations, there often is not a counter-movement specifically advocating for the continuation and expansion of the human rights abuses.
Drawing on their existing work, Victor Asal, Udi Sommer, and I have been finishing a paper this week that examines cross-nationally whether Bob’s argument holds for the end of laws against sodomy. Using new data on LGBT organizational advocacy, we find that advocacy can shorten the time until sodomy is legalized. However, this finding only holds in states where this “Baptist-Burqa” counter-movement is missing. When present, even a large and active LGBT movement has little ability to influence policy. More research on how counter-movements reinforce the status quo is definitely necessary.