Caught in a web : how rival transitional networks (un)do LGBT rights

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2021-04-30

Authors

Velasco, Kristopher Noah

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Abstract

Recently, the world has seen a dramatic expansion in LGBT rights. Both across countries and within international organizations like the United Nations, LGBT rights are increasingly seen as human rights. Though a notable development, attention on the expansion of LGBT rights masks a simultaneous trend: rising backlash. During this same period, numerous countries re-banned marriage equality, LGBT communities were targeted by new “religious freedom” laws, and documented state violence increased. This story of backlash – and explaining why it is happening – is a story untold. This dissertation tells that story. An important pathway through which laws diffuse is via transnational networks. Consequently, as the international community became increasingly supportive of LGBT communities, having greater connections to it via pro-LGBT transnational networks is associated with liberalized policies. However, this only tells part of the story. Since the 1990s, an understudied set of actors has risen in the international arena: transnational anti-LGBT networks anchored in organizations such as World Congress of Families, Alliance Defending Freedom, the Vatican, and the Russian Orthodox Church. Therefore, to understand the simultaneous trends of expansion and contraction, we must also consider how countries are embedded within pro- and anti-LGBT networks. Indeed, I find that greater embeddedness within one network over the other predicts how LGBT issues are presented to local populations: as a positive call for equality and human rights or a negative threat to the “natural” family. The resulting valence of discourse directly affects government policy responses by changing the cultural meaning international calls for LGBT rights carry to domestic audiences. This study contributes to our broader understanding of the changing international system by revealing how illiberal actors simultaneously co-opt the mechanisms and structures built by the liberal international system to advance illiberal outcomes. Like their liberal counterparts, illiberal actors leverage international institutions and transnational networks to advance alternative cultural models across the global landscape. Illiberal models diminish the socializing influence of liberal values like human rights, multiculturalism, and democracy while legitimizing appeals to traditional gender roles, nationalism, and authoritarianism. Consequently, understanding these dynamics are important as we transition into a postliberal future.

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