Sexuality as a Standard of Civilization: Historicizing (Homo)Colonial Intersections of Race, Gender, and Class

It is important to acknowledge the colonial dimension of the governance of (homo)sexuality. By doing so, practitioners gain a nuanced understanding of LGBTQ+ communities in the global south and they avoid perpetuating the harmful binary understanding of the world as consisting of 'civilised' and 'uncivilised' peoples or regions.

Research Findings

The article makes three interrelated arguments: first, that contemporary politics and governance of sexuality (homosexuality in particular) is embedded in a historical standard of civilisation; second, that sexuality as a standard of civilisation has been produced in relation to global power dynamics; third, that these dynamics continue to intersect, with gender, race, and class in different ways. 

Laws established during European colonisation (heterocolonialism) are targeted by Western states and Western-led organisations with the aim to liberate the LGBTQ+ community, a form of homocolonialism. Two examples feature in this summary. 

HRW (2017) uses the benchmark of marriage equality to reflect the geographic division between states with and without LGBTQ+ rights. In doing so, it separates civilised from uncivilised societies, thus engaged in a homonormative production of LGBTQ+ rights. Critically, it foregoes a deeper analysis of existing queer communities that are engaged in politics and society in regions where marriage equality does not exist. HRW ignores the depths to which marriage rights are accepted or rejected within these societies and, additionally, reproduces the divided world by perpetuating the construction of the non-West as savage or barbaric. 

Similarly, a 2019 United Nations OHCHR publication discusses limited legal protections for LGBTQ+ communities within the global south. In outlining the violence faced in these geographies, it fails to examine the continuation of violence against LGBTQ+ communities in the West, despite legal protections. By ignoring violence that occurs in the West, the separation between the civilised West and the uncivilised “other” becomes evident, reproduced, and fortified.

Key Recommendations

This research can be used as a way to reflect on initiatives that seek to discuss or take action with regards to LGBTQ+ rights in the majority world.

To consider on the kinds of racial and class exclusions regarding LGBTQ+ rights that exist in Western geographies, specifically concerning ghettoisation, immigration, and asylum.

To take action by raising the profile of existing activists, activism, and the demands of communities located in the majority world

Implementation Examples

This research was based on research in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe/North America

Methodology

These conclusions were based on a triangulation of historical documents, ethnographic research, interviews and field work

Core Concepts

Intersectionality: How various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. Gender intersects with other aspects of identity such as sex, race, class, (dis)ability, sexuality, caste, religion and physical appearance. As such, it forms unique structures of inequality.

Standard of civilisation: A normative tool that justified political exclusions of people in the global south, to the benefit of European states. This standard of civilisation is not only used as a benchmark to measure the level of civilization of a society, but also as a tool that reinforces Western hegemony through notions of progress and development. The ‘standard’ was developed alongside an international legal framework in the nineteenth century to defend the Europeans’ right to colonise and exert control over non-European societies. Its core principles stated that the imperial powers had an unconditional entitlement to determine the future trajectory of development of the global south, as part of their self-appointed ‘civilising mission’.

Heterocolonialism: Colonial engagements with sexual governance aimed at “liberating” the individual engaged in or tempted by homosexuality. This was done by eradicating homosexuality and reinforcing heteronormative nationalist structures.
Homonormativity: The normalisation of the homosexual by dominant Western LGBTQ+ politics and culture through heteronormative state and economic institutions and structures.

Homocolonialism: A form of sexual governance applied to “liberate” the homosexual in the global south from legal and social oppression, in a manner that replicates the West. It displaces indigenous queer politics by prescribing “the right way” to be queer. Although homocolonialism reverses the heterocolonialist impulse to eradicate the homosexual, it limits homosexuality to a neoliberal heteronormative context (producing the homonormative) as a form of liberation that is subsequently used as a civilizational standard.

Limitations

Continued research needs to be done on solidarity between anti-colonial LGBTQ+ rights.