Dennis Altman: Governments, international organizations, the UN and queer rights


        Brought here as part of  the "Can the United Nations Empower Social Change?" series; Mr. Altman’s talk primarily focused on the threat to life that queer bodies face globally, examining why sexuality and gender identity have become so politically contested. In his attempt to provide an explanation, he highlighted two paradoxes present in the international system. The first being that oppressive behaviors are on the rise despite awareness of queer issues growing exponentially globally and the second being the cultural power of the United States and its ripple effects throughout the world, both positive and negative. The issue of LGBTi is viewed as a western concept so it makes it seem foreign to many cultures outside the western sphere. While the U.S.  leads the world forward with its progressive decisions, it also pushes the world two steps back with its conservative decisions, setting global precedent for other nations to take even more extreme action. This led him to the heart of his talk  "Can the United Nations system, as it is today tackle issues of sexual/gender discrimination?" The key is first understanding the roots of the polarization and resistance to ending queer violence. The most widespread argument across all cultures is the need to defend the family and traditional values. But why this unwillingness to change? Altman broke it down into rational and irrational factors. The main rational factor centered around the idea that queer rights have become an effective target for scapegoating in the non-western world. Scapegoating, defined as a convenient way of bolstering nationalism, occurs in western countries like the U.S. and U.K. with the vilification of immigrants and refugees. The irrational factor can be described as political authority over the fear of homosexuality.  Political entities have capitalized on that fear and turned into anger which has been effective in mobilizing groups to action but with serious consequences. As Altman quoted American author Philip Roth, "Anger is to make you effective. If it makes you ineffective, drop it." In closing, he concluded that the Rule of Activism is the way the United Nations can be most effective in combatting queer/gender violence globally, quietly supporting queer causes without imposing a particular model to avoid homosexuality being seen as a western import by other countries. He called special attention to the role of the United States in the fight, leaving attendees with these final words, "We are significant when we promote and even more significant when we oppose."

Please see the video to Mr. Altman's talk here.

--Steven Paul