The Global Politics of LGBT Rights, Rules, and Responses

A one-day workshop hosted by the Centre for Global Constitutionalism, the School of International Relations, and the Departments of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews.

9:00am – 3:30pm, Friday, 4th of April, Parliament Hall.

Registration is free; contact  to register.


On 17 June 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution making it illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The resolution, proposed by South Africa, passed on the basis of a 23-19 vote. The resolution is binding on all members of the United Nations, but it does not include any sanctions for those who violate it. The resolution generated opposition from a number of countries who argued that the Council had no right to impose a set of ‘Western’ cultural norms concerning sexuality on their societies. On 15 December 2011, the Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report detailing reports of discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. In September 2012, the UN Human Rights Office issued a report entitled Born Free and Equal which called on states to undertake measures to legalize the rights of LGBT people.

This activity by various UN offices and officials suggests that there is a global effort to make LGBT rights part of a global legal regime surrounding human rights. This workshop explores both the specific question of whether or not international institutions such as the UN are best positioned to advance such rights, and broader issues concerning tension between multiculturalism and protection of individual rights, in what arenas cultural defences have any merit, and the constraints imposed by the value of equality on both domestic and international institutions. Especially in light of the strong cultural resistance to LGBT rights in some parts of the world, how can an international institution help to promote the rule of law and rights protection in this particular area? What normative justifications exist for a globalized regime of rights protection in this particular area? Do cultural defences have any merit in this realm? What responses are available to those who are victims of homophobia or discrimination through international channels?

The workshop, sponsored by the Centre for Global Constitutionalism, Department of Philosophy, and School of International Relations, will provide an opportunity for a critical dialogue on an issue at the forefront of human rights, global governance, and international law.


9-9:30 Coffee and Introduction

9:30-11:00 Panel 1

• John Anderson, University of St Andrews: Defending cultural difference: the Russian Orthodox Church, the Kremlin and gay rights in Russia

• Barbara Zollner, Birkbeck University: Islamic Law and Homosexuality

11:00-11:30 Coffee

11:30-1:00: Panel 2

• Matthew Waites, University of Glasgow: Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Commonwealth and Global Queer Politics

• William Vlcek, University of St Andrews: Crafting Rights in a Constitution: Gay Rights in the Cayman Islands and the Limits to Global Norm Diffusion

1:00-2:30 Lunch

2:30-4:00 Panel 3

• Helga Varden, University of Illinois: On the Wrongness of Sexual Violence and Sexual Discrimination — a Kantian Approach

• Claudia Card, University of Wisconsin: Surviving Homophobia

4:00-5:30 Free

5:30-6:30 Wine reception

6:30: Workshop Dinner