Event – CGS Seminar Series – Queer Perspectives on Law 3: Queering the International/Internationalising the Queer

By Akanksha Mehta|January 28, 2016|CGS Seminar Series, Events|0 comments


Queer Perspectives on Law 3: Queering the International/Internationalising the Queer

28 January 2016


This workshop will present three papers which critically examine global advocacy for LGBT rights. The papers will raise questions about the relationship between “centre” and “periphery”, between colonial legacies and the post-colonial, between rights advocacy and appropriation and between law and violence. Recent developments such as the Security Council’s discussion of the killing of gays by ISIS, the UK’s advocacy of “gay conditionality” and the US State Department’s embrace of LGBT rights will be examined through critical perspectives; considering the role of atonement for colonialism, new forms of gay governance and the productive voids of international law.

Chair: Dr Grietje Baars, City Law School, City University
Discussant: Dr Gina Heathcote

Speakers, bios and abstracts:

Professor Aeyal Gross, Visiting Reader in Law, SOAS, University of London and Associate Professor of Law, Tel-Aviv University
Title: ‘Gay Governance: A Queer Critique’

In 2009 the US Congress passed legislation which expanded federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by the victim’s gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. While this was heralded by many as a victory for LGBT rights, some queer groups expressed strong reservations, arguing that the harsher prison sentences accorded to hate crimes, grant more power to the prison system, in which trans people, people of color and poor people, are disproportionally incarcerated. In the same year, when queer activists in Israel criticized the city’s renovation of Independence Park because it destroyed its role as a major cruising area, a gay council member opposed this criticism, pointing to the fact that public cruising areas are a matter of the past. At the same time, the city has been organizing pride events annually since 2012, on Tel-Aviv’s gay beach, located just under the park, in a way sponsoring cruising but one that is very different from the more democratized version that used to take place in the park. In 2013, after the legislation for same sex marriage passed in the UK, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he wanted to export gay marriage around the world as part of the “global race” where the UK should export and sell more. But in recent years it has been argued that the growing incidence of homophobic legislation and violence in Africa, is partly a backlash to the spread of same sex marriage recognition and the fear of such demands being made locally, not to mention exported globally.

These stories point to the complexity of what happens when homosexuality shifts from being a phenomenon persecuted or at least marginalized by states, to one that is incorporated into the state or the municipality. When gay activists support legislation that may create more incarceration or support the “gentrification” of cruising, and when same-sex marriage becomes something states want to “export”, possibly at the expense of strengthening the persecution of people who practice same-sex relationship in the global south, can we talk of “gay governance”? Is gay governance similar to “governance feminism” – the hypothesis being that while LGBT groups have been more successful in achieving more equality through legislation and litigation in some countries, gay governance is rather more apparent in the appropriation of gay rights as homonationalist propaganda? What can queer critique offer in answer to these questions?

Aeyal teaches and publishes in areas of international and constitutional law, international humanitarian law, human rights and law and sexuality. He has served as a research fellow at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London, as a Visiting Fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies in South Africa, and as a Joseph Flom Global Health and Human Rights Fellow at Harvard Law School. Additionally he taught as a visitor in Columbia University and the University of Toronto and in the Academy of European Law, European University Institute, Florence. He has published many articles and books, including The Right to Health at the Public/Private Divide: A Global Comparative Study (edited with Colleen Flood, Cambridge University Press 2014) and The Writing on the Wall: Rethinking the International Law of Occupation (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2016). Aeyal is also the legal commentator for the Israeli daily Haaretz and serves as a member of the Board of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Aeyal co-organized in Prof. Di Otto the workshop “Queer Perspectives on Law” at SOAS in 2011 which started the series of workshops of this is the third.

He is also a co-founder of the LGBT and Queer studies forum at Tel-Aviv University which since 2001 has been organizing the annual LGBT and Queer studies conference at the university.

Dr Vanja Hamzić, SOAS, University of London
Title: ‘International Law as Violence: Competing Absences of the Other’

This paper analyses the would-be paradox of international law’s continuous evolution towards evermore-diverse forms of juridical violence. From the falsehood of imperial pacifism, through the perils of its multiple turns to ‘pragmatism’ and quasi-proportionality with regards to legally sanctioned uses of force, to the infinitude of contemporary warfare—international law’s spectacles of violence seem to proliferate at an unprecedented pace. It is thus pertinent to ask what historical and present-day insights can be gained if international law is posited no longer as a discipline and practice intrinsically committed to regulation of violence, but as violence itself.
The paper surveys an array of analytic traditions on the Left that disclose the inherent violence of international law. The discussion is framed in relation to a curious event: the ‘first-ever’ UN Security Council meeting on the persecution of ‘LGBT Syrians and Iraqis’ by the so-called ‘Islamic State’, which took place on 24 August 2015. Whilst dealing with but also perpetrating and perpetuating multiple forms of violence, this event, at the same time, reveals some productive voids, especially with regards to the dominant framing of the subjectivities and subjects of the international legal discourse and intervention. Such voids, I argue, allow for theorising the absence of international law and, in turn, the absence of the subject of juridical violence.


Dr Vanja Hamzić is Lecturer in the School of Law at SOAS, University of London. His legal, anthropological and historical research primarily revolves around human subjectivity formation and insurrectionary vernacular knowledge. He is particularly interested in various Islamic legal traditions and their intersections with gender diversity as well as Marxist social, political and economic thought. Vanja’s authored books include Sexual and Gender Diversity in the Muslim World: History, Law and Vernacular Knowledge (2015) and Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts (with Dr Ziba Mir-Hosseini, 2010).

Dr Rahul Rao, SOAS, University of London
Title: ‘Atonement’

A prominent feature of contemporary British global advocacy on LGBT rights is the insistent reminder that criminal laws in a number of countries against (typically male) homosexuality are a legacy of British colonialism. In part, this claim – made both by Western and local activists – seeks to invert the conservative argument that homosexuality is Western, foreign and therefore inauthentic, with the suggestion that it is institutionalised homophobia that is the foreign import. In some British advocacy, this claim also functions as an implicit rationale for a leading role for British activists in the fight against global homophobia. Such advocacy seeks to deploy a range of tools and various forms of power in its efforts, including shaming, state pressure through conditionality, high-level legal assistance in judicial proceedings, etc. In this article, I ask whether atonement for colonialism has become an engine of neo colonialism. I attempt to juxtapose the emerging discourse on ‘atonement’ for anti-sodomy laws that are a legacy of empire, with analogous discourses of atonement for slavery, with a view to parsing how historic sex/gender and racial injustices are reckoned with (or not) in contemporary Britain.


Rahul Rao is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at SOAS, University of London. His research interests span critical international relations theory, comparative political thought, and gender and sexuality with an area focus on South Asia and East Africa. He is the author of Third World Protest: Between Home and the World (Oxford University Press, 2010). He is currently working on a book on queer postcolonial temporality.


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