Queering Conflict Transformation and Peace-building

Vani Bhardwaj
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Multi-dimensions within queer need not be subsumed. Source: Elvert Barnes on Flickr

The report released by Human Rights Watch in March this year elaborates on the impunity of violence of armed groups against the LGBTQ population in Iraq. The torture, abduction, killings, and sexual violence against the LGBTQ population in Iraq prompts a reexamination of the degree of gender inclusivity in international conventions and humanitarian laws.

LGBTQ refugees once displaced from Syria were harassed in Lebanon in 2014, targeted as threats to ‘security’, and assaulting LGBTQ refugees in Kenya meant setting their shelters on fire.  The violence against the queer population has always been omnipresent. Nonetheless, the coverage and inclusion of the community in conflict zones have expanded over a span of just three decades.

Although the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has formally recognized the family life of the LGBTQ population and the rights of LGBTQ families under armed conflict and displacement, there remains a substantially disgregated outlook. The broad generalization of queer implies the difficulty in defining the intersubjectivity of self-construction. Performativity of gender roles as elucidated by Judith Butler and Michel Foucault questions normalized notions of expressing sexuality. Tiina Rosenberg emphasizes that the ‘queer’ can connote a wide variety of meanings. The ‘queer turn’ in International Relations believes that queering is a broader and all-encompassing vantage point than solely LGBT.  The western centrism of the term LGBT is partially remedied by the Q in LGBTQ as it broadens the scope for those struggling with gender dysphoria.

Nonetheless, we must not forget that the Indigenous, localized versions of nomenclature, although representative, have mostly been used in pejorative senses. This domain continues to be contentious and an argument can be made that it ought to be left to the queer community what they want to be referred by.

It can be extrapolated that the term ‘LGBTQ’ has urbanized shades to it and finds meager recognition in rural spatialities of the Global South. Yvette Taylor emphasizes the ease with which urban, well-settled queer may find relatively lesser impediments than the queer enmeshed in structural class violence and displacement. Understandably, class and queerness cannot mutually ignore each other. The gender-sensitive Colombian Peace Agreement of 2016 encompasses the entirety of the gender spectrum. It covers the masculinity that seeks to reconcile and demobilize in a post-conflict setting and the dangers of getting re-armed due to poor reintegration. Extensive and internationally gathered evidence shows once and again that anti-homosexual violence persists beyond wartime in peace settings as well.


Queering peace processes and conflict transformation need more than tokenism. Source: Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash.

Jamie J. Hagen, asserts that the visibility of the LGBTQ communities is essential in peace-building processes for truly inclusive peace to get established. Homophobic and transphobic violence has long preceded the declaration of any area as a conflict zone or battleground. In most cases negotiating a queer peace agreement is a win-win for the LGBTQ community as they get to contest the pre-conflict structural violence against LGBTQ in these very societies. Suppressing and attacking homosexual orientation are used as a tool by both state and non-state actor and groups in armed conflicts to create an atmosphere of humiliation and shame.

In most post-colonial nation-states, the legacy of homophobic colonial laws and religious taboos converge to criminalize homosexuality. If legally decriminalized, the political and cultural homophobia continues to stigmatize the LGBTQ community. In the Queer Politics of Postcoloniality, Rahul Rao forewarns that the project of decolonizing itself can become a potential carrier of politicizing homophobia – homosexuality being ‘Un-African’ is such an example.

The antithetical tension between theology and being queer has brought forth the constant tussle between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’. Jasbir Puar reads homonationalism as ‘a constitutive and fundamental reorientation of relationship between the state, capitalism and sexuality’ rather than a tool for identity politics alone.  For a nation to be declared to be sovereign, homonationalism entails that acceptance of liberal LGBTQ rights becomes a parameter.

In studying the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua in the twentieth century, Florence E. Babb brings out the oscillating attitude of the Sandinismo when it came to male homosexuality as distinct from female homosexuality. A case in point is the LGBTQ community in Iraq who, without any governmental safety net, family support or normative theology in their society, face higher hostilities. Reportedly, male homosexuality confronts a lesser propensity for fear-driven living as juxtaposed to female homosexuality.

Quite often the violence that occurs is multi-dimensional. An attack on doubly marginalized queer lies at the intersection of numerous grids of structural violence – the queer dalit, the distinctions between rural and urban queer, the class dimension and the racial justice within queer circles. The intersectionalities within the queer community pose a dilemma for standardized and straight-jacketed policies.


Queering perspectives involve crosscutting themes. Source: Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels.

We need to find newer interlinkages within the societal fabric that remain marginalized but are present. As climate change exacerbates conflict, deprivations of the queer population will aggravate. Queer-sensitive refugee camps and aid programs require enriching data from global humanitarian agencies and national statistical organizations. Homophobic and transphobic violence is normalized in non-war contexts, so much so that most studies in gauging violence towards the queer, forget to coalesce the spotlight on post-conflict resistance and blockages to pre-conflict preventive measures regarding the queer populations.

As a result, localized infrastructures for peace need to manage such contradictions. Positive peace education includes queer sensitivities and must be introduced across schooling systems and pedagogical training for educators. Transitional Justice requires psycho-social trauma counselling to be sensitive to variegated sexualities and non-heteronormative family dynamics. Problematizing homophobia itself reveals how distinct cultural homophobia can be from political homophobia.

No scale of marginalization needs to be ranked. Class, race, and caste issues are equally crucial as addressing the queer way of life has been. In fact, all are addressed mutually. If compartmentalized, none get tackled. The LGBT people with disabilities and ageism within the queer communities require further mainstreaming and policy discussions. Civil Society Organizations of the ‘Global South’ must take to indigenizing the hegemonic comprehension of LGBTQ rights in a holistic manner while also ensuring to recognize the shortfalls of romanticizing the indigenous lexicon and perception of the queer. The integration of masculinities in peace-building will deeply transform the re-construction of gender relations in post-conflict societies. The tenets of Yogyakarta Principles and the Free and Equal Campaign by UNDP must be synthesized with Women, Peace and Security Agenda to queer conflict transformation and peace-building for localized conflicts.

The institutionalization of the non-binary in global and national narratives is the need of the hour to prevent obscuring of transphobic and homophobic violence under the larger umbrella of gender-based violence. The heteronormative eye perceiving the queer as an outsider will inevitably stunt the impact that international and national policies claim to handle. The inclusion of queer population in policymaking should not remain a figment of queer rhetoric or queer utopia. Only then will policies be truly gender-transformative.

  • How can we further unpack ‘homophobia’ and ‘transphobia’?
  • In what ways can solidarity be built across intersectionalities within the queer community to enrich the peace-building and conflict transformative processes at the international and local levels?
  • How long until queer individuals and organizations gain political participation in international peace processes and negotiations at senior levels?

Suggested Readings

Nathwani, Nishin, and Piccot, Lea. December 2015. Protecting Persons with Diverse Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities: A Global Report on UNHCR’s Efforts to Protect Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Asylum-Seekers and Refugees. UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

LGBTQ+ Syria: Experiences, Challenges and Priorities for the Aid Sector. June 2021. Center for Operational Analysis and Research

Giessmann, Hans J. 2016. Infrastructures for Peace: Approaches and Lessons Learned. Berghof Foundation

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Queering Conflict Transfo…

by Vani Bhardwaj time to read: 5 min