Sexual Orientation and International Law: A Study in the Manufacture of Cross-Cultural “Sensitivity”

Interest groups advocating rights of sexual minorities have been lobbying international organizations for years without success. A standard explanation for that failure is that human sexuality is something complex, even mysterious, which requires that international organizations proceed with special caution. In this essay, it will be argued that such an explanation amounts to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sexual orientation is neither more nor less complex than many other issues, such as race, ethnicity, religion or gender, which have nevertheless found wide recognition within leading intergovernmental organizations. It is not because sexual orientation is uniquely complex or mysterious that it is barred from the UN’s human rights agenda. Rather, it is precisely that kind of persistent exclusion that keeps the issue of sexual orientation mystified, perpetuating the impression that it is uniquely complex.