What's Next for the Equality Movement? A Western Perspective

LGBT rinbow flag and clapping hands.
LGBT rinbow flag and clapping hands.

There is no doubt that the latest wins achieved by the LGBT community opened another chapter for the equality movement, and created new expectations. While marriage equality in the U.S. and Ireland has drawn attention to the LGBT situation around the world, there has been increased interest both within the community and from allies regarding next steps.

The movement has on its side the unprecedented inclusion of these issues on the international agenda, whether it is related to President Obama's visit to Kenya, the European Parliament's vote to put human rights at the heart of the European Neighborhood Policy or the U.N. Security Council holding its first meeting on LGBT rights. Additionally, the pressure to refresh the debate about LGBT rights has come at a moment when its opponents have refocused their efforts on winning the Global South and East.

The next chapter will have a strong global perspective, not because there is no room for improvement in the U.S. and other countries with advanced LGBT rights, but mainly because there is a general sense that by achieving marriage equality, an obstacle was overcome.

International LGBT work is not a new trend. It has turned into a mantra for many Western organizations in the recent years, some of them trying to apply abroad the strategies proved successful at home. It does not always work and may come with huge risks for the members of the recipient LGBT groups. The upside is that more Western equality supporters are engaged and directly connected to what is happening around the world. It is a learning process which hopefully will lead to better strategies and solutions.

Achieving LGBT equality internationally is, without doubt, a priority in the human rights field. But it is not just a human rights issue. Showing how LGBT issues intersect with security, economy and business, politics, health, culture and arts might have a bigger impact on people's acceptance and inclusion of the LGBT community, especially in those countries where human rights is considered a luxury and a privilege that only rich nations can afford. The killing of gays by the Islamic State pulled off the signal on the risks LGBT populations face in war zones. The recent U.N. Security Council meeting on this topic should be the starting point of a broader discussion about the LGBT vulnerability in conflict zones and raise awareness of other similar cases like the situation of LGBT people in refugee camps.

Without ignoring the crucial importance of global LGBT activism in achieving equal rights, it is time to increase the involvement of other individuals whose different perspective on current affairs is imperative for the movement's advancement. Not always very vocal on LGBT issues, leaders in politics, business, industries, the legal field, journalism and religion from countries with less advanced or poor LGBT records are the groups to get involved. They have the necessary leverage to reach out to local decision makers outside of the limitations of the official populist discourse. As a representative of a TNC said at a recent working lunch I attended in Prague, it takes a passionate CEO to start this battle. It might be small but it can have a long-term impact. Having these leaders involved will fill in the LGBT leadership vacuum, especially in those countries where deeply-rooted misconceptions dominate the general view on LGBT people.

Generation Y will lead the way. Millennials will represent 75 percent of the global workforce by 2020 according to Deloitte's 2015 Millennial Survey. They have a vision to increasingly adopt the "whatevs" attitude when it comes to LGBT issues and think that society as well as business needs to reset and focus on social advancement and the wellbeing of the individual.

The LGBT movement is no stranger of this trend. The Eighteen: 22 Forum in Salzburg, which I attended last month, brought together young Jewish LGBT organizations from all over the world to talk about the "the next chapter of LGBT Jewish life". They ask the right questions, spare no effort to educate themselves, are open minded and look beyond conventional approaches. Their attitude was in contrast with the deep sense of ownership I have seen at some of the long time fighters for LGBT rights who turned the movement into a very personal mission. They deserve nothing but admiration and gratitude but the future challenges will ask for more than taking over these issues. It demands a more flexible and open approach.

Refreshing the equality movement so it reflects current circumstances makes it more flexible and easier to connect it to continuously changing global dynamics. The successes witnessed in the last nine months prove that the mechanisms are in the right place. The only dilemma left at this new stage is the community's willingness to change.


Learn more about the Geopolitics of LGBT Rights Initiative at the SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University and read more writings on global LGBT topics on the Equality Blog.