Trying to get inside the club

Several Eastern European nations have passed anti-LGBTQ+ laws in order to highlight their alignment with Russia. However, the Czech Republic is an exception to the former Soviet states. What is described as the ‘Rainbow Curtain’ in Europe is a line along similar borders as the Iron Curtain. Nations on the Western side allow gay marriage, while those in the East do not. The Czech Republic falls on the eastern side because they only allow civil partnerships. However, on the 26th of March, 2019, a bill legalizing same-sex marriage was presented for debate on the floor of the Czech legislature. Sixty percent of the Czech population approves of legalizing gay marriage. Though support seems widespread for the bill in the Czech Republic, opposition forces have mobilized. No former Communist state has passed legislation that extends LGBTQ+ rights, leaving the Czech Republic to potentially be the first. In an attempt to prevent “dilution of [the Czech Republic] by liberal forces,” the Christian and Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People’s Party is proposing a bill to amend the constitution to define marriage in heterosexual terms. Though the percentage of Czech people opposed to notions such as gay adoption or gay marriage remains in the single digits, passing queer-inclusive legislation might still be difficult simply due to the regional status quo.

 In the past decade, neighboring Slovenia and Hungary have amended their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage. Both of these instances are results of “the Kremlin, hand in hand with the Russian Orthodox Church, pushing a socially conservative agenda beyond Russia’s borders.” An attack on gay rights is being used as a tool to garner influence for Russia. A collective disapproval of gay-marriage is uniting Russia with former Communist nations. The Czech Republic, should they pass this bill and legalize gay marriage, would find itself on the other side of ‘the Rainbow Curtain’ and closer to Western Europe’s social beliefs; ultimately pushing Czech international allignments one step closer to Western Europe than to Russia.

In an effort to project self-determination and social progress, Taiwan is another example of a nation leveraging queer legislation in order to influence its global image. In 2019, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen led her government to legalize same sex marriage; making Taiwan the first nation in Asia to do so. The difference in attitudes and ultimately, legislation between Taiwan and China further drives Ing-wen’s effort for Taiwan to be globally recognized as an independent nation. Progressive legislation, in particular, pushes Taiwan closer to Western nations that also react to queer pressure with acceptance. The implications of accepting queerness in Taiwan as well as legalizing gay-marriage allow Ing-wen to further distance herself and her country from mainland China by demonstrating a more Western, liberal ideology.      

Reciprocal action to the Russian intention of being a beacon of ‘traditional values’ comes from the Middle East. Nations like Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran have used queer legislation to further themselves away from western influences. In the 1980s, the Gay Liberation Movement emerged across Western Europe and the US. At the same time, Islamic Fundamentalism was growing its legs in the Middle East. Politicians looking to make advances in the conservative political climate of the Middle East have made accusations that queerness is an export of the West. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has warned against “ravaging moral decay” as a result of European and American promotion of LGBTQ+ rights. As queerness became associated with the West, Middle Eastern nations looked to legislate against LGBTQ+ rights in order to deepen cultural contrasts. Turkey provides no legal recognition of same-sex relationships; Iraq has outlawed same-sex relationships; in Syria, same-sex relations are punished with time in prison; in Iran, sexual activity between members of the same sex is punishable by death. While the basis for most of these laws originated from penal codes enforced by British and French colonization, the rhetoric and beliefs supporting them are still present. This is an effort to “manipulate anti-LGBT feelings” in order to position the Middle East away from any Western hegemony and towards superpowers that subscribe to more ‘traditional values;’ i.e. Russia. The concept and existence of queerness lends itself as a political tool that can sway, manipulate, and persuade constituents towards the favorability of one policy or alliance over another. Across the Middle East, countries have legislated their queer sentiments as a way to clearly define their alignments on the international political stage. 

The global development of queerness has made it an increasingly relevant trigger point in international politics. For Senator Lindsey Graham, accusations and rumours about his sexuality have driven him to a hypermasculine foreign policy approach. For President Bolsonaro, leveraging his pre-existing anti-queer homophobia has helped him garner a large conservative base as well as access the international evangelical network. For Putin, using anti-gay legislation to appeal to Russia’s social conservatism while also projecting Russia as a global leader of ‘traditional values’ helps unite him with similar-minded leaders. His efforts appeal to several Middle Eastern nations that react by legislating queer rights as nonexistent; similarly to Russia and in contrast to the West. Alternatively, the Czech Republic finds itself on the other end of the spectrum as it attempts to break through Europe’s ‘Rainbow Curtain’ and associate more with Western European social values rather than those of other former Communist nations in Russia’s circle of influence. Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen has also used queer-positive legislation to make global distinctions between Taiwan and China in an effort to associate with nations of similar values. Whether a leader is more conservative or more progressive, it is evident that queerness is a universally definitive catalyst, capable of influencing foreign policy decisions of major leaders to impact entire regions.  

Wesley Swan

Team Member of Communications