The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In countries as different as Colombia and Lebanon, LGBTQ advocates are helping lead protests and build peace

Research finds that including women in peacemaking leads to more stable agreements. Expanding that to include LGBTQ people can improve results even more.

A Pride march on July 4 in Bogota, Colombia. (Nathalia Angarita/Reuters)

Pride month has wrapped up around the world. In some places, LGBTQ folks celebrated their identities in parades and other community events. Elsewhere, queer activists took to the streets in very different ways.

In Colombia, for example, LGBTQ organizations have worked with women’s organizations to develop and implement the historic peace agreement with the FARC rebels. Similarly, in Lebanon, queer activists are involved in the ongoing uprising.

These queer activists are working to influence peace-building so that efforts center the experiences of those who are among the most vulnerable to violence, even in times of peace: LGBTQ people.

Queer visibility in peace-building

Gender matters to understanding conflict. Research finds that women experience conflict differently than men do and are critical in helping to build a sustainable peace.

Women’s rights activists and academics committed to feminist visions for peace argue that one way to transform power through peace-building is by including women at the negotiating table and in key post-conflict positions. A review of the 13 peace agreements signed by women finds they are more durable, in part because the signatories represent diverse women’s groups and discuss a broader range of social issues, improving the accord’s implementation. Recognizing this, for 20 years, the United Nations Security Council has urged countries to ensure that women are involved in peacemaking and conflict prevention, given their commitments to uphold the 10 Women, Peace and Security resolutions.

But my research finds this inclusion often leaves out lesbian, bisexual and transgender women. This lack of queer inclusion also limits visions for peace, as Fidelma Ashe’s research about security for LGBTQ communities in Northern Ireland shows.

As acceptance grows in numerous parts of the world, many LGBTQ people are mobilizing within their communities for a more inclusive peace.

Do women matter to national security? The men who lead U.S. foreign policy don’t think so.

LGBTQ inclusion in peace-building in Colombia

A viral video clip from recent anti-government protests in Colombia illustrates growing queer visibility. In the video, three nonbinary and trans protesters vogue amid a group of police officers holding riot shields. Voguing is a dance created by Black and Latino LGBTQ communities in the United States, though the dance has gained international attention as a form of celebration for queer people of color.

When asked about confronting police on the streets of Bogota, nonbinary dancer-activist Piisciis explained that the three were scared, but public support motivated them to action: “We decided to go out to protest for our human rights but also for there to be some visibility for the LGBTQ and nonbinary community.”

These dancers are part of a larger group of activists and organizers working for LGBTQ visibility. Colombia Diversa, an organization that promotes and defends LGBTQ rights in Colombia, issued a report about the unique harms inflicted on LGBTQ victims of the state, while also demanding truth and justice after conflict. Introducing the report, U.N. independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity Victor Madrigal-Borloz wrote, “We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of an understanding of the ways in which violence [against LGBTQ people] manifests itself in situations of armed conflict.”

When those involved in peace processes do examine gender in conflict, LGBTQ experiences are rarely included. Peace negotiators often leave out the persecution and violence committed against queer people during a conflict when they try to resolve gendered harms. Colombia is a notable exception; there, those who negotiated an end to a 52-year conflict between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas established a gender subcommission. The subcommission’s recommendations focused attention on gender-based violence, women’s experiences of displacement and change for members of the LBGTQ community who have long faced discrimination.

Not everyone accepted this inclusion of queer experience, however. My research finds that this expansive view of gender was one of the reasons that the public voted against the peace agreement. Nevertheless, the final peace deal signed in November 2016 does acknowledge stigma and discrimination faced by LGBTQ people. Four years on, the implementation of the peace agreement continues, including transitional justice efforts to rectify violence against LGBTQ people committed during the guerrilla war.

Obama said that if women ran the world, there’d be less war. Here’s the research.

‘All of them means all of them’ in Lebanon

During conflict, LGBTQ individuals are especially vulnerable to violence, lawyer and humanitarian practitioner Alon Margalit finds. Some counter that by mobilizing, building community and connecting with others. That’s what Pia, who withheld her last name out of safety concerns, did in Lebanon, for instance. Pia is a queer women’s rights activist who spoke to Mosaic, a group committed to improving the health and well-being of marginalized and vulnerable groups in Lebanon, for a documentary about queer presence in the Lebanese revolution. On Oct. 17, 2019, Lebanon exploded into protests that began as fury about taxes on a messaging app — and became a revolution against a corrupt and sectarian system. Much as in Colombia, queer and trans people have been speaking out in the Lebanese revolution.

Pia, a queer woman, told Mosaic that they didn’t know where queer women were in Beirut until “I met them in the revolution, and I love that I met them in the revolution.” For Pia, meeting other queer women has meant being able to see a future in Lebanon.

Solidarity with other protesters offers hope for LGBTQ people in Lebanese society.

Human Rights Watch’s researcher Rasha Younes and filmmaker Amanda Bailly documented this contingent when covering the October 2019 uprising. Younes wrote that LGBTQ people have been highly visible and their concerns widely embraced by the protesters, alongside such other issues as class, race and sectarianism. That fits with the revolution’s slogan, “All of them means all of them,” a demand that no one be left out of Lebanon’s political system and prosperity.

Including LGBTQ leaders in resolving conflict

LGBTQ communities have often been living in crisis long before conflicts begin. But these communities are more than the violence they experience. As Séverine Autesserre’s research reveals, including local communities in resolving conflict results in more lasting peace. Colombian and Lebanese queer and trans activists reveal that these communities, too, are ready to help build a new future for their countries.

Don’t miss any of TMC’s smart analysis! Sign up for our newsletter.

Jamie J. Hagen (@jamiejhagen) is a lecturer in international relations at Queen’s University Belfast, where she is the founding co-director of the Centre for Gender in Politics.