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2006 | 1 | 3

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Beyond Visibility, Rights, and Citizenship: Critical Notes on Sexual Politics in the European Union


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The accession of ten new member states has opened up new political and discursive spaces for challenging homo-, bi-, and transphobia in the new member states and the European Union (EU) as a whole. There has been widely felt sense of hope that the accession will ultimately increase the possibilities of political action, result in democratisation, and better the political conditions for sexual minorities to fight discrimination and struggle for equal treatment before the law (ILGA Europe 2001, Vadstrup 2002, Pereira 2002, Neumann 2004, ILGA 2004, Stonewall 2004). Such sentiments were also expressed in the call-for-papers for the Conference ‘Europe without Homophobia. Queer-in(g) Communities’ that took place from May 24 to May 26, 2004 at Wroclaw in Poland, for which I wrote the first draft of this paper. Participants were asked to reflect upon ‘how we can contribute to making sexual minorities in the European Community visible, heard, safe, and equal before the law’ and to ‘investigate the practical ways (including legal actions, information campaigns, political participation, etc.) of achieving the bold vision suggested in the title: Europe without homophobia’ (Organizing Committee 2004). Human rights groups and lesbian and gay organisations both in the (prospective) new and the already existing member states sensed that access to funding by EU bodies and the ability to address political and/or legal institutions of the EU (and/or the Council of Europe) opened up ‘new space’ for political activism and enabled access to a new range of political discourses and strategies (cf. Stychin 2003). Already many years before accession, human rights organisations and lesbian and gay campaigning groups started to utilise the transformative potential of this prospective economic-political and socio-legal change for campaigns against human rights abuse and legal discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexuality in states applying for accession. ILGA Europe, for example, emphasised that accession should be made dependent on the applying states complying to the high human rights standard that the EU is supposed to stand for. Due to the uneven power structure between the institutions of the EU and the states applying for membership, the logic and rhetoric of ‘enlargement’ structured the negotiations about accession. The power imbalances at the heart of the process are further indicated by the fact that accession is frequently discussed in the scientific literature in the terminology of ‘Europeanization’ (cf. Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeier 2005a). In this context, ‘Europeanization’ signifies ‘integration’ into the economic organisations and politico-legal institutions of the EU, a process that, according to Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeier, can be characterised as ‘a massive export of EU rules’ (2005b: 221). Because accession has been such a recent moment in history, research on the effects of the EU enlargement on the national polities of the new or prospective member states is still scarce. In particular, sexual politics has remained an under-researched topic (for an exception, see Stychin 2003). However, there is sufficient reason to speculate that accession will significantly affect the discourses and strategies of social movements struggling around sexuality and gender in the new member states. Even if it cannot be predicted at this stage, how political actors and social movements will respond and position themselves with regard to these newly emerging ‘political opportunity structures’ (Kriesi et al. 1995), the evolving institutional, economic, and discursive context will without any doubt impact on their politics.



  • Hamburg University


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