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Culture Wars: Politicization & LGBTQ+ Inclusion

Jun 10, 2024

In recent decades, LGBTQ+ inclusion has become a prominent and often contentious symbol within the broader landscape of global "culture wars." This term (1), which refers to ideological battles over cultural, social, and moral issues, has become a central battleground for LGBTQ+ rights.

The struggle for inclusion and recognition of LGBTQ+ individuals is not merely a quest for civil rights but also a flashpoint in broader political and cultural conflicts. This politicization is evident in various countries, where LGBTQ+ rights serve as a litmus test for broader societal values and political agendas.

The United States: A Polarized Battlefield

In the United States, LGBTQ+ inclusion has been a significant issue in the culture wars, particularly since the late 20th century. The Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 was a landmark victory for LGBTQ+ rights advocates; however, it also intensified opposition from conservative groups. The ruling was celebrated by many as a step towards equality, but it also galvanized conservative activists and politicians who viewed it as an erosion of traditional values.

Policies under the Trump administration reflected this polarization, with actions such as the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military and the rollback of protections for LGBTQ+ people in various sectors. These moves were seen as part of a broader agenda to appeal to a conservative base that perceives LGBTQ+ rights as antithetical to their cultural and religious values.

Using pronouns and "gendering" has become a significant battleground within these culture wars. For example, the debate over laws requiring pronouns has become highly charged. Advocates argue that respecting individuals' chosen pronouns is a matter of basic dignity and recognition of their identity. Opponents, however, often frame these requirements as infringements on free speech. The state of California's 2017 law, which imposes fines or jail time on healthcare workers who repeatedly and willfully refuse to use a transgender patient's preferred name or pronouns, has been particularly controversial, drawing criticism from conservative groups.

Europe: A Continent Divided

Europe presents a mixed picture regarding LGBTQ+ inclusion, with progressive policies in some regions and stark opposition in others. In Western Europe, countries like Germany and France

have embraced LGBTQ+ rights, including the legalization of same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws. These policies are often supported by liberal and centrist political parties and are seen as markers of modernity and human rights.

In contrast, Eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary have taken a markedly different approach. Both countries have seen the rise of right-wing populist governments that use LGBTQ+ issues as a rallying cry to defend "traditional family values." In Poland, for example, President Andrzej Duda's administration has promoted "LGBT-free zones" and described LGBTQ+ rights as an invasive foreign ideology. Similarly, Hungary's Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has passed laws restricting the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools and media, framing these measures as necessary to protect children and preserve national identity.

The issue of pronouns and gender identity is also contentious in Europe. In the UK, for instance, the introduction of gender-neutral pronouns in some schools and workplaces has sparked heated debates. Proponents view this as a necessary step towards inclusivity and respect for non-binary individuals. Critics argue that it confuses traditional understandings of gender and imposes new, controversial norms on society.

Latin America: Progress and Pushback

Latin America has experienced significant advancements in LGBTQ+ rights, particularly in countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Argentina was the first country in the region to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010, and it has also enacted comprehensive gender identity laws. These progressive steps are attributed to strong civil society movements and left-leaning governments that view LGBTQ+ inclusion as part of a broader human rights agenda.

However, the region is not without its challenges. Brazil, under President Jair Bolsonaro, has seen a rise in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and violence. Bolsonaro, who has made numerous derogatory remarks about LGBTQ+ individuals, has positioned himself as a defender of traditional family values against what he terms "gender ideology." This stance has resonated with a significant portion of the population, particularly among evangelical Christian groups.

The use of pronouns and the broader acceptance of diverse gender identities are also emerging issues in Latin America. In Mexico, some universities and public institutions have begun to adopt policies recognizing non-binary identities and the use of gender-neutral pronouns, facing both support and backlash. These movements reflect a growing awareness and acceptance of gender diversity, even as conservative sectors push back.

Asia: Emerging Struggles

In Asia, LGBTQ+ rights are gaining visibility, although progress is uneven. Taiwan is a beacon of progress, becoming the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019. After years of activism, this milestone reflects a broader liberalization in Taiwanese society.

In contrast, many other Asian countries remain deeply conservative regarding LGBTQ+ issues. In Indonesia, LGBTQ+ individuals face significant legal and social challenges, including discrimination and violence. The country's political and religious leaders often portray LGBTQ+ rights as a threat to social harmony and traditional values. Similarly, in India, the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2018 was a historic step, but LGBTQ+ individuals still face widespread discrimination and societal stigma.

The use of pronouns and the recognition of non-binary identities are also emerging issues in Asian countries. In Japan, some local governments and companies have begun to allow employees to list their gender as X or to use preferred pronouns. Yet, these practices are far from widespread, and there is considerable resistance from conservative elements within society.

Middle East & Africa: Cultural Conservativism and Criminalization Prevail

Middle East

In the Middle East, LGBTQ+ inclusion is generally limited and often met with severe legal and social restrictions. Homosexuality is illegal in many countries, and individuals can face harsh penalties, including imprisonment and, in some cases, the death penalty. Social attitudes towards LGBTQ+ individuals are primarily conservative, influenced by cultural, religious, and traditional norms.

  • Iran: Homosexual acts are punishable by death. The government actively persecutes LGBTQ+ individuals, and societal acceptance is extremely low.
  • Saudi Arabia: Like Iran, Saudi Arabia enforces strict Islamic laws that criminalize homosexual acts with severe penalties, including execution.
  • United Arab Emirates: Homosexuality is illegal, and individuals can face imprisonment and fines. However, there is a small, underground LGBTQ+ community.
  • Israel: An outlier in the region, Israel has relatively progressive LGBTQ+ policies, including anti-discrimination laws and the recognition of same-sex marriages performed abroad. However, tensions remain, particularly among conservative and religious groups.

The politicization of LGBTQ+ rights in the Middle East often revolves around nationalism and religious identity. Governments frequently use anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric to reinforce conservative values and maintain social control. Leaders may frame LGBTQ+ rights as a Western imposition that threatens Islamic and cultural values, thereby uniting the populace against perceived external threats.

Africa 

The state of LGBTQ+ inclusion in Africa varies widely, with many countries maintaining conservative laws and attitudes toward homosexuality and gender diversity. Similar to the Middle East, LGBTQ+ individuals often face legal penalties and social ostracism.

  • South Africa: South Africa is a notable exception, with a constitution that explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and allows same-sex marriage. Despite progressive laws, societal acceptance is mixed, and LGBTQ+ individuals often face discrimination and violence.
  • Nigeria: Homosexuality is illegal and can be punishable by death in some northern states governed by Sharia law. The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (2014) further criminalizes LGBTQ+ relationships and advocacy.
  • Uganda: Known for its harsh anti-LGBTQ+ stance, Uganda has passed laws that impose life sentences for homosexual acts. The Anti-Homosexuality Act (2014), though partially invalidated, reflects deep-seated societal and political opposition to LGBTQ+ rights.
  • Kenya: Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment. Despite some progressive court rulings in recent years, societal acceptance remains low, and LGBTQ+ individuals frequently face violence and discrimination.

In Africa, the politicization of LGBTQ+ rights often intersects with colonial legacies and religious conservatism. Politicians may use anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment to rally support, presenting LGBTQ+ rights as incompatible with African values and identity. This framing helps to distract from other governance issues and unify the populace against a common "threat."

LGBTQ+ Inclusion As A Political Tool For Anti-Western Positions

Leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin exemplify the use of LGBTQ+ rights as a political tool in global politics. In Russia, LGBTQ+ rights have been framed as a symbol of Western decadence and moral decline, used to bolster a narrative of national sovereignty and cultural superiority. This anti-Western stance is part of a broader strategy to consolidate power, unify the populace, and position Russia as a defender of traditional values against the perceived encroachments of liberal Western ideologies.

Vladimir Putin has strategically utilized anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric to solidify his base and maintain control. In 2013, Russia passed the "gay propaganda" law, which bans the promotion of "non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors. International human rights organizations have widely criticized this law for promoting discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ individuals. However, domestically, it has been used to rally conservative and religious groups around a shared sense of cultural identity and resistance to Western influence. By positioning LGBTQ+ rights as part of a Western agenda to undermine Russian values, Putin has effectively deflected criticism of his domestic policies and human rights record.

This tactic is not unique to Russia. Other leaders employ similar strategies to resist Western influence and promote nationalistic agendas. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has used anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric to assert Hungarian cultural sovereignty. Orbán's government has implemented laws restricting LGBTQ+ rights, such as banning same-sex adoption and prohibiting the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools. These measures are framed as necessary to protect traditional family values and Hungarian identity from the corrupting influence of liberal Western ideologies.

Leaders in Africa and the Middle East often employ similar narratives to maintain control and resist Western pressure for reform. For instance, Ugandan politicians have used anti-LGBTQ+ laws to position themselves as defenders of traditional African values against Western neo-colonialism. The Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, which included severe penalties for homosexual acts, was justified as a necessary defense against Western efforts to impose foreign values on Ugandan society. This rhetoric not only strengthens the political standing of these leaders but also distracts from other governance issues by creating a scapegoat in the form of Western liberalism.

These examples illustrate how LGBTQ+ rights are manipulated in global politics to serve broader political and ideological objectives. By framing LGBTQ+ inclusion as an imposition of Western values, leaders like Putin and Orbán mobilize support, reinforce national identity, and resist external pressures for liberal reforms. This politicization of LGBTQ+ rights underscores the complexities of advancing human rights in a world where cultural and political battles are increasingly global in scope.

Actionable Insights: Navigating Political Diversity &  Polarization

As societal polarization around LGBTQ+ issues intensifies, organizations find themselves at the crossroads of this global cultural minefield. Balancing a commitment to inclusiveness with respect for diverse political and religious viewpoints is a complex challenge, one that is essential for fostering a cohesive and supportive work environment. Organizations that embrace this challenge and succeed at navigating this minefield also model how Inclusive Leadership can counteract polarization.

  1. Develop and apply inclusive policies, practices, and ground rules: Organizations should implement comprehensive anti-discrimination policies that explicitly protect LGBTQ+ employees. These include allowing employees to specify their preferred pronouns and ensuring these are respected in all communications. Dedicated facilitated conversations may be required to educate employees about the importance of these practices and reduce potential conflicts. We also recommend that organizations adopt and use general Inclusiveness ground rules to frame conversations about political diversity.
  2. Promote a culture of inclusiveness across a broad spectrum of differences: While supporting LGBTQ+ inclusion, companies must also acknowledge and respect the diverse political and cultural backgrounds of their employees. This means recognizing that not all employees will have the same views on LGBTQ+ issues and creating a culture where differing opinions can coexist without discrimination or harassment.
  3. Foster open dialogue and culture of learning related to controversial issues: Encouraging open and respectful discussions about political diversity, religious diversity, cultural differences, and LGBTQ+ issues can help bridge divides. Creating forums where employees share their experiences and perspectives fosters understanding and empathy. It's crucial that these discussions are moderated to ensure they remain respectful and productive.
  4. Engage with External Stakeholders: Companies should also consider their external messaging and engagement. This should be done thoughtfully to avoid alienating stakeholder groups and protecting the physical and psychological safety of all. 
  5. Provide Support Mechanisms: Organizations should offer support mechanisms for LGBTQ+ employees, such as ERGs, counseling services, and mentorship programs. Supportive communication when social events or news relates to LGBTQ+ issues and challenges are critical. This not only helps individuals navigate their personal and professional lives but also demonstrates the company's commitment to their well-being.
  6. Regularly Review and Adapt Policies: The cultural and legal landscape regarding LGBTQ+ rights is continually evolving. Companies should regularly review their policies and practices to ensure relevance and effectiveness. This can involve consulting with LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, legal experts, employees, and others. 

In Summary

The politicization of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the culture wars reflects broader societal divisions over issues of identity, rights, and values. In many cases, LGBTQ+ rights have become a symbol of progress and modernity, embraced by liberal and progressive forces. Conversely, they are often depicted as threats to tradition and social stability by conservative and right-wing groups. This dynamic plays out differently across countries and regions, influenced by local cultural, religious, and political contexts. As the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights continues, it remains a potent indicator of broader cultural and ideological battles shaping societies worldwide.

For companies and organizations, particularly those with a global footprint, navigating this polarization requires a nuanced approach that balances inclusivity with respect for political, religious, and cultural diversity. By fostering open dialogue, promoting a culture of respect, and implementing inclusive policies while also affirming their commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion, organizations can create an inclusive environment where all employees feel valued and supported. 

In this effort, leaders and employees need to recognize that inclusiveness is not a superficial or performative exercise in social harmony. Instead, inclusiveness is a deliberated curated space in which differences are engaged, all feel a sense of belonging, and healthy conflict is practiced in a way where everyone creates and protects the psychological safety of all. To be successful, this requires the cultivation of specific Inclusive Leadership practices.

Joerg Schmitz is Managing Director of the Inclusive Leadership Institute

(1) The phrase "culture wars" gained prominence in the United States during the late 20th century, particularly in the 1990s. It was popularized by sociologist James Davison Hunter in his 1991 book "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America." Hunter described a growing divide in American society between conservative and progressive values, emphasizing how this divide was manifesting in public debates and political conflicts.

 

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The Inclusive Leadership Institute 
Inhaber/Owner: Joerg Schmitz
Kommodore-Johnsen-Boulevard 26
28217 Bremen / Germany
Betriebsnummer / Company Nr.: 83841216
UST-IdNr. / VAT ID: DE 339418563

Home | Coaching | Consulting | Learning | About | Events | Contact

Imprint

Inhaber/Owner:
Joerg Thomas Schmitz

Address/Adresse:
Kommodore-Johnsen-Boulevard 26

28217 Bremen ‚Äď √úberseestadt
Germany

Telephone/Telefon:
+49 1520 8612287

E-Mail:
[email protected]

Rechtsform: Einzelunternehmen

Betriebsnummer:
83841216

Ust-Id Nummer:
DE 339418563       

Gesch√§ftsf√ľhrer:
Joerg Schmitz    

Company Information
The Inclusive Leadership Institute 
Inhaber/Owner: Joerg Schmitz
Kommodore-Johnsen-Boulevard 26
28217 Bremen / Germany
Betriebsnummer / Company Nr.: 83841216
UST-IdNr. / VAT ID: DE 339418563