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Human Rights Diplomacy Amidst "World War LGBT": Re-examining Western Promotion of LGBT Rights in Light of the “Traditional Values” Discourse



Kyle James Rohrich wrote “Human Rights Diplomacy Amidst ‘World War LGBT’: Re-examining Western Promotion of LGBT Rights in Light of the ‘Traditional Values’ Discourse” as part of the 2014 Humanity in Action Diplomacy and Diversity Fellowship. The research essay was first published in Transatlantic Perspectives on Diplomacy and Diversity (Humanity in Action Press 2015). The complete book is available for purchase on Amazon.



Russian President Vladimir Putin’s successful manipulation of LGBT rights as an instrument to advance Russia’s foreign policy objectives in Eurasia shows that diplomatic actors seeking to promote LGBT rights in the region must adjust their strategies. This article aims to establish a baseline for success in this endeavor. First, the article identifies the roots of the “LGBT human rights” and “traditional values” movements and analyzes actors’ use of different operational tools to advance their cause. This article then measures the effectiveness of these operational tools vis-à-vis geopolitics by examining the current status of LGBT rights in the European and Russian spheres of influence within Eurasia. This region, consisting of Eastern/Southern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, has seen rapid advancements or backslides in the realm of LGBT rights in the past four years.  Finally, this article examines the cases of Kosovo and Kyrgyzstan, two countries within different spheres of influence, to understand why LGBT rights are advancing in some countries and regressing in others. This article draws upon research and interviews to recommend diplomatic actors vigorously monitor, evaluate, and learn from their diplomatic efforts; increase their focus toward grassroots changes; and seek counsel from local change agents in designing their LGBT rights strategies.


In World War LGBT, the series of cultural proxy wars to influence a country’s geopolitical alignment with the West or the Russian Federation, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s cultural imperialist.

Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and invasion of eastern Ukraine represents only part of a larger geopolitical battle between a Euro-American axis and the Russian Federation. Like the Cold War, today’s struggle has a strong ideological component that has riled populations worldwide. Russia has deployed this ideological weapon in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and on the international stage in an attempt to consolidate enough power to counterbalance the United States and the EU. This form of weaponry is as unique as it is effective: homophobia.

As the United States and EU have ramped up their international promotion of LGBT (2) rights, Russian President Vladimir Putin has constructed his own parallel ideology to stir populist sentiments throughout the world against association with Washington and Brussels.

As the United States and EU have ramped up their international promotion of LGBT (2) rights, Russian President Vladimir Putin has constructed his own parallel ideology to stir populist sentiments throughout the world against association with Washington and Brussels. As Western governments supported Ukrainian protestors in May 2014, Putin called them a group of “gay Nazis.” Russian media outlets referred to the Maidan Square, the scene of the protests, as the “Gayeuromaidan,” reinforcing the popularly-held notion that “LGBT” is a Western construct. (3) While President Obama and European leaders consider themselves human rights defenders, President Putin has assumed a parallel position as a defender of traditional values. In World War LGBT, the series of cultural proxy wars to influence a country’s geopolitical alignment with the West or the Russian Federation, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s cultural imperialist.

Western governments have used human rights diplomacy (4) as their primary mechanism to promote LGBT rights internationally. (5) This strategy has been successful in the EU’s sphere of influence, encompassing EU member states, associates, and aspirant countries. However, LGBT rights promotion has prompted a backlash in countries within the Russian sphere of influence (Eurasian Economic Union member states and associates) as well as in “battleground” countries not aligned with either the EU or EEU. In these countries, anti-LGBT opposition movements supplant progress made by local LGBT rights groups. In 2013, for instance, 50 LGBT individuals demonstrating in a pride parade in Tbilisi, Georgia, barely escaped the wrath of thousands of anti-LGBT protestors led by Georgian Orthodox priests. In May 2014, Kazakhstan’s first ceremonial same-sex marriage resulted in a brutal murder and a brick blockade of a gay nightclub in Almaty. (6) (7) (8)

In reaction to recent advancements and regressions on LGBT rights worldwide, diplomatic actors have amplified their positions on LGBT issues. (9) World Bank President John Kim Yong warned that restricting sexual rights “can hurt a country’s competitiveness” in applying for assistance, and Western foreign affairs ministries stepped up criticism of governments that restrict the rights of LGBT individuals. At the same time, in Eurasia, lawmakers from EU member state Lithuania to Russian ally Kyrgyzstan proposed anti-LGBT propaganda legislation. (10)

Popular fervor against Western encroachment has resulted in a competing ideology hostile to LGBT rights, guised as nationalism.

Whereas the West endorses LGBT equality as a universal human right, active promotion of this belief has triggered reactionary responses from typically non-Western countries, whose populations have not experienced dramatic shifts in public opinion toward LGBT rights as populations have in the West. The result is disturbing. “LGBT rights” are increasingly associated with concepts of nationalism and state sovereignty. Popular fervor against Western encroachment has resulted in a competing ideology hostile to LGBT rights, guised as nationalism. The hidden hand in this traditional values movement is none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose state-by-state tailored “traditional values” promotion aims to link LGBT rights as Western encroachment in sovereign affairs. If the West really does care about the status of LGBT individuals, it must adjust its strategy to destroy this dangerous linkage. The livelihood of tens of millions of LGBT individuals throughout Eurasia and the rest of the world depend on it.

The Origins of International “LGBT Human Rights” and “Traditional Values” Promotion

In 2011, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton introduced the era of American promotion of LGBT rights abroad during a historic speech at the United Nations in Geneva, stating that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” This frame serves as the thesis of LGBT rights promotion.

During her speech, Clinton unveiled the United States’ first-ever strategy to advance the rights of LGBT persons globally. The West’s highest-ranking diplomat, Clinton stood before the world and stated that LGBT rights were not a Western invention. Rather, she claimed that LGBT rights were part of a universal package of human rights, which transcend international borders. (11) By this point, the United States and EU had already begun to actively promote this interpretation. (12)

“Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” – former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton 

The UNHRC passed Resolution 17/19 by a narrow and polarized 23-19-3 margin, with countries primarily voting in regional blocs. (14) (15)

Shortly thereafter, the international community addressed LGBT rights for the first time when South Africa sponsored Resolution 17/19 to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), requesting a study on discrimination and sexual orientation. The resolution expressed “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.” (13) The UNHRC passed Resolution 17/19 by a narrow and polarized 23-19-3 margin, with countries primarily voting in regional blocs. (14) (15)

The regional fault line in this voting pattern lay in the area comprised of the former Soviet Union and its satellite states. While Russia and Moldova voted against the resolution, EU member states Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia voted for it alongside Ukraine, which was in the midst of preparing negotiations for an EU Association Agreement later that year. The solitary absence in voting was Kyrgyzstan, a country then headed by a Western-friendly interim government as it recovered from a 2010 political revolution. (16)

After the passage of UNHRC Resolution 17/19, World War LGBT gained traction as diplomatic actors began to promote the cause. The U.S. and EU made LGBT rights a pillar of their foreign policies and tasked their diplomatic corps with promoting the cause. (17)(18) In addition, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the head of an international organization in which 76 of 193 member-states criminalize same-sex relationships, took a position in favor of LGBT rights and urged countries to follow suit. The UN’s Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has begun activities specifically designed to address LGBT populations by pressuring governments directly and publicly advocating for repeal of criminalization of same-sex relationships. (19) Other international organizations, such as the World Bank, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Council of Europe all took similar stances. (20) (21) (22)

“[LGBT rights] is one of the great, neglected human rights challenges of our time. We must right these wrongs.”  – UN  Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

As Western delegations worked to institutionalize LGBT rights as human rights, the Russian Federation emerged as the leader of a gathering international movement opposed to the cause. (23) Russian leadership began their attempt to prevent the codification of LGBT rights as human rights by suggesting “traditional values” be considered when applying international human rights law. In 2011, the Russian Federation spearheaded a Human Rights Council resolution to inject the concept of traditional values within international human rights discourse, calling for a workshop to discuss “how a better understanding of traditional values of humankind…can contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” (24)

Putin blamed the rise of deadly conflict in Syria and elsewhere on the West’s alleged coercion of sovereign governments to adopt development models not in line with countries’ respective traditional values.

Some twenty years after the fall of communist ideology in Russia, the West’s focus on LGBT human rights had helped Russian President Vladimir Putin establish a new credo he would utilize to consolidate his power domestically and worldwide. By casting the protection of “traditional values” as a Russian priority, Putin increased his power by appeasing Russia’s socially conservative political base and rallying international opposition to LGBT rights. Putin perhaps best synopsized his counter-attack to LGBT rights in his 2013 State of the Nation address, when he alleged that the West was “revising [its] moral and ethical norms” in a way that forces society to “accept without question the equality of good and evil.” (25) The aim of the traditional values movement, he stated, was “to prevent movement…into chaotic darkness and return to a primitive state.” (26) Notably, Putin blamed the rise of deadly conflict in Syria and elsewhere on the West’s alleged coercion of sovereign governments to adopt development models not in line with countries’ respective traditional values. Promotion of allegedly non-traditional values, he claimed, has resulted in “regression, barbarity, and extensive bloodshed.” (27) (28) (29)

“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values.” – Russian President Vladimir Putin  

Putin’s “traditional values” argument was not cultural, but a calculated political decision to maximize his power amid a complex web of sociopolitical and geopolitical factors. (30) Notably, in the aftermath of Russian national elections in 2012, President Putin faced significant domestic protests and needed an issue that would rally his base and build support as he resumed the presidency. Supported by a powerful conservative movement in his country, Putin made LGBT rights a domestic and global wedge issue. (31) (32) Among other things, he enacted laws banning freedom of expression of LGBT rights and preventing same-sex couples abroad from adopting Russian children. (33) He spoke out against “non-traditional” values, making the LGBT community an outgroup—and a scapegoat—to further tether social conservatism as a fundament of Russian national identity. Through his anti-LGBT crusade and recent military interventions, Putin’s domestic approval ratings jumped from 60% in July 2013 to 88% in October 2014 (34).

Emboldened by Western uproar against Russia’s increasingly pronounced stance against LGBT rights, Putin entered into World War LGBT by deploying his “traditional values” strategy internationally, since the popularity of this stance extends well beyond the borders of the Russian Federation. (35) He harnessed homophobic attitudes prevalent throughout Eastern Europe and Eurasia to frame “LGBT” as a Western construct, thus embedding the LGBT rights discourse into discussions of nationalism and state sovereignty. He used this to fuel anti-Western sentiments, all toward his broader geopolitical goals to build the Eurasian Economic Union as a Russian-led Eurasian counterweight to the EU. (36) In the weeks leading up to the outbreak of conflict in Ukraine, Putin used fear of gay marriage as an instrument to keep Ukraine outside the EU’s sphere of influence. He brandished this new weapon in the form of billboards throughout Ukraine, their message blunt and ominous for socially conservative Ukrainians: “Association with the EU means same-sex marriage.” (37)

“Western values…provoke in us suspicion, astonishment, and alienation.”  – Yevgeny Bazhanov, Russian Diplomatic Academy

Amid anti-LGBT rhetoric from Moscow, leaders in Kazakhstan and Moldova have followed suit in calling for anti-LGBT legislation.

Putin’s geopolitical brinksmanship has had negative ramifications for LGBT individuals throughout Eurasia, halting or reversing progress on LGBT rights in the region. Although all but two former Soviet states gradually eased restrictions on homosexuality after gaining independence, their governments by and large are changing their policies from tolerance to active persecution. (38) Amid anti-LGBT rhetoric from Moscow, leaders in Kazakhstan and Moldova have followed suit in calling for anti-LGBT legislation. From Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan, groups united by national or ethnic identities are increasingly the center points of growing anti-LGBT movements.  Many of these movements look to Moscow for influence, adopting LGBT-hostile reform agendas that duplicate Russia’s own efforts. (39) (40)

Putin’s geopolitical strategy exploits Eurasian populations’ opposition to Western insistence that LGBT rights are human rights. As Russia and the West vie for influence via LGBT rights and traditional values promotion, the countries of Eastern Europe and Eurasia have found themselves in the battleground of a new Cold War. In World War LGBT, however, the ideologies of “communism” and “democracy” have been replaced by “traditional values” and “LGBT rights.”

The Battle for Eurasia

Countries within the European sphere of influence, characterized primarily by their EU membership or candidacy status, generally have a high degree of legal protections in place for LGBT individuals compared to other countries in the region. Meanwhile, countries within the Russian sphere of influence, characterized primarily by their membership or candidacy status in the Eurasian Economic Union, share legal environments that encourage government persecution of LGBT individuals. Countries outside a clear sphere of influence, categorized as “The Battleground,” have unstable political environments in the realm of LGBT rights as outside actors vie for influence in these countries.

Kyle Table 1

The European sphere of influence extends from the European Union to countries within the European Neighborhood itself. Whereas populations in the EU member states of Western Europe boast acceptance rates for LGBT freedom of expression in the 80th percentile, the member state and potential member state countries of Eastern and Southern Europe are still fraught with homophobic attitudes, averaging an approval rating of 44% per a 2013 Pew Poll. (41)

EU member states Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Poland, Slovenia, and Hungary all are bound by EU law to respect LGBT rights despite the homophobic attitudes that are still prevalent in their societies. Per the Treaty of Amsterdam, all EU member states are obliged to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, although there are no provisions for protection of transgender individuals. While many of these member states had few legal protections for LGBT individuals prior to EU accession, the EU’s use of positive conditionality has resulted in a legal environment favorable to LGBT individuals regardless of whether or not society as a whole embraces LGBT rights.

Still, a continental divide exists between Western and Eastern/Southeastern Europe in the realm of LGBT rights. Although gay marriage is accepted throughout most Western European countries, constitutional bans on the practice exist in member-states Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Croatia, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria. The lacunae of EU human rights law permit countries to pass their own legislation on same-sex marriage and a variety of other issues relating to LGBT rights, although a desire to further integrate into Europe may taper this liberty. In 2013, 66% of Croatian voters cast their ballots in favor of a constitutional ban on same sex marriage in 2013, and only 38% of Croats believed that “gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own lives as they wish.” (42)A testament to the power of positive conditionality, the Croatian parliament nonetheless voted to recognize same-sex couples from other countries just one year later. (43)

Rohrich 2

EU candidate and EU potential candidate countries Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo are not bound by EU law but have implemented political reforms nonetheless in hopes of joining the EU. The Copenhagen criteria—the terms upon which a country may accede to the EU—include a requirement to respect and uphold human rights. With the EU’s strong advocacy for LGBT rights as part of this category, recent legal changes throughout these countries reflect this reality. However, there is a strong disconnect between legal protections and public sentiment regarding LGBT rights in these countries, and a climate of homophobia weakens the practical application of many of these legal mechanisms.

Despite these legal protections, the populations of these countries strongly oppose LGBT rights. While public opinion has grown incrementally in favor of LGBT rights in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia since 2010, it has dropped sharply in the other candidate/potential candidate countries. In a 2013 Pew Research Survey, only 9% of Turks believed their society should accept homosexuality. (45) Meanwhile, the number of Albanians who believe in equal rights for homosexuals dropped from 44.4% in 2010 to 26.2% in 2012, and 53% of Albanians agreed that “gays and lesbians should not be free to live life as they wish” according to a 2013 European Social Survey. (46)

“European standards”—higher wages and pensions, reduced corruption political stability, etc.—provide strong motivation for countries to implement unpopular policies, but the motivation is not absolute. 

“European standards”—higher wages and pensions, reduced corruption political stability, etc.—provide strong motivation for countries to implement unpopular policies, but the motivation is not absolute. In 2013, the Albanian Parliament unanimously adopted legal protections against hate speech and hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and Albania became an official candidate for the EU one year later. Meanwhile, however, neighboring EU candidate country Macedonia debated a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and the ruling political party in Turkey depicted LGBT individuals as “immoral.” (47)

The Russian sphere of influence extends to those countries in Russia’s so-called “near abroad” (48) hat were once part of the Soviet Union but have a relatively weak relationship with the EU and United States. Countries within Russia’s sphere of influence include members of the Eurasian Economic Union as well as EEU candidate countries. (49)

EEU member states Kazakhstan and Belarus serve as Russia’s most important allies in establishing the Eurasian Economic Union. In exchange for joining the Eurasian Economic Union, Belarus received a $2 billion loan and secured free trade with Russia. (50) Belarus serves as a transit country for Russian energy to Europe, with its Yamal-Europe pipeline holding the capacity to transport 33 billion cubic meter of natural gas a year from Russia to Europe. (51) Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev, meanwhile, first called for the formation of such an economic union twenty years ago, and he has advocated for other countries, such as Turkey, to join this axis. (52) (53)

As Belarus and Kazakhstan strengthen their economic ties with the Russian Federation, their governments have also followed suit on Putin’s traditional values campaign. Although same-sex sexual relations have been legal in Kazakhstan since 1998, Kazakhstani politicians are now calling for a re-criminalization of homosexuality. (54) Kazakhstani Member of Parliament (MP) Kairbek Suleymenov called gay marriage “alien” to Kazakh traditional values, and MP Aldan Smayll went a step further, calling for legislation to classify “amoral” homosexuals as “criminals against humanity.” (55) (56) (57)

Belarus as well has seen an uptick of anti-LGBT activity from the government authorities. In 2015, the Belarusian parliament will debate—and likely pass—its own LGBT propaganda law, and LGBT Belarusians face active persecution by the state police. (58) (59) Responding to Germany’s threats of sanctions against Belarus’ human rights abuses at a 2011 diplomatic visit to Minsk, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenko told openly-gay former German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that it was “better to be a dictator than a gay.” (60)

As Kyrgyzstan falls further under the influence of the Russian Federation, LGBT rights in the country have come under attack by nationalist-led “traditional values” movements. (63) (64)

EEU potential member states Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, although not current members of the EEU, have committed their countries to joining in the future. Prior to 2014, however, LGBT rights in these countries shifted drastically as Kyrgyzstan and Armenia drifted between the EU and EEU sphere of influence. In 2013 the Armenian Police Department proposed and then withdrew a constitutional amendment that would have had the effect of a Russian-style LGBT propaganda ban in the country. (61) Finalizing an EU Association Agreement shortly thereafter, President Serzh Sarkisian again changed paths after he returned from a meeting in Moscow and announced that Armenia would instead seek membership in the EEU. (62) As Kyrgyzstan falls further under the influence of the Russian Federation, LGBT rights in the country have come under attack by nationalist-led “traditional values” movements. (63) (64)

The battleground between the West and Russia comprises the countries of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan, where lack of a clear alignment with Russia or the EU has contributed to a schizophrenic environment for LGBT individuals.

Anti-LGBT violence sanctioned by pro-Russian separatists is on the rise. (70)

Speaking to an auditorium of students at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 2014, Georgian ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili proclaimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin was exporting his “traditional values”/anti-LGBT rights ideology to keep Georgia and other Eurasian countries outside the European sphere. (65) Although outside the influence of the Russian Federation, the now-EU Associate Republic of Georgia nonetheless has been the scene of conflict between the conservative Georgian Orthodox Church and supporters of stronger ties with the EU. In 2014, Georgia passed an anti-discrimination law which, prima facie, would make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal. However, the Georgian Orthodox Church watered down this law by inserting a clause on “protecting public morals,” thereby making it unclear whether or not the law actually protects LGBT individuals. (66)

This pattern extends to Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine, where legal protections for LGBT individuals have waxed and waned as the EU and Russia vie for influence. In 2013, Azerbaijan held its first legal gay pride rally, which was followed by the murder of an openly gay man later that evening. (67) In March 2013, Moldova passed a Russian-style LGBT propaganda law, only to overturn it several months later in response to heavy criticism of the EU and other international actor. (68) (69) Meanwhile, the fate of Ukraine’s LGBT population rests in the resolution of the country’s current conflict. LGBT individuals in (western) Ukraine live in relative ease when compared to their counterparts in the eastern areas under Russian occupation, where anti-LGBT violence sanctioned by pro-Russian separatists is on the rise. (70) So long as Russia occupies the Crimean peninsula, for instance, its residents will live under the propaganda law not applicable to the rest of Ukraine. Worse still, Crimea’s top political official, Sergei Aksyonov, has promised to use force to crush any political gatherings of the LGBT community. (71)

Operational Tools and Strategies

The current state of affairs for LGBT individuals throughout Eurasia is as much a product of geopolitics as it is of societal preferences. The EU’s wielding of positive conditionality and Russia’s “traditional values” rhetoric have had different effects on the polities of countries, leading some to institutionalize protections for LGBT individuals and others to actively persecute them.

To promote LGBT rights abroad, the EU and the U.S. base their strategies on sets of guidelines that govern the process. Whereas the EU and EU member states’ strategies rely on the use of soft power to promote LGBT rights, most of the United States’ efforts can be found in bilateral diplomacy and development assistance. The Russian Federation, although without an official strategy for “traditional values” promotion, nonetheless does so through international organizations and direct outreach to homophobic populations throughout the region.

The European Union, in its 2013 “Guidelines to Promote and Protect the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Individuals,” cites international human rights law as its basis for promoting LGBT rights abroad and lays out its strategy to promote this interpretation. In this document, the Council of the EU lays out four priority areas: decriminalization; promoting equality and combatting discrimination; combatting LGBT-phobic violence; and protecting human rights defenders. The EU takes a dual-track approach to execute these goals by engaging directly with sovereign states in addition to taking action in multilateral fora. The EU identifies ten mechanisms for its engagement with non-EU states:

  1. Human rights strategies: address LGBT human rights within EU country strategies
  2. Monitoring human rights of LGBT persons: track status of LGBT individuals in-country
  3. EU Heads of Mission reports: include LGBT rights progress in top-level country reports
  4. Demarches and public statements: publicly advocate for LGBT rights in-country
  5. Individual cases: proactively respond to individual violations of LGBT rights
  6. Court hearings and prison visits: ensure judicial systems are not violating LGBT rights
  7. Political dialogues: advocate for political changes to advance LGBT rights in-country
  8. Support civil society: facilitate LGBT rights dialogue between government and civil society
  9. International tools: encourage international actors in-country to uphold LGBT rights
  10. EU/member-state missions: ensure all European delegations promote LGBT rights

Perhaps most significantly, the EU exerts influence in Eurasia through positive conditionality of EU accession or potential EU accession. In Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the EU has used EU accession as a “carrot” by conditioning accession criteria to include protections for LGBT individuals. Furthermore, the EU has engaged with non-EU candidates through its Eastern Neighborhood Policy, wherein Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia hold a “partner” status.

The U.S. has launched a Global Equality Fund, through which it has spent over $12m on projects promoting LGBT rights in fifty countries.

The United States, meanwhile, lays out its strategy to promote LGBT rights in a December 2011 Presidential memorandum titled “International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons.” With this memorandum, President Barack Obama orders all government agencies acting abroad to take steps to “promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.” (72) In this document, Obama lays out specific priorities, including combating criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad and protecting vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum-seekers. To achieve the broader goal of advancing LGBT rights, Obama explicitly identifies three primary tools:

  1. Bilateral diplomacy: engage with governments and others to protect LGBT persons
  2. Foreign aid: use foreign assistance monies to complement diplomatic efforts
  3. Multilateral fora: institutionalize LGBT rights and build international support for the cause

After releasing this memorandum, the United States promoted LGBT rights in line with these priorities and operational tools, using U.S. Embassies abroad as the primary vehicles. Further, the U.S. has launched a Global Equality Fund, through which it has spent over $12m on projects promoting LGBT rights in fifty countries.

The Russian Federation, although without an official document outlining strategies for “traditional values” promotion, on its face has nonetheless taken a dual-track approach to garner international support for its cause. (73) Primarily, Russia has used two vehicles to promote its “traditional values” ideology abroad:

  1. Public diplomacy: rallying homophobic populations worldwide around “traditional values”
  2. Multilateral fora: building international support to prevent normalization of LGBT rights

Russia has used public diplomacy, namely, communication of ideas directly between the Russian government and populations of other countries, to rally social conservatives and nationalists against Western encroachment in political/societal affairs. (74) By globalizing “traditional values” as an ideology in itself, Putin is winning sympathies from social conservatives around the world, effectively bringing these populations closer to the Russian Federation. (75) Additionally, Russia has rallied opposition to LGBT rights in international organizations such as the UN, where the conservative World Russian People’s Council holds a special consultative status. (76)

Case Studies: Kosovo and Kyrgyzstan

Located at the opposite ends of Eurasia, Kosovo and Kyrgyzstan face distinct external pressures that shape the fate of their respective LGBT populations. Still not recognized as an independent state by Russia, Kosovo has friendly relations with the EU and the United States, both of which have had a very strong influence in the country since Kosovo’s de facto independence from Serbia in 2000. Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, lies in the shadow of the Russian Federation, where Western encroachment has been met with hostility.

Despite their cultural and historical differences, the countries of Kosovo and Kyrgyzstan share a number of similarities. Both countries are fledgling democracies, fraught with corruption. Both countries have very large youth populations, who, due to the lack of economic opportunity, migrate abroad in search of work. Both countries’ societies are trying to reconcile a growing trend of Islamic fundamentalism with their secular, largely nonreligious pasts.

However, LGBT individuals in the two countries face very different realities. As police marched alongside LGBT activists at a gay pride event in Kosovo, they beat and raped LGBT activists in Kyrgyzstan. (77) As politicians in Kosovo work with Western partners to strengthen LGBT rights in-country, politicians in Kyrgyzstan are on the verge of outlawing any form of expression that creates “a positive attitude toward non-traditional sexual relations.” (78)


In Kosovo, American and European delegations enjoy a very high degree of influence rivaled by no other international actor. As a consequence, the government of Kosovo is aligning itself toward EU standards of LGBT rights, thus expanding legal rights and protections to LGBT individuals. While Kosovo’s controversial independence (recognized by 108 out of 193 UN member-states) complicates this progress, Kosovo’s de facto independence suggests that thanks to the “carrot” of the economic and political benefits of EU accession, the legal atmosphere in Kosovo will continue to favor LGBT rights.

Attendees booed Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, whose top policy goal is EU integration. (81) (82)

Although Russia lacks a significant presence in Kosovo as a result of its policy of opposing Kosovo’s statehood, it maintains an indirect influence through engagement with Serbia, from which Kosovo declared independence in 2008. (79) Notably, with tensions between ethnic Serbs and Albanians still icy in Kosovo and the wider Balkans region, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech in October 2014 vowing to never recognize Kosovo and calling on [Slavic] “Brother Serbia” to join Russia in a new fight against fascism. (80) Meanwhile, attendees booed Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, whose top policy goal is EU integration. (81) (82) This diplomatic visit shows that Russia’s larger geopolitical strategy to expand influence still involves the parts of Europe still within its reach, primarily Slavic Eastern and Southeastern European states. Kosovo, in the view of the Russian government (and of some EU member states), is still part of Serbia, a political entity much easier for Russia to influence than primarily ethnically Albanian Kosovo. While for the purpose of this article, the LGBT community in Kosovo is recognized as separate from the LGBT community in Serbia, the fate of LGBT individuals in both countries is nonetheless linked to a peace settlement between the two countries.

As an independent polity, Kosovo faces a high degree of external pressure to align itself with European standards as it pursues EU association. Accordingly, Kosovo has implemented a number of legal changes to protect LGBT individuals, from passing an anti-discrimination law in 2004 to incorporating “sexual orientation” as a protected class in its 2008 constitution. (83) In 2012, the government established an LGBT Advisory and Coordinating Group to “protect and promote the rights of the LGBT community,” an institutional nod to the “LGBT rights” framework. (84) (85) The Kosovo Police has supported the LGBT community as well, notably accompanying LGBT activists during the country’s first pride march in recognition of the International Day against Homophobia in May 2014.

Within Kosovo, the European and American delegations have based their LGBT rights strategies largely on supporting legal reforms to protect LGBT individuals. In January 2014, the European Parliament published a progress report on Kosovo, calling for its government to implement an anti-discrimination project. (86) In May 2014, the Finnish and Austrian Embassies, under the aegis of the European Commission, worked with the Kosovo LGBT civil society group The Center for Social Emancipation (QESh) to host a conference with Kosovo government officials to discuss issues of transphobia and homophobia in Kosovo. The Kosovo officials reacted positively, with Minister for European Integration Vlora Çitaku accepting LGBT rights as human rights in remarking that “respect for human rights…would guarantee a better life for all citizens in Kosovo.” (87)

U.S. Ambassador Tracey Jacobson tweeted that she was “honored to join #Kosovo in supporting a world of tolerance, respect and freedom…regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity[.]” (88)

European and American delegations have also played a large role by using public diplomacy to advance the LGBT rights cause. During the International Day against Homophobia in 2014, British Ambassador Ian Cliff walked alongside local LGBT activists in Kosovo’s first-ever “pride” event. That same day, Western embassies across the capital city of Pristina flew rainbow flags, and ambassadors gathered under the rainbow-lit Government of Kosovo building to support LGBT rights. U.S. Ambassador Tracey Jacobson tweeted that she was “honored to join #Kosovo in supporting a world of tolerance, respect and freedom…regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity[.]” (88) American and European embassies have also engaged in direct outreach to the public, from the U.S. Embassy’s coordination of local media interviews with an openly gay judge from California, to the European Commission Liaison Office’s production of a film on the challenges of being LGBT in Kosovo. (89) (90)

In Kosovo, three LGBT civil society groups operate with Western support to advance LGBT rights. QESh advocates politically and socially for the LGBT rights movement; the Center for Equality and Liberty (CEL) focuses on the grassroots level to move local populations toward tolerance and acceptance; and the Center for Social Group Development (CSGD) works primarily on LGBT health issues. On the political level, these three organizations sit on the government’s LGBT advisory group, where they share a rotating co-chairmanship. However, the majority of these organizations’ efforts are focused on advocacy and on programs to advance LGBT rights in Kosovo. Through foreign aid, the Finnish, British, and American embassies have played an instrumental role in supporting civil society by sustaining these organizations, mostly through funding programs such as youth and government official trainings on LGBT rights and the publication of the country’s only LGBT magazine. Without foreign financial support, these organizations would be severely hindered from advancing their cause. (91)

Although Western actors have succeeded in pressuring the Kosovo government to adopt political reforms favorable to LGBT rights, widespread homophobia among the Kosovar population has restricted their achievements. Despite Europeans’ and Americans’ increase in LGBT human rights diplomacy in Kosovo, USAID reported that the number of Kosovars who believed homosexual relations were wrong jumped from 64.9% in 2010 to 81.3% in 2012. (92)Likewise, the number of respondents who believed their city or town as not a good place for gay or lesbian people increased from 71.4% in 2010 to 81.1% in 2012. (93) (94)

While the West has championed LGBT rights in the political realm of Kosovo, it has been unsuccessful in changing public sentiments.

This societal homophobia hinders the effectiveness of the legal protections for LGBT individuals that exist on paper. LGBT Kosovars, although guaranteed protections under their constitution, (95) often do not report hate crimes due to the fear of backlash from their families should they discover their sexual orientation. (96) Moreover, individuals involved in hate speech and hate crimes against LGBT individuals are rarely brought to justice, as most of these crimes go unnoticed. In December 2012, for instance, a local soccer club in Pristina attacked workers preparing for a launch party of the Kosovo 2.0 magazine due to false rumors that the event was to involve gay sex. Although at least thirty individuals were involved in the attack, only three were apprehended, tried, and sentenced to a one-year conditional prison sentence. (97)

Among the core reasons for this uptick in homophobic attitudes is the belief that “LGBT” is a Western concept, a notion reinforced by the Government of Kosovo’s instrumental use of LGBT rights as a tool for EU accession. While the West has championed LGBT rights in the political realm of Kosovo, it has been unsuccessful in changing public sentiments. (98) This is because securing LGBT rights in Kosovo, even for the Kosovar politicians adopting LGBT legal protections, is hardly an end in itself. One of the West’s most vocal allies in the fight for LGBT rights in Kosovo is not a civil society leader or a human rights activist, but rather the Minister of European Integration, Vlora Çitaku, who understands that LGBT legal protections are a necessary criterion for EU accession. With strong support from Western actors, Çitaku and other accession-minded politicians have accepted the “LGBT rights” frame and proponed the “LGBT rights” cause, even turning the commonly-held association of LGBT rights as a Western phenomenon on its head by suggesting that “[anti-LBGT] extremism…is not a native product but imported from other societies.”

(99) Ultimately, political changes only go so far in making a real difference in the lives of openly-LGBT individuals, not to mention the countless others who remain “closeted” or otherwise vulnerable due to the intense homophobia engrained in society. Despite the existence of rights and protections on paper, LGBT individuals cannot achieve their “full human potential” until they are accepted by society as a whole. This can occur only when Kosovars embrace LGBT rights independently of their government, as is increasingly the case in the United States and many European countries.

Kosovo’s government and public are experiencing opposite trends in the realm of LGBT rights: as the government implements more political changes, society remains increasingly homophobic. The growing rates of homophobia in Kosovo suggest that the West’s efforts thus far have failed to produce the societal-level attitudinal changes necessary to secure human rights for LGBT individuals. Even worse, this trend leaves open the possibility that the current approach may be counterproductive, doing more harm than good to foster societal acceptance of LGBT rights.

Still, LGBT organizations in Kosovo remain optimistic about the future of LGBT rights in their country. (100) Political changes, after all, forecast a Kosovo where LGBT rights are protected as they would be in any EU member state. Although Kosovar society remains homophobic, LGBT organizations believe their grassroots efforts can make change happen incrementally, citing the rising youth generation as a potential catalyst for positive development. (101) While international actors may shift their approach to better combat public homophobia, Kosovo’s entrenchment within the European sphere of influence and strong commitment to EU accession suggest that LGBT legal protections will continue to advance irrespective of public sentiment. Whether such protections actually apply to everyday life is another story, dependent on the ability of Kosovo’s society to embrace LGBT rights as human rights—a fundamental objective to operationalize the West’s goal of LGBT equality in Kosovo.


Similar to Kosovo, LGBT rights are seen as a “Western” phenomenon in Kyrgyzstan. However, the difference lies in that Kosovo strives to join the West as an EU member state, whereas Kyrgyzstan, squarely aligning itself with Putin’s ideology, rejects Western intervention completely. In 2011, Kyrgyzstan had a relatively positive relationship with the United States and EU, both of which poured billions of dollars in development assistance to help rebuild the country after a 2010 political revolution. Since then, however, Kyrgyzstan has drifted more closely into the Russian sphere of influence, evidenced by its closure of the American military base and its promise to join the Eurasian Economic Union. Whereas Western organizations have funded LGBT rights organizations, Kyrgyz LGBT activists believe that Kalys, an anti-LGBT rights and Kyrgyz nationalist group, is operating with Russian financial support. (103) (102)

As a result of the West’s diminishing influence amid rising support for Putin’s “traditional values” ideology, the situation for the country’s LGBT people is worsening. The current government of Kyrgyzstan is oriented toward Putin’s EEU, which aims to further integrate the already intertwined Russian and Kyrgyz economies. (104) This association with the Russian Federation, the regional heavyweight in the “traditional values” discourse, bares little hope that the country’s government or population will reject the “traditional values” discourse for the “human rights” frame prevalent in the West.  While Western intervention has achieved generally positive results for Kosovo, it is proving detrimental to LGBT individuals in Kyrgyzstan.

Before the advent of World War LGBT, Kyrgyzstan was tolerant of LGBT rights. Although homophobia was rampant throughout Kyrgyzstani societies, the government’s relatively tolerant attitude toward LGBT issues led LGBT refugees from neighboring Central Asian states to flee their countries and build new lives in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital. As early as 2005, two LGBT organizations, Oasis and Labrys, began fighting to advance LGBT rights in the country through public outreach and advocacy to government officials. (105)

The Kyrgyz government stopped the screening of the film I Am Muslim and Gay, citing a law prohibiting “extremist acts.” (106) (107)

During the late 2000s, U.S. and EU delegations increased their LGBT rights efforts in Kyrgyzstan. In 2012, the EU and French government partnered with civil society organization Bir Düynö to screen the film I Am Muslim and Gay at a human rights film festival; however, the Kyrgyz government stopped the screening, citing a law prohibiting “extremist acts.” (106) (107) Several months later, USAID sponsored an event at a night club in Bishkek to mark the International Day against Homophobia, providing a venue for local human rights activists to collaborate on their respective LGBT rights strategies.

U.S., EU, and other international delegations also actively used international fora to exert pressure on the government of Kyrgyzstan. The OSCE was one of the first to act on LGBT rights, emphasizing in a 2010 report that Kyrgyzstan was “a leader in…progressive legislation in Central Asia” but noted the government’s poor record on LGBT rights. (108) In April 2014, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe granted Kyrgyzstan a “partnership for democracy” status while using the opportunity to criticize Kyrgyzstan’s human rights record.

Anti-LGBT activists have increased their threats against human rights protectors and LGBT individuals in the country.

As Western actors promoted LGBT rights in Kyrgyzstan, the “traditional values” counter-movement went from simmering to full flame amongst the country’s conservative population and Russia-oriented government officials. In January 2014, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing extensive abuse of LGBT individuals by Kyrgyzstani police. Subsequently, Acting Grand Mufti Maksat Hajji Toktomushev declared a fatwa—an Islamic legal pronouncement—against homosexuality, coupled with a warning that the national government should beware of “public organizations that disseminate social discord.” (109) Just days later, a group of 80 Kyrgyz nationalists protested at the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek against the embassy’s “intervention in internal issues of Kyrgyzstan” via financial support of LGBT-friendly NGOs in Kyrgyzstan and spreading “propaganda for homosexuality.” (110) (111) The same group, Kalys, later obstructed a Freedom House meeting in the more conservative city of Osh, threatening its country director, whom the group called an “enemy of the family” for promoting homosexuality. (112) (113) Since then, anti-LGBT activists have increased their threats against human rights protectors and LGBT individuals in the country. When LGBT activists pressured the government to address these issues, officials responded with the opinion that “the people of the Kyrgyz Republic are not ready to accept these modes of life” (114) (115) Pushing the government to protect LGBT individuals, they claimed, would be an affront to the traditional values of the Kyrgyz people. (116)

The tone of the government quickly went from cautious to hostile. Amidst the rising anti-LGBT discourse in the country, the parliament’s Human Rights Committee introduced an LGBT propaganda bill more extreme than its Russian variant, its goal to prevent “positive attitudes toward non-traditional sexual relations.” (117) Under this bill, anyone who distributed or disseminated information that may create such a positive attitude faces penalties of up to one year of imprisonment of a fine equivalent to half the monthly average salary in the country. (118) As this bill currently advances to the floor of parliament for a vote, human rights activists and LGBT individuals have spoken out, calling for local and international support to derail the bill. Their livelihoods at stake, LGBT civil society leadership recently released a communiqué imploring Western actors to tone down their public rhetoric and soliciting support from local actors and “non-Western” countries. (119) Young activist Danik Kasmamytov explains the logic behind this solicitation in stating: “We are very much afraid of the rhetoric that LGBT rights come from the West.” (120)

The link between LGBT rights and Western interventionism is dangerous for LGBT individuals in Kyrgyzstan because it injects national identity into an already difficult reconciliation between Putin’s “traditional values” and Clinton’s “human reality.” Recently, human rights activist Ilya Lukash, an ethnic Ukrainian, fled Kyrgyzstan after a series of threats for his LGBT rights advocacy. Prior to Lukash’s departure, Kalys activists burned his photo while protesting in front of the U.S. Embassy. However, rather than accusing him of assaulting the traditional values of the Kyrgyz people, Kalys instead accused Lukash of trying to bring about a “Ukraine-style revolution” in Kyrgyzstan. They claimed he and his Western compatriots were using LGBT rights as an instrument to change the geopolitical orientation of the country, whose cooperation with the West has wavered in recent years, but whose ties with Russia have only grown.

The parallel of these events in Kyrgyzstan to recent events in Ukraine is striking.

The parallel of these events in Kyrgyzstan to recent events in Ukraine is striking. In both situations, LGBT rights are not an end, but an instrument for geopolitical gain, from the vantage point of the opposing parties. In Ukraine, Russia used LGBT rights to rile local populations against EU accession. In Kyrgyzstan, nationalists claim that the West is using LGBT rights to rally political sentiment against Russia. The LGBT rights discourse becomes discourse not about human rights at all; instead, it is about Western encroachment in Kyrgyzstan, or Russian encroachment in Ukraine.

The surge in anti-LGBT legislation and anti-LGBT violence in Kyrgyzstan and other countries throughout Eurasia and the world is a response to a national identity threat, evidenced by the rise of nationalist groups assuming the mantle of the battle for the protection of “traditional values.” Kalys and many similar organizations throughout Eurasia are groups consisting of nationalists, not of traditional value-ists. This link—LGBT rights and national identity—serves to the detriment of the LGBT rights cause due to the rampant homophobia still prevalent throughout most of the world. It is for this reason that LGBT rights activists are fearful of this linkage; it is to their peril. As two world wars and countless other conflicts have taught us, nationalism can be a dangerous force.

Moving Forward

The Kosovo Constitution depicts LGBT rights within the realm of “human rights,” while Kyrgyzstan’s proposed LGBT propaganda law depicts LGBT rights as “non-traditional” values. This divergence is no coincidence. The West is winning on LGBT rights in Kosovo; it is losing in Kyrgyzstan. Russia is winning on traditional values in Kyrgyzstan; it is losing in Kosovo. If Western leaders care about LGBT rights, they must ponder: how can we make “LGBT rights” a traditional value? Unfortunately, this may be a very difficult, if not impossible task.

Western leaders can, however, improve the situation for LGBT individuals in Kyrgyzstan and throughout Eurasia by weakening the “traditional values” versus “Western values” rhetoric it has fueled through public promotion of LGBT rights in intensely homophobic countries. Kyrgyzstani LGBT activist Danik Kasmamytov recognized this in stating “we all need to be careful that this [Western values] rhetoric is not repeated and amplified.” (121) In a communiqué responding to the proposed LGBT propaganda bill, Kyrgyzstani LGBT activists asked specifically for the support of “non-Western countries” and of moderate religious leaders to help weaken the rhetoric that LGBT rights are non-traditional values imported from the West. In this document, local citizens and other non-Western actors are to carry out public activism while Western delegations are to use other means to support the cause, primarily behind-the-scenes.

Reevaluating LGBT rights promotion strategy, however, does not mean complete withdrawal from the cause. Demarches and public diplomacy are just two of many mechanisms at the disposal of governments to advance a cause, and LGBT rights promotion requires careful and precise craftsmanship due to its highly sensitive nature in homophobic societies.

1) Evaluate Results

International actors working for LGBT rights spend millions of dollars in foreign aid and unquantifiable energy in diplomatic efforts to advance LGBT rights. However, as Samantha Power recently noted, the current backlash against LGBT rights throughout Eurasia and much of the world is an indication that goals are not being fulfilled. The growth of homophobia and anti-LGBT laws alongside the West’s increased efforts for LGBT rights is a disturbing trend. It is possible that Western LGBT rights promotion has both contributed to the present backlash and has mitigated the present backlash. By monitoring and evaluating LGBT rights promotion policies and programs, international actors can evaluate the results of their human rights diplomacy. In this manner, diplomatic actors can know which policies and programs are working, and conversely, which are actually fueling the present backlash.

LGBT rights promotion is new to American and European foreign policy, and actors working to help LGBT people abroad can increase their effectiveness by investigating what aspects of their programming are working in favor or to the detriment of LGBT rights. Peacebuilding practitioner Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church defines evaluation as “the use of social science data collection methods (including participatory processes) to investigate the quality and value of programming[.]” (122) In this instance, the “quality and value” of programming can be assessed by examining the extent to which LGBT rights promotion policies and programs produce institutional and societal changes in favor of advancing LGBT rights. What changes actors would like to see is up to their discretion. Evaluation procedure should be introduced into the policy-crafting and program-formation during the designing/decision-making phases and monitored throughout the duration of the policy/program to indicate LGBT rights progress or regression over time.

Through building institutional knowledge of what strategies work and do not work in the precarious field of LGBT rights promotion, international actors working in this field can gain an advantage in this ideological battle by building smarter strategies. After all, the most significant result of evaluation is the learning it produces. (123) Incorporating the lessons learned into country strategies can give Western countries a one-up as they seek to promote LGBT rights abroad.

2) Think Grassroots

Although it is necessary for international delegations to continue to engage with government officials, these actors must take a different approach when dealing with the general public. In a society with very high rates of homophobia, opting for financial assistance over public rhetoric may be an effective way for international actors to advance LGBT rights. Funding grassroots-level initiatives through civil society organizations may produce attitudinal, knowledge, and behavioral changes necessary to advance LGBT rights, since local LGBT organizations are more aware of what changes are needed. Above all else, the West should wield its influence through political channels but collaborate closely with LGBT civil society to determine if and when public support is helpful or harmful to advance LGBT rights in-country.

Institutional changes alone cannot suffice for sustainable or effective LGBT rights attainment. LGBT rights are products of parliaments and courts, but it takes much more than laws and judicial decisions to produce environments in which LGBT individuals can achieve their “full human potential.” Even in Western countries, countless gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and otherwise queer individuals live in a state of self-denial not for fear of government persecution or political inequality, but for fear of a negative reaction by those around them or for a deeply ingrained sense of shame. Real progress in LGBT rights will not happen without a change in popular attitudes. In the United States, LGBT rights advancement was a taboo and dormant topic until relatively recently, when drastic shifts in public opinion made it politically safe for socially progressive politicians to support the cause. Laying the foundation for similar public opinion shifts in other countries may encourage societal-level attitude changes favorable to LGBT rights. For many LGBT individuals, the most significant form of persecution comes not from police and judges, but from their families and associates.

3) Ask Locals

As evidenced by high-level LGBT rights directives from American and EU leadership, most LGBT rights promotion strategies come from the top-down. Unfortunately, however, Vice President Joe Biden’s argument, “I don’t care about your culture—human rights are human rights” is not a winning strategy in non-Western countries. The best resources international actors have to promote LGBT rights are local LGBT populations themselves, who understand the unique challenges to LGBT rights by virtue of having gone through the difficult “coming out” or self-acceptance process in their home countries. By taking cues from civil society actors, who best understand the complex dynamics of homophobia in their home countries, international actors can craft smart policies and programs to address the country-specific obstacles toward LGBT rights.

“[Western LGBT rights promotion] is a colonial approach.” – Rauda Morcos, Palestinian LGBT  activist (124)

Although American and EU development agencies often engage local LGBT civil society organizations to implement programs, international actors would do well to solicit these organizations’ advice in making political decisions as well. Although diplomats may have a well-rounded knowledge of a country’s context, LGBT dynamics is a more nuanced and sensitive sub-field of the local culture. Without a full understanding of how to navigate societal homophobia, a topic best understood by local LGBT individuals, international actors risk wasting funds and efforts through policies and programs that do not work or even run counterproductive to their goals. More significantly, they risk the well-being of the people they purportedly are working to serve; the uptick in anti-LGBT violence virtually everywhere in the region is more than enough evidence of this.

While international actors may have developed toolkits to promote LGBT rights, local LGBT civil society organizations may suggest which tools may be effective for these actors to reach their goal, and which tools may be counterproductive. For instance, demarches and public statements can place pressure on government officials, but they pose the risk of riling local populations against LGBT rights. As international actors may understand the political calculus in the LGBT rights promotion equation, local activists may provide insight as to what programs may do to support grassroots change.


LGBT rights promotion has produced unequal results for LGBT individuals across Eurasia, with the situation deteriorating toward the eastern reaches of the region. While Clinton and Western politicians may go down in history as the foremothers and forefathers of the global LGBT rights movement, the “traditional values” framework continues to permeate the majority of Eurasian public opinion and shows no signs of weakening in areas outside the political influence of Western actors. On the contrary, Putin has harnessed this homophobic energy for his own geopolitical goals, and he is succeeding. The more energy Western actors put into the current promotion strategies, the more fuel Putin has to promote his “traditional values” ideology, and the more leverage he gains to drive populations of Eurasian countries against EU aspirations.

The West may not win in making LGBT rights part of Putin’s “traditional values” discourse, but they can win by playing a smarter political game. Secretary Clinton’s emphasis that LGBT rights are not a Western phenomenon should be the core of the West’s strategy to weaken the nationalist discourse that is driving anti-LGBT legislation and violence throughout the region.  Evaluating the results of LGBT rights promotion, focusing on grassroots efforts to combat the nationalist/anti-LGBT linkage, and incorporating local LGBT activists into policymaking are just a few ways Western actors may reexamine their strategies to improve the livelihoods of millions of LGBT individuals throughout Eurasia and the rest of the world. Whether or not Western actors were aware of the potential consequences of their actions, their intervention on LGBT rights has had dire consequences for LGBT populations in countries outside the bounds of Western influence. Western actors carry the responsibility of ensuring that their LGBT human rights diplomacy is indeed working toward the goal of ensuring that LGBT rights are realized as human rights, and not counter to it.



•     •     •


Rohrich, Kyle James. “Human Rights Diplomacy Amidst “World War LGBT”: Re-examining Western Promotion of LGBT Rights in Light of the “Traditional Values” Discourse.” In Transatlantic Perspectives on Diplomacy and Diversity, edited by Anthony Chase, 69-96. New York: Humanity in Action Press, 2015.


  1. Terminology adopted from the American Psychological Association.
  2. For the purposes of this paper, LGBT is defined as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or otherwise queer.” This paper opts for the shorter acronym to represent the larger community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, pansexual, or otherwise queer/questioning individuals.
  3. Paul Wesley Sullivan. 2014. “‘Gay Nazis’ Fueling Ukraine Uprising, Putin Says.” Accessed June 29
  4. Defined as “bilateral or multilateral diplomatic negotiation and persuasion for the specific purpose of protecting human rights,” as defined by Michael O’Flaherty, Zdzislaw Kedzia, Amrei Müller and George Ulrich (eds.) in Human Rights Diplomacy: Contemporary Perspectives (Leiden, The Netherlands, Koninklijke Brill NV, 2011).
  5. In Kosovo and Serbia, for instance, the EU has succeeded in using positive conditionality to motivate the governments of these countries to reform laws to instate constitutional protections for LGBT individuals. The results have been beneficial: an LGBT individual has more legal safeguards in Serbia than an LGBT individual in Nebraska, and Kosovar LGBT organizations Center for Equality and Liberty (CEL) and the Center for Social Emancipation and Liberty (QESh) believe LGBT rights in Kosovo are moving in a positive direction (Author Interview, Center for Social Emancipation (QESh). June 16, 2014. Pristina, Kosovo).
  6. Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty. “Antigay Activists Build Wall in Kazakhstan’s Largest City.” Accessed July 13, 2014.
  7. Daily News News Team. 2013. “В Караганде ‘Поженились Две Лесбиянки’” Accessed July 13, 2014.
  8. BBC News Team. 2014. “Kazakhstan: Brutal Killing Ends First ‘Gay Marriage.’” Accessed July 13, 2014.
  9. The year 2014 proved a landmark year in advancements and regressions for the global LGBT rights movement. In the United States, courts from Oklahoma to Michigan continued to strike down gay marriage bans. Northern Cyprus removed same-sex relations from its criminal code, and Scotland approved gay marriage. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of India reinstated the criminalization of sodomy, a colonial-era law that had been ruled unconstitutional in 2009. Uganda and Nigeria both enacted laws criminalizing same-sex relations with punishments ranging from ten-year imprisonment to death.
  10. Thus far, Russia and Lithuania are the only two countries to have enacted Russian-style anti-LGBT propaganda laws. The 2013 law enacted in Moldova was overturned, and a proposed law was withdrawn in Armenia. Similar laws are currently pending in Latvia, Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. See Human Rights First. 2014. “Spread of Russian-style Propaganda Laws.” Accessed December 1.
  11. By packaging LGBT rights as human rights, promoting countries and institutions can argue that other countries are bound by international law to protect LGBT rights in the manner promoter-countries see fit, regardless of whether or not a country supports the concept. The backlash of this promotion, thus, has been wrought with cries of cultural imperialism and infringement upon state sovereignty.
  12. In June 2010, the Council of the European Union adopted a “Toolkit to Promote and Protect the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People,” tasking EU representatives to work toward decriminalization of homosexuality, promote LGBT equality and non-discrimination, and protect human rights defenders in its missions abroad. Likewise, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a memorandum in December 2011 directing American foreign affairs agencies to, among other things, “combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad” and to “ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad.
  13. UN Human Rights Council resolution 17/19, Human rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity : resolution, A/HRC/RES/17/19 (14 July 2011), available from:
  14. African countries largely opposed the resolution, with Angola, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda voting against the resolution; South Africa and Mauritius voting for the resolution; as Burkina Faso and Zambia abstained. Predominantly Muslim Asian countries opposed the resolution, with Bahrain, Bangladesh, Jordan, Malaysia, the Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia voting against the resolution. East Asian countries by large voted for the resolution, with Japan, South Korea, and Thailand voting for the resolution, as China abstained. Latin American countries Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Uruguay all voted for the proposal. In Western Europe and North America, Belgium, France, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States voted for the proposal.
  15. The positions of the “LGBT rights” and “traditional values” arguments can be summed up in the reactions of American and Mauritanian diplomats recorded after the resolution’s passage. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Suzanne Nossel told CNN that the South Africa resolution was a “critical beginning of a universal recognition of a new set of rights that forms part of the international system.” Expressing his outrage to the codification of such rights, a Mauritanian diplomat remarked that the resolution “replace[d] the natural rights of a human being with an unnatural right.”
  16. Current trends suggest that a “West against the rest” divide continues to exist in international discourse on LGBT human rights. On September 26, 2014, the UN Human Rights Council passed by a 25-14 vote a resolution nearly identical to that of September of 2011, calling for the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights to produce an annual report on “combatting human rights violations on the basis of gender and sexual identity. As in 2011, the vote remained split along primarily regional lines. European, American, and several East Asian countries supported the resolution, while African and Middle Eastern countries joined the Russian Federation in opposition.
  17. As early as June 2010, the Council of the European Union adopted a “Toolkit to Promote and Protect the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People,” tasking EU representatives to work toward decriminalization of homosexuality, promote LGBT equality and non-discrimination, and protect human rights defenders in its missions abroad. Shortly after Secretary Clinton’s famous LGBT rights speech in 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a memorandum directing American foreign affairs agencies to, among other things, “combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad” and to “ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad.”
  18. Currently, Western delegations abroad continue their LGBT human rights diplomatic efforts using a variety of tools, to be discussed in the next section. For instance, the U.S. Embassy in Russia sponsors a website where gays and lesbians can publish personal stories. In June 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Pristina, Kosovo sponsored “LGBT sensitivity trainings” for Kosovo justice officials. The EU’s former external policy chief Catherine Ashton publicly denounced a Russian law prohibiting the “propagation of non-traditional sexual relationships,” and the EU collectively conditions member state accession to require that applicant countries have legal frameworks to address issues such as LGBT discrimination and hate crimes. In 2013, the New Zealand parliament unanimously passed a resolution calling for protection of gay rights in Russia ahead of the winter Olympics in Sochi. Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, among others, have stopped or altered their foreign aid programs to Uganda in direct response to the passage of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014.
  19. Beginning in July 2013, the OHCHR also launched a “Free and Equal” campaign to combat homophobic and transphobic violence.
  20. The World Bank, an organization tasked with “reduc[ing] poverty and support[ing] development,” suspended a $90 million loan to the Ugandan health sector in 2013 in response to the country’s anti-LGBT legislation. That same year, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expanded its mandate to address issues relating to tolerance and discrimination, with many of its participating states including LGBT individuals within that scope despite disagreement among member-states on the issue. Four years after its 2010 “Recommendation on Measures to Combat Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity,” the Council of Europe in 2014 established a “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit” to address LGBT issues in the midst of continued opposition of COE member states.
  21. See Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2010)5,  Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers on Measures to Combat Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation or Gender Diversity, CM/Rec(2015)5 (31 March 2010), available from:
  22. See also Littauer, Dan. 2012. “Russia Snubs Council of Europe over Gay Rights.” Accessed June 29, 2014.
  23. 23. Russia’s opposition to “LGBT human rights” has largely been ignored as Western actors found ways to tell the Russian leadership that, like it or not, Russia is obligated by international law to support the cause. For instance, as Russia contemplated an “an “Anti-Gay Propaganda” bill, Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, warned that such restrictions on the freedom of expression for LGBT individuals would violate a fundamental principle of the European Convention on Human Rights, of which the Russian Federation is a signatory. See “Council of Europe Head Says Russia Must Protect LGBT Rights,” 2013. Reuters, May 22.
  24. UN Human Rights Council Resolution (16/3), Promoting Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms through a Better Understanding of Traditional Values of Humankind: resolution, A/HRC/16/3 (24 March 2011), available from:
  25. Office of the President of Russia. 2014. “Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.”
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Putin also argued that the policies leading to an “erosion” of traditional values in the West were anti-democratic, as such directives imposed the alleged rights of a minority over the will of the majority.
  29. Although Putin’s speech implicitly discusses LGBT rights, he delivered the address without mentioning the words, “gay,” “homosexual,” or “LGBT” even once.
  30. While Putin framed this law as defending traditional values of the Russian people, social conservatism is not a uniquely Russian cultural value. The “traditional values” argument is used by social conservatives around the world to oppose LGBT rights. Despite American uproar against the Russian propaganda law, many of the law’s provisions can be found in the criminal codes of more conservative U.S. States. The State of Utah prohibits the “advocacy of homosexuality” in public schools (see, Title 53A Chapter 13 Section 101 of the State of Utah Criminal Code, available from:, and the State of Texas requires sex education instructors to emphasize that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public…” (see, Texas Health and Safety Code, Title 2, Section H, Sec. 163.002(8), available from: See also, Ian Ayres and William Eskridge. 2014. “U.S. Hypocrisy over Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws.” The Washington Post. Accessed October 1, 2014.
  31. Whereas the role and power of religious institutions is waning throughout the U.S. and Western Europe, the Russian Orthodox Church and social conservatives have been steadily growing in power throughout the Russian Federation since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Among the movements core principles are adherence to conservative religious values and staunch Russian nationalism. The institutional recognition of this force in Russian politics came with the establishment of the World Russian People’s Council (WRPC) in 1993, led by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. Since its establishment, the WRPC has served as the point of inception for many of the socially conservative Russian policies that exist today, from the refusal of the Russian government to issue permits to gay pride parades in 2006 to the drafting of the propaganda law. Patriarch Kirill and the WRPC maintain a strong voice in Russian politics, and the Orthodox Church maintains a 65% approval rating among Russian citizens. Pleased by President Putin’s adherence to the conservative movement’s bedrock principles of conservative religious values and Russian nationalism, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill bestowed upon Putin the first “award for preservation of Russia’s great power statehood,” commending Putin for “restor[ing] [Russia’s] position” in the world.
  32. Russian gay activists and their supporters are tarred as part of a “fifth column” along with the rest of his political opposition. Russian homophobic attitudes made LGBT individuals an easy target for Putin; the Russian LGBT propaganda law had the support of 88% of the Russian population at the time of its inception. See, David Herszenhorn. 2013. “Gays in Russia Find No Haven, Despite Support from the West.” The New York Times. Accessed September 10, 2014.
  33. President Putin in 2013 signed into law a measure prohibiting the dissemination of LGBT “propaganda” to minors allegedly to “protect children from information advocating for a denial of traditional family values.” In response to an international uproar in response to the law, President Putin stated that the law was not about LGBT individuals at all; rather, it was about protecting children from “destructive” influences. While the law nowhere mentions the words “homosexuality” or “homosexual,” preferring “non-traditional sexual relationships” as a euphemism, it has been broadly interpreted to target pro-LGBT speech.
  34. Compare, Mike Adomanis. 2013. “Putin’s Aprpoval Rating Just Hit an All-Time Low.” Forbes. February 4. with Interfax. 2014. “Putin Has 88% Approval Rating – Poll.” October 29.
  35. Although LGBT rights are gaining traction in Western Europe and Latin America, the majority of the world remains intensely homophobic: 98% of Ghanaians, 95% of Egyptians, 93% of Indonesians, and 85% of Pakistanis believe that homosexuality is morally unacceptable.  Pew Research found in 2013 that this trend was the norm; only pockets of countries in Western Europe, the Americas, and Oceania expressed that homosexuality was more acceptable than unacceptable. See,  Pew Research. 2014. “Global Views on Morality: Homosexuality.” 15 April.
  36. Putin has called the breakup of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” See “Putin: Soviet Collapse a ‘Genuine Tragedy.’” 2014. Accessed December 9, 2014..
  37. See J. Lester Feder. 2013. “The Russian Plot to Take Back Eastern Europe at the Expense of Gay Rights.” Buzzfeed, November 10.
  38. Russia, for instance, decriminalized homosexuality shortly after independence, and LGBT individuals began to organize themselves politically and socially. However, as the power of the Russian Orthodox Church and conservative movement in Russia increased, the situation for LGBT individuals gradually deteriorated. In 2002, 60% of Russians believed homosexuality should not be accepted by society; by 2013, that number grew to 74% of the population. Recent years have been marred with the closing of gay bars, increased rates of violence against LGBT individuals, and active persecution of LGBT individuals by the national government. See, Pew Research. 2013. “The Global Divide on Homosexuality.” June 4.
  39. Kalys, a Kyrgyz nationalist group, has proponed an “anti-LGBT propaganda bill” in Kyrgyzstan, in addition to a Russian-style bill that would require non-governmental organizations to register as foreign agents. See Trilling, David. 2014. “Kyrgyzstan’s Anti-Gay Bill to Outlaw Homosexuality, Activists Say.” EurasiaNet, October 20.
  40. In Ukraine, the sponsor of homophobic billboards spooking local populations against EU Association was Viktor Medvedchuk, a close associate of Putin’s, whose organization is centered on increasing ties with Russia. See Feder, supra note 36.
  41. See Pew Research, supra note 37.
  42. Pew Research. 2013. “Eastern and Western Europe Divided Over Gay Marriage, Homosexuality.” December 12.
  43. Andrew Katz. 2013. “Croatians Vote in Favor of Banning Same-Sex Marriage.” Time. December 1.
  44. See Pew Research, supra note 41.
  45. See Pew Research, supra note 37.
  46. (Boldened for emphasis). See Besar Likmeta. 2013. “Albania Is Europe’s Most Homophobic Country, Survey Says.” Balkan Insight, March 25. See source European Social Survey. 2013. “Exploring Public Attitudes, Informing Public Policy.”
  47. “Main Opposition Urges Protection of LGBT’s, Ruling Party Calls Them ‘Immoral.’” 2013. Hurriyet Daily News, May 29.
  48. For reference on the term “near abroad,” see William Safire. 1994. “On Language; The Near Abroad.” New York Times Magazine, May 22.
  49. Although the EEU remains in its infant stages as a primarily economic cooperative, Putin’s aspirations for the EEU include political cooperation and integration based on the EU model, and possible defense collaboration based on that of NATO. While the EEU currently lacks political mechanisms designed to “speak with one voice,” the leaders of its member states nonetheless share a common hostility against Western promotion of LGBT rights.
  50. Macfarquhar, Neil. 2014. “Russia and 2 Neighbors Form Economic Union That Has a Ukraine-Size Hole.” The New York Times, May 29.
  51. Gazprom. 2014. “Yamal-Europe.” Web Page. Accessed November 1, 2014.
  52. Casey Michael. 2014. “Vladimir Putin’s Impotent Eurasian Union.” Foreign Policy, June 5.
  53. “Nazarbayev Invites Turkey to Join Eurasian Economic Union.” 2014., June 6.
  54. See Joanna Lillis. 2013. “Kazakhstan’s Parliament Hears Another Call for Anti-Gay Law.” Eurasianet, October 2.
  55. See Elena Kosolapova. 2014. “Kazakh Lawmakers Propose to Classify Homosexuals as Criminals.” Eurasianet, January 27.
  56. See also Joanna Lillis. 2014. “Kazakhstan’s Parliament to Mull Sanctions against ‘Lesbianism.’” Eurasianet, January 14.
  57. Additionally, Kazakhstani politicians are also debating preventive legislation to ban gay marriage.
  58. See Human Rights First, supra note 9.
  59. See also Vital Tsyhankou and Aleh Hrudzilovich. 2013. “Pressure Mounts on Belarussian LGBT Community.” RFE/RFL, December 9.
  60. Ibid.
  61. The Department later withdrew the bill due to alleged “shortcomings.” See Dan Littauer. 2013. “Armenia Withdraws Proposed Russian-Like Anti-Gay Propaganda Law.” LGBTQ Nation, August 8.
  62. Immediately afterward, protestors took to the streets with banners such as “No to the Russian Empire!”, and French President François Hollande announced that Armenia may seek both EU and EEU association However, Armenia’s intention to pursue a dual-track EU and EEU Association is yet to be seen. See RFE/RL Armenian Service. “Armenians Protest against Joining Russia-Led Customs Union.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 9.
  63. Among other things, LGBT individuals in Kyrgyzstan have been the subjects of numerous counts of police abuse, ranging from beatings to sexual violence. See Joanna Lillis. 2014. “Kyrgyzstan: Gay Men Face Rampant Police Abuse—Report.” Eurasianet, January 29.
  64. Moreover, the country is on the brink of passing an LGBT propaganda ban even more extreme than Russia’s variant. More on Kyrgyzstan will be discussed in a later section of this article.
  65. Saakashvili himself appeared to be using LGBT rights as an instrument throughout the speech to rally opposition to Russia, as his record on LGBT rights remains poor. Under Saakashvili’s authority, the Georgian Ministry of Interior declined to prosecute any suspects after a mob of thousands attempted to kill LGBT activists demonstrating in 2013. See Natalia Anteleva. 2013. “What Was Behind Georgia’s Anti-Gay Rally?” The New Yorker, May 23.
  66. See ILGA-Europe. 2014. “Georgian President Signs Anti-Discrimination Law.” May 9.
  67. Will Stroude. 2013. “Azerbaijan: Gay Man Found Dead in Baku in Wake of First Gay Pride Rally.” PinkNews, September 17.
  68. See Kit Gillet. 2013. “Gay Rights Could Be Major Hurdle for Moldova’s EU Bid.” Christian Science Monitor, November 29.
  69. Subsequently, Moldova signed an Association Agreement with the EU, which is currently in limbo as the Moldovan Parliament debates a bill to renounce the arrangement . See RIA Novosti.  2014. “Moldova Parliament Registers Bill Denouncing Association Agreement with EU.”  Sputnik News, July 27.
  70. See Rebecca McCray. 2014. “Inside the Quiet Struggle for LGBT Rights in Ukraine.” ThinkProgress, July 8.
  71. RFE/RL. 2014. “Crimea Does Not Need Gay People, Says Top Official.” The Guardian, September 33, sec. World news.
  72. The White House Office of the Press Secretary. 2011. “Presidential Memorandum—International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons.” December 6. Available from:
  73. In addition to these two tracks, LGBT activists throughout Eurasia believe that the Kremlin is responsible for funding anti-LGBT organizations in their countries.
  74. More significant, however, is Russia’s use of back-channel public diplomacy, in which political allies of Russian leadership (such as Ukraine’s Viktor Medvedchuk, whose child is allegedly Putin’s god-child) rally homophobic sentiments in ways to benefit the Russian Federation.
  75. For instance, American conservatives Pat Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh have both praised Putin’s anti-LGBT propaganda law. Even in the Republic of Georgia, a country deeply wary of Russian interventionism, political and religious leaders have rallied against LGBT-friendly political reforms, claiming a threat to traditional Georgian values. See G.E. 2014. “Clashes over Europe’s Promotion of Tolerance.” The Economist, May 22.
  76. The WRPC has worked with conservative groups from other countries to champion the “traditional values” cause, exemplified by its passage of Resolution A/HRC/16/3 in support of taking “traditional values” into account when promoting human rights.
  77. See “Kyrgyzstan: Police Abuse, Extortion of Gay Men.” 2014. Human Rights Watch, January 29.
  78. See Trudy Ring. 2014. “Kyrgyzstan Considers ‘Gay Propaganda’ Ban.” The Advocate, March 28.
  79. Kosovo’s independence is recognized by 108 out of the 193 UN member-states. The United States and 23 out of the 28 EU member-states recognize Kosovo’s independence; Russia does not.
  80. This speech came shortly after riots broke out in a Belgrade soccer match between Serbia and Albania after a drone carrying a “Greater Albania” (Albania, Kosovo, Western Macedonia) flag flew over the stadium. See Associated Press. 2014. “Drone from Serbia-Albania Soccer Match Found by Police.” CBC News, October 16.
  81. See Andrew MacDowall. 2014. “Vladimir Putin Welcomed with Cheers in Belgrade.” The Telegraph, October 16.
  82. Despite the crowd’s negative reaction to President Nikolic, the majority of Serbs support EU integration. A 2014 poll found that 46% of Serbs would vote for EU membership if given the chance, compared to 19% who would vote against, 20% who would not vote, and 15% who do not know. See Government of Serbia European Integration Office. 2014. “European Orientation of the Serbian Citizens.” Public Opinion Poll, June. Available from:
  83. Although Kosovo does not recognize same-sex marriage, its constitution nonetheless does not explicitly define marriage as between a man and a woman. However, whereas sexual orientation is a protected class in Kosovo, the country has no such clause for gender identity.
  84. Republic of Kosovo’s Office of the Prime Minister. 2013. “The Kosovo Government Holds Its Regular Meeting.” Press Release, December 18. Available from:,9,3923.
  85. Western delegations support this political dialogue through regular attendance at these meetings.
  86. The European Parliament. Intergroup on LGBT Rights. Serbia and Kosovo Need to Step up Efforts to Guarantee the Rights of LGBT People, Parliament Says. The European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights. The European Parliament, January 16, 2014. Web.
  87. Ludwig Boltzmann Institut für Menschenrechte. Kosovo: Project against Homophobia and Transphobia (Twinning). 2014. Web.
  88. European Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) in Kosovo Former Head Bernd Borchardt echoed sentiments of Ambassador Jacobson, Tweeting via @EULEXKosovo that “the #LGBT community has the right to live free from discrimination.”
  89. See Kristina Marí. 2014. “Modern Family Is Not Only a TV Show: Kosovo 2.0 Talks to One.” Kosovo 2.0, July 4.
  90. See also Blerta Zeqiri. “STIGMA.” EULEX Kosovo video.
  91. Author Interview, Center for Equality and Liberty (CEL). July 22, 2014. Pristina, Kosovo.
  92. See United States Agency for International Development. Testing the Waters: LGBT People in the Europe and Eurasia Region. Aengus Carroll, with Nicole Zdrojewski. Washington, D.C. United States Government Printing Office. February 25, 2014., p. 10-11.
  93. Ibid.
  94. By another account, a 2013 study by ILGA-Europe found that 62% of Kosovars believed that homosexuality was a threat to society, and 68% believed that LGBT issues were imposed upon Kosovo from the West.  See ILGA-Europe. ILGA-Europe’s Written Submission to the European Commission’s 2013 Progress Report on Albania. May 17, 2013. Brussels.
  95. With the exception of transgender individuals.
  96. Author Interview, Center for Social Emancipation (QESh). June 16, 2014. Pristina, Kosovo.
  97. EULEX Kosovo. Verdict in “Kosovo 2.0” Case. March 3, 2014. Web.
  98. USAID’s 2012 “Testing the Waters” report shows rates of homophobia in Kosovo rising during the years when diplomatic actors increased their promotion of LGBT rights in-country. However, Zselyke Csaky of Freedom House argues that even in the vent of societal backlash, the EU’s promotion of LGBT rights in EU member states or aspiring EU member states ultimately will address societal homophobia, citing Poland citizens’ election of openly gay and transgender politicians during the 2014 election cycle as an example. See “Despite Shifts in Public Opinion, There Is Still an ‘East-West Divide’ on LGBT Rights in Europe.” September 16, 2014. The London School of Economics and Political Science Europe Blog.
  99. See Tanya Domi. 2012. “Kosovo Government Issues Statement on LGBT Attacks.” The New Civil Rights Movement. Webpage.
  100. Author Interview, supra note 90.
  101. Ibid.
  102. See Chris Rickleton.2014. “Kyrgyzstan Sees Homophobic Backlash after Report on Gay Abuse.” Eurasianet, March 5.
  103. See also Ebi Spahiu. 2014. “Russia Pushes Kyrgyzstan to Adopt Draconian Legislation Ahead of Joining Customs Union.” The Jamestown Foundation. Eurasia Daily Monitor, October 27.
  104. Kyrgyzstan’s economy is heavily dependent on trade with EEU members Kazakhstan and Russia. Moreover, the Kyrgyz economy is also dependent on remittances from Kyrgyz workers who migrate to Russia. The Kyrgyz Labor, Migration, and Youth Ministry estimates that between 350,000 and 500,000 of Kyrgyzstan’s 5.7 million citizens worked in Russia in 2013. See Malika Giles. 2013. “Kyrgyzstan, Eyeing Customs Union, Frets Over Migrant Workers in Russia.” The Moscow Times, November 22.
  105. See IRIN. “Kyrgyzstan: Focus on Gay and Lesbian Rights.” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 2005. Web.
  106. See The European Parliament. Assessing the Implementation of the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders: the Cases of Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, and Tunisia. Karen Bennett. Brussels. European Union. June 18, 2013. Report EXPO/B/DROI/2012/11., p. 42.
  107. French and EU diplomats then monitored court hearings to protect a local human rights defender who filed a complaint against the government’s prohibition of the screening, and the EU subsequently criticized Kyrgyzstan’s handling of the case in a human rights strategy assessment.
  108. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Report on Kyrgyzstan: 8th Round of the Universal Periodic Review—May 2010. June 28, 2010. PC.NGO/13/10.
  109. See Rickleton, supra note 102..
  110. See Colin Stewart. 2014. “Kyrgyzstan on the Verge of Adopting Harsh Anti-Gay Law.”, June 27.
  111. See Human Rights Watch. 2014. “Kyrgyzstan: Backsliding on Rights.” April 7.
  112. Ibid, supra note 109.
  113. Ibid, supra note 110.
  114. See Syinat Sultanalieva. “LGBT in Kyrgyzstan: Struggle for Visibility.” Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. June 30, 2010. Slideshow. Available from:
  115. This policy echoed an earlier statement by government officials. When a representative of Kyrgyzstan’s Committee of National Security threatened human rights activist Tolekan Ismailova against screening “I Am Gay and Muslim” in 2012, he cautioned that screening the film would incite “religious hatred” and “set the scene for mass disorder.” See Secularism Is a Women’s Issue. 2012. “Kyrgyzstan: Religion and Traditional Values.” October 20.
  116. Note, however, that this was not the first time Kyrgyzstani MPs employed the “traditional values” framework. In 2013, Kyrgyzstani MPs targeted local feminists for performing “The Vagina Monologues,” stating that the play “contribute[s] to the corrosion of moral and ethical standards and national traditions of the peoples of Kyrgyzstan (see Bermet Zhumakadyr Kyzy. 2013. “Was Kyrgyzstan Ready for ‘The Vagina Monologues?” GlobaVoices, April 27. Subsequently, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament debated bills that would forbid women under age 23 from traveling abroad without express permission from their parents, or requiring all domestic NGOs that receive foreign funding register as “foreign agents.”
  117. See Pink News. 2014. “Kyrgyzstan Parliamentary Committee Passes Bill to Ban LGBT ‘Propaganda.’ June 25.
  118. See Susie Armitage. 2014. “Russian-Style ‘Gay Propaganda’ Ban Advances in Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament.” Buzzfeed, June 20.
  119. Dastan Kasmamytov, Ruslan Kim, Syinat Sutanalieva, and Amir Mukambetov. 2014. “Five Ways Global Community Can Support Efforts of LGBTIQ Activists in Kyrgyzstan to Stop Homophobic Propaganda Bill.” Organizational Communiqué. October 22.
  120. Author Interview, Dastan (Danik) Kasmamytov. July 23, 2014. E-mail correspondence.
  121. Ibid.
  122. Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church. “Evaluating Peacebuilding: Not Yet All It Could Be.” in B. Austin, M. Fischer, H.J. Glessmann (eds.) 2011.Advancing Conflict Transformation. The Berghof Handbook II. Opladen/Framington Hills: Barabara Budrich Publishers.
  123. Although little data currently exists throughout much of the world that may be relevant for LGBT rights policy and program evaluation, international actors can partner to institutionalize data collection in this field. For the immediate future, actors may monitor and evaluate their programs through other means until more data becomes readily accessible.
  124. See Associated Press in Warsaw. 2014. “Obama Uses Embassies to Push for LGBT Rights Abroad.” The Guardian, June 28.