This project aims to study the queer phenomenon within the framework of political discourse, which is primarily revealed in the current research topic from the standpoint of politicizing the concepts of gender, sexual orientation, and self-identification. Through the stories of real people who are involved in interacting with political systems and working with society, the potential outcome of the work is a better understanding of how changes in social norms are perceived and responded in the state apparatus of power in a global dimension, and also allows you to understand the definition of LGBTQ+ movements as a natural part of society.
Данный проект направлен на изучение квир феномена в рамках политического дискурса, что во многом раскрывается в теме текущего исследования с позиции политизации понятий гендера, сексуальной ориентации и самоидентификации. Через истории реальных людей, которые вовлечены во взаимодействие с политическими системами и работу с обществом, потенциальным итогом работы является лучшее понимание того, как изменение социальным норм воспринимается и откликается в государственных аппаратах власти в глобальном измерении, а также позволяет разобраться в определении ЛГБТК+ движений как естественной части социума.
Dieses Projekt zielt darauf ab, das queere Phänomen im Rahmen des politischen Diskurses zu untersuchen, das sich in der Thematik der aktuellen Forschung weitgehend unter dem Gesichtspunkt der Politisierung der Konzepte von Gender, sexueller Orientierung und Selbstidentifikation zeigt. Durch die Geschichten realer Menschen, die an der Interaktion mit politischen Systemen und der Arbeit mit der Gesellschaft beteiligt sind, ist das potenzielle Ergebnis der Arbeit ein besseres Verständnis dafür, wie Veränderungen sozialer Normen im staatlichen Machtapparat in einer globalen Dimension wahrgenommen und darauf reagiert werden, und ermöglicht es Ihnen auch, die Definition von LGBTQ+ Bewegungen als natürlichen Teil der Gesellschaft zu verstehen.

Introduction

The politicization of values, thinking, and behavioral patterns is a historically conditioned process that has consistently raised the most provocative questions and controversies related to topics resonating in society, currently, with the observation of the evolution of the phenomenon of morality and understanding of the human body and mind; as an object that is ambiguous and changing, claiming to be recognized as natural, how social processes are somehow involved in politics, in particular in its public domain. But how political institutions should interact with these concepts correctly is still an open question.

This study is aimed at a) analyzing the interaction of governance institutions with the LGBTQ+ community (public actions, legislative reform, etc.) through the prism of the historical experience of the interaction of the state apparatus with non-normative citizens as a trigger for the development of a particular public opinion, as well as the study of their definitions and practical application, b) identifying the admissibility of introducing sexuality education as essential and compulsory in the education system and one of the possible ways of spreading tolerance.

Political institutions throughout the historical process have been involved in social change in the role of either the regulatory force or its initiator. Guided by religious norms or socially strengthened perception of certain concepts, they influenced society and the course of the processes of reforming human thought. The images of good and bad, right and wrong, good and evil, accepted in society, and norms of behavior arising from these ideas, determine the code of conduct and social customs. In seeking answers to the questions posed in this study, the focus will be on the prism of moral relativism as the starting point of neutrality. Skipping the political impact on the central concepts of LGBTQ+ people and the sexualization of society through the principle of denial of obligatory moral norms and an objective criterion of morality, the study will potentially come to the average value of the involvement of political institutions in the process of reforming the understanding of the human body and relationships, as well as to the essential criteria for the perception of these concepts by society itself.

Methodological Approach

Scientific activity in methodology is viewed through the prism of the relationship between scientific truth and extra-scientific elements and the separation of the former from the latter (normative methods) with the involvement of socio-historical and specific scientific factors in the formation of economic theories (positive, or descriptive, process). If we concretize this definition, then the methodology can be considered a systematic description and study of cognition in science, the structure and functions of scientific knowledge, and relations between scientific theory and reality. This study will use three primary sources of information: the actual scientific results, i.e., held or emerging theoretical concepts that are analyzed, evaluated, compared with other research areas, fit into the context.

Let’s define the main subject of the conversations. The main goal of the interview is to identify the experience of representatives of queer communities in carrying out, e.g., educational activities, or providing any assistance, as well as interaction with political institutions to consider the LGBTQ+ phenomenon through a political prism, which is the main idea of the project. So the following tasks are a guideline for the formation of both an approximate scenario of conversations and a probable result:

– Show what processes they entailed in society, what was the result of the reformation of the public understanding of the human body;
– Show the existence of these concepts throughout the historical process;
– Find out the impressions of members of the queer community from political activities concerning this group;
– Find out their understanding of how the government should treat them;
– Show how the government controls the public understanding of the human body, forms social norms, and dictates interpersonal relations.

During current research, qualitative research interviews were used. Mostly, we are talking about semi-formalized (or semi-structured) interviews. This means that, firstly, the discussions are research, not journalistic. And secondly, that these are not formalized interviews (roughly speaking, you do not need to reproduce the questions from the questionnaire verbatim), but also not informal, which are more like a conversation. The list of questions considers different subjects of government-queer communities interactions, particularly the experience of such cooperation and the phenomenon of LGBTQ+ itself.
The interview cannot give an unambiguous answer to the question about practices. Nevertheless, it can provide food for thought and basic principles of project formulation, both confirming the previously conceived or radically changing the discourse of work, providing new exciting objects for research. This happened during the writing of the current job. It was initially developed as a description of the interaction between politics and queer people. Still, during the interview, the invited experts delved into exceptional cases that undoubtedly were worthy of attention.

Sexuality as the basis of society: queer theory and its historical discourse

For centuries, there have been criminal prosecutions for homosexual relations in many countries – the so-called “laws against sodomy,” dictated mainly by cultural and religious traditions. So, back in the middle of the 4th century AD, Christian emperors announced the death penalty for men entering into same-sex relationships. Thus, medieval European history is full of condemnations for same-sex relationships, both by the Inquisition and state “anti-sodomy laws.” [20]

Criminal penalties for homosexual acts have only been mitigated or abolished in Europe since the Enlightenment and Lutheranism, in line with the spread of skepticism about church authority and the beginning of the conception of human rights. At the end of the 18th century, legalizing same-sex relations occurred first in Andorra, then France, during the Great French Revolution. In the future, many other states of the world will begin to legalize same-sex relations. For example, traditionally, Islamic Turkey abolished the criminal prosecution of homosexuals in 1858. [16]

In the United States during colonial times, same-sex acts were punishable by death. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson, the then legislator of Virginia, introduced a bill that mandated castration for sodomy and lesbianism to pierce the nasal septum with a hole at least half an inch in diameter. This was considered the most significant possible manifestation of liberalism. Illinois became the first American state to legalize same-sex acts only in 1961. Eight years later, the state of Connecticut abolished criminal responsibility. But in the rest of the United States, they remained a serious crime, in some cases involving imprisonment for up to 20 years. In 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from mental illnesses, criminal prosecutions for homosexual acts persisted. And only in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court, as a result of the decision in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, declared all laws prohibiting same-sex sexual relations unconstitutional. By that time, such laws were maintained in 13 states. [9][2] On December 6, 2011, President Barack Obama issued a directive making the fight for the rights of sexual minorities abroad a priority in American foreign policy. [13]

Unlike many other countries, in the history of Russia, criminal prosecution for same-sex contacts did not exist for a long time. The first secular anti-homosexual law was introduced only by Peter I in 1706 and applied only to military personnel. Then, in 1835, Nicholas I introduced criminal prosecution for sodomy into Russian legislation. After the October Revolution of 1917, the trial in the RSFSR was canceled, but Stalin returned to the criminal code in 1933 and remained in it until 1993.

Gender in a political perspective

Forming a political strategy includes studying topics on the agenda that are permanently in current public claims, instabilities, and inconsistencies. The ability to adapt to changes in the structure of society and the norms of thinking and behavior underlying it determines the effectiveness and success of a political institution in the implementation of its policy and reduces the gap between the authorities and the population of the state. This affects the acceptance and support of the government apparatus by citizens and forms the state’s vector of development in one direction or another.

In the context of reforming social norms of morality and people’s perception of themselves and those around them, political institutions are forced to be involved in these processes because refraining from moving in the stream of social change determines the degradation of the state at the level of its core in comparison with other states or regions that support social change. Accordingly, the detachment of the apparatus of power from the correspondence of the reformation of social foundations alienates it from the rest of society, thereby causing distrust and increasing the degree of disagreement because state institutions of power are one of the prominent participants in the process of social change, without the involvement of which there is a belief in the likelihood of failure of their implementation.

Can tolerance be called one of the factors in the evolution of humankind? In support of this hypothesis, it can be noted that inclusiveness positively affects the economy, particularly in organizations and enterprises, and on a state level in general. Having a different background among employees significantly improves work efficiency by generating various approaches to solving problems. As the primary regulator of global changes within society and their sponsor, the state plays a significant role in promoting tolerance and creating favorable conditions. That is especially noticeable in both two states studied in the framework of the current work: Canada and Iceland.

Case of Canada

The inclusiveness of the state is manifested not only in the ideas transmitted by them but also in participation in the internal processes of society – an example is Canada, which is involved both in educational programs on tolerance and implementing migration policy through the prism of supporting LGBTQ+ communities. This is discussed in more detail by Alexander Pershai, author of scientific articles on the topic of diversity and inclusion, lecturer and researcher at the European Humanities University and Fanshawe College, editor and an ideological inspirer a feminist educational journal called “Women in Politics: New Approaches to the Political” [21], as well as a participant in N.G.O. projects related to queer.

“I facilitated a very cool transgender project. It started in 2018 and supported transgender new immigrants to Canada. The project is called the Transgender Newcomer Resource Hub [17]. It is an online resource where you can find information about available transgender-friendly services and the discussion of related issues that are helpful upon arrival to Canada. We have been developing the project for over a year and then launched it in 2019. As far as I know, people appreciate and use the Hub. The project is important because it was entirely based on the experiences of transgender persons who tested the discussed services and who were involved in the transgender communities in Vancouver BC. They identified the pressing issues which needed to be addressed. Based on the focus groups discussions and interviews, we designed the sections of the website and chose information precisely according to the suggestions of the community members.”

Another project close-knit to the migration process of LGBTQ+ people is called MOSAIC BC [12], which MOSAIC created in collaboration with Trans Care BC [7], a division of the Provincial Health Services Authority British Columbia. What does it mean?

“It means that the government supported this initiative. Since the government doesn’t work directly with new immigrants, it was necessary to find a partner organization to implement such a project. And thankfully, it came true, because, as far as I know, there are not many projects like this. But not all social and political structures reach out to NGOs and community members this way. If we consider a wider context, there are systemic problems that require more investigation, because various studies show that a fair number of transgender persons described a negative experience when visiting a doctor, for example, when a medical professional can misgender a patient that is a very traumatic experience for a transgender person. Chances are there are many unreported cases. As far as I understand, many healthcare practitioners try to mitigate these issues, but we deal with old and well-lubricated systemic barriers. Roughly speaking, a new kind of medical structure is being created, the one that can support the trans*community of the future. However, in Canada, this process is very fragmented and slow at the moment.”

And here, I would like to pause and mention that it’s an important detail. Even in Canada where it is various educational projects on queer as a typical pattern of governmental policy, e.g., obligatory tolerance classes in elementary schools or open accessed queer courses from universities, and support initiatives like a Vancouver N.G.O. called H.I.M.: Health Initiative for Men [5], which offer diverse community programs for sexual health, including H.I.V. testing and S.T.I. testing, as well as social and mental health, where you can enroll in a counseling program for free or at an affordable price. There are still some weaknesses in the system of government-queer relations. Let’s see the example of the migrant’s integration process.

“The point is about settlement services where newcomers could be grouped by religion, language, and country of origin. For example, suppose a government and/or population of a country of origin is homophobic, and a queer person tries very hard to get out of there to be safe and live openly. Still, the system places LGBTQ+ persons in the same group of people who ostracized them in their country of origin. I was shocked to learn about it. When you talk to people directly they tell you about the horrors they have to face… Furthermore, everything is exaggerated in the diaspora, any isolated community becomes more refined. Also, many new immigrants see each other as competition because the job market is narrow. Often, newcomers don’t have the opportunity to “move up” in the social structure of the new country. There are barriers, such as attitudes, that do not disappear with time. Considering this, it is tough for LGBTQ+ persons, especially for transgender and non-binary folks, because they don’t always fit into social and religious norms. They experience double pressure.”

Queer is also rated as a group under the special protection of the state as particularly vulnerable. This can be seen in the inadmissibility and harassment of workplace harassment.

“Here in Canada, people could lose their job because of homophobia or transphobia. For example, transgender activist Morgane Oger [11] won the case against the Christian activist Bill Whatcott, who harassed [18] her because of Oger’s political activities. Speaking about Belarus, as far as I can see, the nationalist discourse is changing given how LGBTQ+ communities participate in political protests. Ten years ago, Yulia Mitskevich wrote that some of the opposition leaders suggested almost killing LGBT people. Today, LGBTQ+ communities openly participate in the protests, though, sadly, there is rejection. Some protesters told their queer counterparts that they didn’t belong in the protests. This is what I gather from social media. It indicates where the Belarusian nation is heading in terms of accepting LGBTQ+ folks… I can’t speak for the government but I can explain how I see it. The government is indirectly involved through regulations and community support programs. The legislative regulations are connected to the workplace culture where the employer and organization’s leadership play an important role in educating employees of all generations. It could be a good place to talk about cultural beliefs that stretch beyond the workplace. The government supports community projects that may offer cultural sensitivity courses, community building and integration programs, and more. Schools play an important role in community education when children teach their parents. Changes are happening; there are more and more encouraging examples in the media, more historical figures are revived, etc. The changes are happening slowly, but there is hope.”

Case of Iceland

The queer movement existed long before the creation of organizations that support and popularize it. This is confirmed by Daníel E. Arnarsson, C.E.O. of Samtökin ’78 [15], Iceland’s national queer organization. How this happens in practice, he tells in more detail in an interview.

“We educate teachers in secondary schools. They can call us if there are any adverse incidents, and we come to give masterclasses, lectures on other educational programs. Nevertheless, we also have municipalities, e.g., with the city of Reykjavik, where we educate students in elementary schools or kindergartens. But what we are doing right now is trying to renew the programs and, e.g., teach the staff members in the 3rd, 6th, and 9th grades. What we did in the municipality of Grindavik, which is in the south, we’ve signed this new model contract. We also decided to meet these children every approximately ten years or less to see if this system works and any progress… We try to do cultural activities as well as educational. But, you know, it’s tough for me to remember that factor of us, because of COVID, we’ve been working so much with individual cases, but that is going to change again. From a cultural standpoint, we have been a part of assignments or projects. And, e.g., with the National Gallery of Iceland, National Museum of Iceland, there was a big project that they openly called the Rainbow Threat. So we were working with them organizing the events, e.g., about the History of Iceland. And we’ve decided to add LGBTQ+ issues there. So you can walk through the main show with a spectrum from a queer standpoint. That is still to my best knowledge. It is essential for us because our organization was founded in 1978, but LGBTQ+ people lived on the territory of Iceland long before that. They were just invisible. So we talk about them, that they are an essential part of the History of Iceland. There are some other basic cultural projects, e.g., Hidden Women [4]. They dig into the culture of queer women, women’s associations, etc. We also are waiting for a book that we translated and published here. It’s a children’s book that teaches you about not only gays or lesbians, but also it’s the parents’ story who are a same-sex couple.”

To spread tolerance, the government should not only sponsor N.G.O.s that support the queer population or create initiatives but also change towards gender neutrality, which, as a practice has shown, has a positive effect on the acceptance of LGBTQ+ communities and their sense of self.

“During the pandemic, there were many challenges that we talked about earlier. But one of the critical factors of this period was the language that the leaders used; did they just talk about a significant part of the society or all of the people. That is one particular thing that can change a lot in people’s minds. Our Prime Minister, when she makes speeches on December 31st, uses neutral language constructions. And people in the queer community notice that, so it changes a lot… More politicians have started to act like that. It is vital because they influence society a lot by setting the tone. For example, the Minister of Health of Iceland does it as well. It’s a way that costs a little but matters a lot: they set the tone, and it helps to promote the agenda against hate. We can see this transformation within the society itself. But we also can see hate and aggression. So if the state or the government is openly against such social behavior because they have an agenda dedicated to decreasing the level of negative manifestation towards LGBTQ+ communities, that will be an essential factor. It’s not a solution to all issues, but it is still better than doing nothing and being indifferent. We, as professionals in this field, can educate people. So the state should fund us to do that because we are actively working against hate in society.”

However, is it enough for the government to sponsor queer initiatives? To implement the LGBTQ + policy as efficiently as possible, it is necessary to be open to changes and support them and let them through: by directly participating in activities, studying the queer movement. Because without understanding who they are dealing with, there is a possibility of making mistakes that will negatively affect the implementation of activities in general.

“We have a contract with the Prime Minister because she’s also dealing with the aspects of equality. So we are very close-knit: we can give them some advice or look through the agenda or political program. It’s an outstanding collaboration, I would say. It’s accessible because our society is relatively tiny. The leaders are super approachable and down-to-earth… We apply to them also in terms of the law. Especially regarding some gender acts and governmental support. E.g., or the youth center is underfunded. It’s so terrifying that it almost can make you cry. In a similar center in Norway, eight staff members and around 80 people visit them every week. Here 120 people are attending our events, and every staff member needs to work with more visitors than they would in Norway. Reports definitely can help. The Ministers of Equality in the Nordics support a lot… I would say that the government only gives the tasks not because they just don’t want to support enough work with diversity and inclusion issues by themselves. Lack of proficiency in the queer field is vital. They should hire someone in their office who is a specialist or has already worked with the LGBTQ+ community. That person should work with us, building an agenda for the whole government, or the Parliament, or the nation in these matters. They don’t have a passion because they don’t know what is queer and what to do with us. The government should be taught inside.”

The transformation of values and their acceptance by society

According to some opinions, homophobia is a form of phobia, expressed in inexplicable fear and unreflective, irrational dislike or hatred towards homosexual and bisexual people. There are opinions that homophobia may be due to fear of homosexual fantasies and is a sign of unconscious homosexuality. Some scholars define homophobia more broadly as “avoidance, fear, prejudice, discrimination, harassment or acts of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” [6]

Homophobia, being a specific socio-psychological phenomenon, is a manifestation of xenophobia. According to Igor Kon, homophobia is both a product and a counterbalance to male homoeroticism. Therefore, it is characteristic, first of all, of men and manifests itself more strongly concerning gays than to lesbians. Thus, homophobia serves to differentiate between “real” dominant men and “fake” feminine men. Let’s take a look at the example of the experience of the respondents of this study. What caused the rejection and fear of the queer communities?

Both in Canada and Iceland, we can consider that people’s negative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ communities form due to a) the lack of knowledge, b) inability to control this group, c) unpreparedness for something new (through established social norms, patriarchy, religion). As Alexander Pershay explains,

“People want to be in control. When you don’t understand how a person behaves, you don’t know how to control him/her/them or what to expect. From this perspective, LGBTQ+ communities are a mystery. Their diversity, complicated intersections of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are not straightforward, therefore many people are confused and slow with acceptance. Understanding can come through educational programs. It makes sense to introduce tolerance programs from an early age because such programs have a positive impact. In public schools in Canada, classes on diversity are required from an early age. They include discussing race, immigration, Indigenous issues, sexual orientation, and even transgender, expanding the list. Kids see diversity in the classroom because they study every day with classmates of different nationalities and backgrounds. Accepting the value of difference and diversity is formed by such programs. For example, Generation Z, who are 18-25 years old, is very open to diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. This is an example of how the government can support LGBTQ+ acceptance. In addition, diversity and tolerance are actively discussed in the media. There are diversity and inclusion programs that look into these issues in many organizations. Organizations pay attention to who they hire, provide tolerance pieces of training, and more to retain young employees for whom money is not a dominant incentive. Younger employees care about the cause and want to work in companies that care about social and environmental health.”

Daníel E. Arnarsson also confirms the need for quality sexuality education, but here it is essential to pay attention to the difference in contexts. While incidents of aggression against minorities, whether an ethnic minority or LGBTQ+, still occur in Canada today. [1] In Iceland, society’s acceptance of different people from the established concept of “normalcy” is faster and softer.

“I think the more people are used to something, the more they are conservative. We don’t like to see changes. It’s often perceived as a threat. But something has changed in the environment. In a society, considering unwritten rules and norms, it’s hard to do because they pass on. But still, we need to eliminate the fear and anger. Sometimes we use religion and traditions as the main instruments in this process. But what we have forgotten is who makes the norms and rules, who are the strongest in society. Right now we have this era of white men, and everything is aligned to make their lives easier and better. So that’s why we have the women’s rights movement and a queer one. The majority of norms and unwritten rules in society align with those men who built them in the past. So we need to communicate a lot with this part of the society because it’s still conservative and patriarchal. Education is critical because those who are aggressive against LGBTQ+ people simply don’t understand this phenomenon. We are afraid of those things which we don’t know or understand. So our role is to teach them.”

Conclusion

Based on the examples considered, it can be noted that the participation of the state in civil initiatives is not so much a guiding character, i.e., the government is not always the initiator and regulator of social changes, as much as it supports, in particular from the position of the sponsor. Changes in social norms and moral foundations are triggered by a civil society based on its motivation and the need for them. Most often, this happens on a volunteer basis. But here, too, you need to understand that civic activity is not always the primary type of activity of people or the subject of their investment; therefore, the task of the state, if possible, is to support them in terms of either the involvement of state institutions or financially.

Whether any system supports the queer community or not, one of the critical methods of spreading tolerance is informing and educating the masses. Both studies show that this happens easier and more efficiently when interacting with children who are more adaptive to external influences. Therefore, one of the most optimal options for spreading tolerance is not so much popularization in the literal sense of the word but rather the upbringing of new generations through the prism of accepting others who are different from you.

However, it is necessary to accept that more established cooperation between civil society and government within the queer movement in the examples considered does not mean that this is happening worldwide. But at the same time, these two cases can be called guidelines for good interaction of several stakeholders in solving the problem. In our case, the issue of intolerance and discrimination on one basis or another. As mentioned in the interviews by the respondents, this is most clearly manifested in the increased demand for political asylum because, in many regions, the level of aggression towards LGBTQ+ communities is fueled by a) the indifference of the state, b) the homophobic laws, c) the indifference of the state concerning precedents manifestations of violence, d) religious prejudice. So, for example, there are laws on gay propaganda, the inadmissibility of adoption by a same-sex couple, criminal prosecution of representatives of queer communities, and others. The manifestation of homophobia at the state level entails the development of several social problems, which, among other things, pose a risk to human health and life, ranging from violence and murder of representatives of LGBTQ+ communities to the spread of S.T.I.s and H.I.V. This undoubtedly represents the degradation of society and its self-absorption, which, as a result, can lead to irreversible consequences.

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Full versions of the interviews are available via the following links:

– With Alexander Pershai
– With Daníel E. Arnarsson

Yana Taratun
Senior student of the World Politics and Economics program at the European Humanities University. The area of interest is limitless, but it is worth highlighting gender studies, migration and refugees, the process of public policy, European studies, and military conflicts, where understanding the historical context and the specifics of discourse is a beneficial addition.
Yana Taratun

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