Over the last decade and particularly the last several years, the global visibility of LGBT1 rights has significantly grown, in terms of LGBT communities themselves; LGBT rights as an issue of public contestation between states, international organizations, and nonstate actors; and as a field of scholarly inquiry. Phillip Ayoub's book When States Come Out: Europe's Sexual Minorities and the Politics of Visibility presents one of the most substantive and systematic attempts to date to explain how and why LGBT rights change and vary and the role that domestic and transnational politics play. It makes an important contribution to the literature in human rights norm diffusion and contentious politics. Based on years of rigorous fieldwork, the book lends strong support to the constructivist approach in international relations, which emphasizes transnational social interaction and learning, nonstate actors, and the role of ideas and identities in driving norm diffusion and change. Using a laudable mixed method approach, Ayoub argues that LGBT rights norm diffusion in Europe is best explained by transnational visibility of the LGBT rights norm at both state and individual levels. This is more likely to occur as the states open up to transnational economic, political, and social channels and when the process is mediated by “norm brokers” who take advantage of this openness to frame LGBT rights in ways that resonate domestically (37). The concept of visibility is at the core of When States Come Out: Visibility can be the source of the identities that lead to mobilization in the first place, provide the political inspiration for both movement actors and state authorities, and be the involuntary transmission of ideas and images via information flows that cross borders. Social interaction is at the core of all of these aspects of visibility that bring disparate actors and states into dialogue transnationally via brokerage, deliberation, and processes of learning. (23) LGBT norm visibility occurs when LGBT people and their rights claims moves to the center of political debate, making public recognition and rights advances more likely. Moreover, visibility is both interpersonal, LGBT individuals seeing themselves and being seen by other members of society, and public, “the collective coming out of a group to engage and be seen by society and state” (Ayoub 2016, 23). The broader dynamics of transnational channels and Europeanization helps promote this key visibility. A chapter on “first mover” Germany and “new adopter” Poland (from the period 1990–2005) illustrates how Europeanization's influence upon LGBT rights is both vertical (EU conditionality, rule adoption, and support for domestic civil society) and horizontal (facilitating transnational activism across borders). The political opportunities of Europeanization, in addition to Germany's stronger political opportunity structure (e.g., legal rights, societal opinion of homosexuality, and elite opinion), combined with strong mobilizing structures (e.g., social spaces and LGBT organizational resources), assisted both German and Polish norm entrepreneurs in their efforts to make individuals and the norm more visible and to socialize Polish citizens and elites to the appropriateness of LGBT rights. These activists framed LGBT rights as important European and democratic values central to a European identity. The presence of thousands of foreigners, primarily Germans, and many diplomats at Warsaw's 2006 Pride Parade increased visibility of the issue and put Poland in a more international spotlight. In his quantitative analyses of the variations in LGBT rights legislation and societal attitudes between 1980–2010, Ayoub finds strong positive correlations between the extent and strength of transnational channels of visibility and an increase in legal changes and positive societal attitudes toward homosexuality. These show that in the EU-15 (the “first mover” older EU members), domestic factors primarily explain the differences in LGBT rights, but not in the newer EU-12, a finding which supports how Europeanization has influenced multiple types of domestic policy change across the region. In terms of the more understudied question of attitudes, Ayoub finds visibility again important in that people within more porous (open to transnational connections) states and societies will be more likely to internalize the LGBT rights norm, and individuals that are more nationalistic and religious will perceive LGBT rights as more threatening and emanating from external and foreign arenas (132). In terms of mechanisms, it is the embeddedness of states’ LGBT organizations in transnational LGBT networks and their ability to be norm brokers and frame LGBT issues that is the most significant, both of which also involve nonstate actor and activist visibility linking the local and transnational arenas. This important finding gives empirical weight to the arguments in classic studies of norm change such as Activists Beyond Borders (Keck and Sikkink 1998) and The Power of Human Rights (Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink 1999). Somewhat surprisingly, the EU accession variable (the year a state joined the EU) did not appear to be a significant factor in the quantitative analysis, likely because the EU's direct pressure mechanism only affects a small area of legislation (109). While EU accession (and thus its conditionality mechanism) could hardly account directly for changes in societal attitudes or greater norm internalization, this factor could have been expounded upon more explicitly.2 EU conditionality has in other cases been key to making LGBT rights more visible. One of the strongest aspects of this book and one that aids scholars looking at domestic resistance to LGBT rights around the world is the qualitative case study on the relationship between religion, nationalism, and LGBT rights and how variations in “threat perception” can be a constraining influence. Ayoub argues that secular states are not necessarily the first to adopt LGBT rights norms and that “religion plays a role in moderating the effect of LGBT norms, but only in contexts where it has become linked to the popular nation.” (162). In Poland, where the Catholic Church has been a central part of the country's national identity and where external influence has been historically detrimental to Poland, advances in LGBT rights and visibility have been framed and perceived as threatening to the nation and religious identity, and we see weaker LGBT protections. By contrast, in Slovenia, the Church's role differed and threat perception to national identity from the LGBT community has been low. This book succeeds in illustrating how antigay resistance and backlash, often sparked by increased LGBT visibility, tends to increase that visibility. In conclusion, this is an excellent and superbly researched book for scholars and graduate students that advances scholarship within LGBT politics, European politics, and more broadly within contentious politics, social movements, and human rights norm change, despite its complexity and denseness. It convincingly shows the importance of domestic-transnational dynamics that influence change and resistance and how “norm visibility increases the political efficacy of marginalized groups and their ability to place demands on the state” (200). Readers will find it fascinating to read in When States Come Out the numerous stories of struggle, transnational relationships, and breakthroughs. Around the world today, these narratives of LGBT rights change are occurring frequently and are supported by dynamics in When States Come Out; for example, in June 2017, Germany finally adopted same-sex marriage due to shifts in political party positions and calculations, societal attitudes, and international pressures that had made the country appear a laggard compared to its neighbors (Ayoub 2017). Furthermore, while it is too early to tell, the recent appointment in Serbia (current EU candidate with high levels of societal homophobia) of the third openly gay head of government in Europe (and first in post-communist Europe) may reveal that states under international scrutiny with transnational ties do see advantages in “coming out” but that domestic elites and strategic calculations still matter a great deal. Further qualitative research into other countries within Europe and those outside of it would do well to build upon this important international studies book. Footnotes 1Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. This article uses the acronym “LGBT” due to its widespread usage by the European Union, governments in the region, and NGOs and activists themselves, in addition to being used by the book under review. 2O'Dwyer 2013 found that EU accession was a significant factor explaining legal variation. References Ayoub Phillip M. 2016. When States Come Out: Europe's Sexual Minorities and the Politics of Visibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ayoub Phillip M. 2017. Merkel Opposed Marriage Equality—Until Now. What Happened? Washington Post , June 29, accessed June 30, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/29/merkel-opposed-marriage-equality-until-now-what-happened/?utm_term=.4dea47754f86. Keck Margaret, Kathryn Sikkink. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics . Cornell: Cornell University Press. O'Dwyer Conor. 2013. “Gay Rights and Political Homophobia in Post-Communist Europe: Is There an ‘EU Effect?’” In Global Homophobia , edited by Weiss Meredith, Bosia Michael. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Risse Thomas, Ropp Stephen, Sikkink Kathryn. 1999. The Power of Human Rights . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) (2018). 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International Studies Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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