Homonationalism and Queer Rights

Laura Belgodere

“Homonationalism and Queer Rights” serves as a window into the study of homonationalism, a term first coined by Jasbir Puar in her book Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Homonationalism is the act of using LGBTQ rights as a way to judge another state’s sovereignty. According to the movement, a state actor may attack, through violence or economic sanctions, another state solely on the fact that they do not respect or observe the rights of queer individuals and/or the rights of the LGBTQ community.

The topic of homonationalism is a recent development in the field of International Affairs (with Puar publishing her book in 2007). The research that has been published after Puar’s is in response to her theory, with both proponents and opponents recognizing that Puar’s argument was important for the field. This paper will focus on one other scholar who takes on a neutral stance on the issue, but still argues that LGBTQ rights should still be respected.


Jasbir Puar, a queer rights scholar from Rutgers University, first coined the term homonationalism in her book, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. She describes homonationalism as a way for feminists and queer activists to critique the heteronormativity,, of states other than their own (the Middle East, in particular) and to use their influence to protect LGBTQ individuals abroad. Heteronormativity is the view or notion that heterosexuality is the norm in society. Puar critiques the queer activists’ “protection” of these LGBTQ individuals abroad as being limited to only members of the white race within the LGBTQ community. Puar claims that LGBTQ activists, from Western backgrounds, did not adhere to the crisis of executions of queer teenagers in Iran. Or, when Israel invaded Lebanon using propaganda with undertones of homonationalism, again no response from the community (from Introduction, Terrorist Assemblages). To Puar, LGBTQ activists are biased with their activism because they initially do not respond to these crises but participate in state-led propaganda to engage violently with these states. This paper will look at the controversial use of the concept of homonationalism and how not all queer rights activism is homonationalism. The efforts and accomplishments of the LGBTQ community should not credit the state for their advancement, but instead credit the groups of activists that have dedicated their lives to acquire basic human rights.

Soon after publishing her book in 2007, where Puar develops “the conceptual frame for homonationalism”, she wrote an article, in 2013, to clarify what she meant by homonationalism. In this article, titled “Rethinking Homonationalism”, describes who is behind homonationalism and why we envision the “‘acceptance’ and ‘tolerance’ for gay and lesbian subjects” become the standard for evaluating a state’s sovereignty (p. 1, “Rethinking Homonationalism”). Here she also emphasizes that homonationalism “is not simply a synonym for gay racism… It is rather a facet of modernity and a historical shift marked by the entrance of some homosexual bodies as worthy of protection by nation-states, a constitutive and fundamental reorientation of the relationship between the state, capitalism, and sexuality,” (page 2, “Rethinking Homonationalism”). In other words, “progressive” countries utilize homonationalism to enforce the protection of certain LGBTQ individuals (mainly white gay men, as she described later in her book, Terrorist Assemblages) within the country’s territory but not necessarily abroad. Some scholars have considered Jasbir Puar’s work to be controversial. For example, Aleardo Zanghellini criticized Puar’s extent of what is homonationalism in “Are Gay Rights Islamophobic?”. He states that her critique of homonationalism discredits the work of LGBTQ rights activists; that “progressive” governments are not solely responsible for queer rights being recognized across the Western Hemisphere.


Photo provided by TMagen

Pinkwashing is when states use homonationalism as a way to accuse other “less progressive” states of being homophobic and violating human rights (as coined by Jasbir Puar). In addition to exploitation by the state, pinkwashing exists in the private, corporate world as a way for companies to use LGBTQ “friendliness” to advertise their products. The practice of pinkwashing can be a dangerous one, especially in the public sector, because not only is it a way to question another state’s sovereignty, it can also lead to the justification of violence against another state. Puar is highly critical of pinkwashing, more so than homonationalism. She believes that pinkwashing and homonationalism are separate entities: “Homonationalism and pinkwashing should not be seen as parallel phenomena. Rather, pinkwashing is one manifestation and practice made possible within and because of homonationalism,” (p. 2, “Rethinking Homonationalism”). To illustrate the controversy behind pinkwashing, Puar uses the example of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Israel was using pinkwashing as a tool to categorize Islam as a non-progressive religion. The Israeli government used propaganda that described the nation as ‘gay-friendly’, while Palestine was not (p. 3, “Rethinking Homonationalism”).

Pinkwashing and homonationalism, however, are one in the same for social theory scholar Aleardo Zanghellini. He does not make a distinction between the two concepts. For him homonationalism itself “refers to the deployments of gay rights for racist and islamophobic ends, resulting in the consolidation of more sexually inclusive, but racially exclusionary, ideas of citizenship,” (p. 1, “Are Gay Rights Islamophobic?”). Zanghellini further argues that the LGBTQ community is usually not responsible for such acts (or there is not enough evidence of the community directly participating in homonationalism). To Zanghellini, the way Puar uses homonationalism in her work, is highly controversial. In his perspective, these opinions of homonationalism, not just by Puar, but other scholars that also supported her view, “unnecessarily discredit gay rights discourse and activism” (p. 2, “Are Gay Rights Islamophobic?). Zanghellini does believe that homonationalism is a dangerous tool, however, not all queer rights activism is of a racist nature.

Zanghellini uses the example of an LGBTQ rights march through London that happened in response to homophobic messages in a predominantly Muslim community in London. The event was a response to homophobic “graffiti” found near that community. The argument presented by some queer magazines (Decolonizequeer, in particular) and activists was that this march is potentially racist because some of the members of the march were white supremacists, which Puar would argue is not a surprise. However, Zanghellini disagrees with these findings because one, only three people in the march were previously part of a white supremacist group and they claimed to have left that lifestyle behind. And two, the LGBTQ community has the right to protest against homophobia. The LGBTQ pride parade took place in a Muslim community, but did not target the Muslim community’s religion and culture.

Zanghellini states that scholars like Puar should not discredit queer activism, which has advanced and required significant sacrifice. The LGBTQ community can refrain from participation and propaganda by the state that wants to engage in homonationalism. Additionally, Zanghellini believes that the LGBTQ community advocating for their rights within their state (even in religious/ethnic communities that do not support them) is not racist. Unlike Puar, who stated that LGBTQ rights are of political construction, for the sole use of pinkwashing enemy states. Zanghellini approach is coming from a human rights point of view. In his perspective, it is dangerous to not assume rights to be universal. If human rights (in this case, queer rights) are relative and allow certain states to “opt-out”, then how will the global community protect queer persons abroad? Puar may have been on to something when she highlighted the racism of certain LGBTQ activities, but she does not address the human rights component. If human rights are inherently universal, then the queer abroad must be protected by the global community; especially if their state does not.

Works Cited

Puar, Jasbir. “Rethinking Homonationalism.” Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers
University. New Brunswick, NJ. 2013. Web.
Puar, Jasbir. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, N.C. Duke
University Press, 2007. Print.
Zanghellini, Aleardo. “Are Gay Rights Islamophobic? A Critique of Some Uses of the Concept of
Homonationalism in Activism and Academia.” Social & Legal Studies 21.3 (n.d.): 357-374.
2012. Web.