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Contesting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity at the UN Human Rights Council


Norm entrepreneurs have made significant strides in advancing sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council. However, these advancements are being fiercely contested. This paper examines the development of SOGI at the Council including how states advocate for and contest SOGI and the extent to which their positions are mutable. Resolution 32/2 of 2016, which created an independent expert, is the central focus of the paper. Participant interviews and content analysis of documents and statements are used to provide an in-depth analysis of how states advocate their positions on SOGI. The paper finds that framing is the primary tool used by states. Both proponents and opponents of SOGI believe their own positions are universal and adhere to prior international law, while their opponents’ positions are relativist and revisionist. The paper further finds that deadlock on SOGI resolutions is imminent until Member States’ domestic legislation changes.

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  1. 1.

    The interviews were conducted confidentially because of the sensitive nature of the work. Without confidentiality agreements, most diplomats refused to discuss the Council and its proceedings.

  2. 2.

    See United Nations (2016a), 41st Meeting, 32nd Regular Session, Video, 3:34:28, June 30th, 2016, Resolution for a webcast of the entire debate. Alternatively, and hereafter, we will use a transcript provided by ILGA and Arc International. “Compilation of the Adoption of the 2016 SOGI Resolution,” Allied Rainbow Communities International (ARC International) and ILGA 2016,, p.8 (hereafter ILGA 2016).


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This research was supported by International Programs and Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Toledo. I would like to thank Dr. Helma de-Vries-Jordan, the European Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh, and Dr. Scott Siegel for feedback and an opportunity to present this research. Finally, I would like to thank all interview participants for their willingness to candidly discuss the development of SOGI at the UN Human Rights Council.

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Correspondence to M. Joel Voss.

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Voss, M.J. Contesting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity at the UN Human Rights Council. Hum Rights Rev 19, 1–22 (2018).

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  • United Nations
  • Human rights
  • LGBT rights
  • Norms
  • Contestation
  • SOGI