Gender, sexuality and the limits of the law

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Elizabeth Mills Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

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This article reflects on a programme of research conducted by gender and sexuality activists, academics and legal practitioners in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and South East Asia. Running over 4 years, the Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme (SPLP) aimed to generate new evidence-based knowledge and policy options to support efforts that would strengthen, through legal reform, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and others marginalised because of their sexuality. The SPLP also aimed to demonstrate the impact of legal and policy marginalisation on the livelihoods of LGBT across the world. Instead of claiming answers or offering conclusions based on this body of work, the article draws on Sara Ahmed's writing and raises questions based on the SPLP around what it means to encounter ‘brick walls’ – specifically the materiality of juridical and productive power – through one's body. The article explores how international discourses and institutions are implicated in the shape of domestic legal frameworks that centre on gender and sexuality, and it explores how these frame-works shape which bodies are made visible, effaced or entirely ignored. Given the politics of international development and global LGBT rights discourse, this article concludes that laws are never quite sovereign and it makes a case for understanding the implications of this ‘legal porosity’ on people's embodied experiences of inequality as they fall under (beside or outside) the law.

Elizabeth Mills Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

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Global Discourse
An interdisciplinary journal of current affairs