International Law, Children’s Rights, and Queer Youth

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International Law, Children’s Rights, and Queer Youth: Enhancing Sexual Freedom In the United States (and to a lesser extent in Great Britain), there is a politically influential conservative literature on youth and sexuality growing out of the dominance of the Right in defining “appropriate” discussion of sexuality in relation to youth. One sees this very clearly in the current dominance of abstinence-only sex education in the US and in the passage of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act in Great Britain. Though modified by the Labour government, Section 28 still has influence in that it has not been repealed, and recent provisions, while recognizing that homosexuality must be discussed if bullying is to be dealt with, still mandates that, “‘there should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation.’” More progressive reactions to this literature begin to recognize the ways by which sexuality is used in the construction of appropriate masculinity/femininity, family, adulthood, and citizenship while at the same time discussing the impact of these constructions on youth. This is an analysis, however, that can benefit—despite the widespread invisibility of sexuality in these literatures--from the largely European discussion of youth and transitions and youth and citizenship, because of the extent to which that literature makes strong connections to changing political economy. Equally important, though, both potentially progressive literatures might be very helpful for queer activism because they are suggestive of the extent to which addressing the needs of queer youth might well require a broader understanding of the social circumstances of young people generally. This awareness, I will argue, points to the need to recognize youth as deserving of greater citizenship recognition. One hope for gaining this may come from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international human rights agreement that by explicitly combining political and economic and social rights, has the potential to push the United States to new ways of recognizing youth, something that it is currently doing in Europe.


Valerie Lehr

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