Taking Stock: A Mid-Semester Progress Report on Foreign Language Study

By Katherine Orth

In my previous two posts in the Acquiring Foreign Languages series, I wrote about my efforts to acquire reading knowledge of French and Spanish in order to more easily browse and retrieve FCIL resources.  At this point, I want to pause and provide a mid-semester progress report. 

When I started taking classes in “French for Reading” and “Spanish for Reading,” I offered myself up as the guinea pig for DipLawMatic Dialogues readers who might be considering learning (or re-learning) a foreign language to enhance FCIL research skills.

In this post, I contrast my original plans with any necessary changes I’ve had to make along the way.

Career Advancement

When browsing job postings for reference librarian positions, it’s not unusual to see employers put a premium on knowledge of a major Western European language.  Once I determined that having this knowledge would aid me in my career advancement goals, I then had to decide whether to enroll in classes, or design my own study plan.

There are many advantages to enrolling in a class.  If you work at a university, there are many foreign language classes on offer.  Moreover, your employer might subsidize your tuition (see cost considerations, below).  On the other hand, you might not find a class specifically designed for lawyers or legal researchers.  Also, classes that meet during the workday require supervisor approval and coordination with co-workers.

Studying a foreign language independently and self-paced is an appealing option because of the flexibility it provides.  There are high-quality, free online reference tools and practice materials available, including some created by college and university faculty.  But self-guided study is not necessarily ideal.  It’s easy to get off-track, and there is no external validator to provide a grade, or proof of language mastery – proof that future employers might want to see.

My original plan: take two generalized foreign language reading comprehension classes (“French for Reading” and “Spanish for Reading”); supplement them with a self-designed study plan specific to browsing and retrieving FCIL resources online.

Mid-semester progress report: I am following my original plan.  I am also considering options for additional specialized language classes after the semester ends.  For example, my local language school offers evening classes in Spanish Medical Terminology, so I plan to ask about the possibility of forming a class for Spanish Legal Terminology.

Cost Considerations

In deciding to take a class, the most significant cost consideration is tuition.  As a university employee, I am eligible for tuition waivers, provided that classes are taken for career advancement purposes.  By searching the term “employee tuition waiver” in my university’s internal search engine, I found the Human Resources page with all the necessary forms.

Other cost considerations in taking a class can include whether and how many course books to buy, and the cost of public transportation to and from class.  I’ve found that the prices of foreign language reference texts and practice workbooks are relatively low – under $20.00 per title.  My transportation costs are a non-factor for now: the Foreign Languages building is a 20-minute walk away from my law library.

My original plan: Use an employee tuition waiver to cover course costs; buy only textbooks required by the professors, and use free internet resources for additional reference materials and practice exercises.

Mid-semester progress report: I obtained the employee tuition waiver.  I started the process over the summer, and it took longer than I expected – two weeks.  The process necessitated approval by my supervisor, registration by the graduate coordinator at the Department of Romance Languages, and final clearance from the Cashier’s Office.

Only my Spanish class required a text (Spanish for Reading), which I bought new for less than $20.00.  I have also bought additional print resources, partly because I enjoy hand-writing practice drills, and partly because I have decided to cut down on my daily dose of screen time.  The resource materials I have purchased and can recommend are a mix of reference books (501 Spanish Verbs and 501 French Verbs), and practice books (Intermediate French Grammar and Spanish Pronouns and Prepositions).  Total cost for the five books: $77.00.

Time Considerations

My original plan: Spend as much time on my self-designed FCIL supplemental practice as I spend on course homework assignments (estimated time: two hours per language per week on course homework; two hours per language per week on FCIL practice).

Mid-semester progress report: I’m spending more time on course homework than I anticipated: between three to five hours per language per week (homework assignments are a mix of translation, summarization, and comprehension questions).  I decide not to devote equal time on my FCIL practice tasks.  Instead, I prefer to alternate days between course obligations (Mondays and Wednesdays) and FCIL practice (Tuesdays and Thursdays).

Teaching Foreign & International Legal Research — From the Beginning

By Beau Steenken

First, allow me to start with a brief disclaimer: though I will be contributing regularly to DipLawMatic Dialogues on the topic of teaching FCIL research, I have taught a course on the subject exactly one time. In fall of 2014, I read an LRSQ article by Cassie DuBay about specialized legal research (SLR) courses and how they represent an improvement over offering just the traditional Advanced Legal Research (ALR).[1] The article got me to thinking about proposing an FCIL-themed course, and the following spring our faculty voted to shift research instruction at the University of Kentucky College of Law (UK Law) to an ALR-SLR rotation, with ALR to be followed by three distinct SLRs, so that we have an upper-level research course offered each semester. My Foreign & International Legal Research course was the first SLR to be offered at UK Law in the Fall 2016 Semester. I will teach it again in Fall of 2018.

Because I am relatively new to teaching FCIL research, and because my class, being new, is still fairly fresh in my mind, I thought I would use my first blog post to go over the steps I took in creating the course. After all, teaching FCIL differs enough from 1L research that it requires a lot of preparatory work before you even get to the teaching part.

Screenshot-2017-10-10 Syllabi and Course Material DatabaseThe first preparatory step that I took was to consult the database of FCIL syllabi that the Teaching FCIL Interest Group of FCIL-SIS maintains on the FCIL-SIS website.[2]  Being able to consult and compare syllabi actually used by more experienced FCIL-SIS colleagues proved invaluable. It also made apparent the need to make an initial choice that I had not considered before looking at the syllabi, namely the decision whether to propose a 1 hour or a 2 hour course. While syllabi are available for either possible iteration, ultimately I settled on a 1 hour course for purely local reasons. First, our ALR is a 2 hour course, and I felt like the SLRs should offer less credit so that students would view them as an addition to ALR as opposed to a replacement. Also, I suspected that offering a 1 hour course might help drive enrollment as UK Law did not have any other 1 hour courses, and over the years I have often overheard students in the library discussing the fine art of schedule-balancing (an art which appears to have the twin goals of staying on pace to graduate while avoiding overloading any one semester).

After choosing the 1 hour format, I focused on 1 hour syllabus samples to gather inspiration on how to fill out my draft syllabus. Based on previous interactions with journal students trying to track down comparative authorities, I knew that in addition to Foreign and International Law components, I also wanted to emphasize European Union research. After seeing how other classes divided these subjects, I ended up with a syllabus featuring an introductory class, three foreign law classes, seven international law classes (my background is more in international law than foreign or comparative law, so the unbalanced components are probably a result of my own bias), and three E.U. classes. I did the foreign component first, followed by the international component, and then closed with the E.U. component, under the notion that E.U. research combines elements of foreign (implementing legislation) and international (treaties!) research. For the most part, I think my initial division worked ok, though when I teach the class again next year, I plan on flipping the international and foreign components, as I think the class I devoted to private international law would be a nice bridge between the two and would work better as a transition moving from international to foreign law rather than the other way around.

Around the same time that I put together the draft syllabus, I also created a list of the overall learning objectives for the proposed course. Partially this was to help in identifying what the focus of each class meeting should be, but mostly it was because the curriculum committee at UK Law started requiring outcome-mapping for all new course proposals following the ABA’s adoption of the standards requiring law schools to use outcomes-based assessment. As such, my proposed learning outcomes incorporated language from our programmatic learning objectives, but I actually found that mapping what I knew I wanted to teach to a pre-existing assessment scheme to be easier than creating outcomes completely from scratch (which I had done during a 1L curricular revamp several years before the ABA and UK Law adopted outcomes based education more broadly). I settled on seven broad course outcomes that could then be tweaked for individual class sessions and individual assignments (the bold parenthetical language are the programmatic outcomes that correspond to my course outcomes):

  • In completing weekly pre-class and in-class exercises, as well as periodic graded assignments, students will find relevant foreign and international legal authorities and apply them to given fact patterns. (#2 – applying rules of law to a focused area of law, namely international law)
  • In order to find relevant authorities, students will learn to recognize the varying sources of law used by foreign/international jurisdictions and the limitations of those sources of law. (#5 – explain ways in which laws are made, what gives different forms of law authority, and how authority is limited)
  • Students will conduct research based on hypothetical fact patterns, since real world research derives from fact patterns. (#10 – analyze a set of facts to determine what legal issues are presented)
  • Students will conduct research before class, in class, and after class. Readings will be about research, as will class discussions. (#11 – research the law)
  • Through exercises, students will read research results to determine whether their gathered authorities answer the hypothetical problems. (#12 – read and interpret complex legal documents)
  • Students will deliver the results of pre-class assignments as practice emails, the results of in-class exercises orally, and the results of post-class graded assignments as written research logs. (#17 – communicate clearly and effectively in oral and written form, including electronic media)
  • Throughout the course, students will be researching foreign and international laws, often teaching themselves about legal systems as a first step. (#25 – self-directed learning to close knowledge gaps.)

 The final decision that I made during the proposal phase then dealt with how to assess the outcomes identified above, in other words, what sort of assignments to include in the draft syllabus. The syllabi I consulted contained a range of different assignment types from traditional legal hypotheticals to more bibliographic focused student reports on either a topic under international law or a foreign jurisdiction. I chose the former for a couple of reasons. First, I thought hypothetical based assignments would make assessing my identified outcomes easier. Second, I noticed that a lot of the syllabi requiring student reports tended to be of the 2 hour variety, and I did not want to give up any of my limited class time in a 1 hour course. Midway through the course-approval process, I discovered a third reason to lean towards hypothetical-based assignments in that our curriculum committee wanted me to adjust the course to satisfy the new ABA requirements for experiential learning courses. This required “practice simulation” assignments as opposed to broader research assignments.

The four initial steps described above; namely, choosing a course format, constructing a syllabus, identifying learning outcomes, and drafting sample assignments; took me a couple of months to complete but resulted in a successful course proposal. Thus, I was able to teach Foreign & International Legal Research for the first time last fall. My next post on DipLawMatic Dialogues will focus on my experiences actually teaching the course for the first time. In the meantime, I encourage anyone considering proposing FCIL research as a new course to get a jump start by consulting the Teaching FCIL Interest Group’s Syllabi Database!

[1] Cassie DuBay, Specialized Legal Research Courses: the Next Generation of Advanced Legal Research, 33 LEGAL REFERENCE SERV. Q. 203 (2014).

[2] FCIL-SIS, Syllabi and Course Material Database, AALLNet, https://www.aallnet.org/sections/fcil/teaching/syllabi (last visited October 9, 2017).


Two New Books from Yale

By Dan Wade

The Yale Law Library sponsored two book talks for books published by Yale faculty dealing with Foreign and International Law.

Internationalists (002)Monday night’s talk, held at the Yale Book Store and filmed by C-Span, featured Oona Hathaway, a professor of International Law, and Scott Shapiro, a professor of Jurisprudence who teaches a course in Transnational Law.  The pair were quite entertaining in discussing their new history of international law and, particularly, the law of war: The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017).  The work is not a sequential history, but rather takes historical vignettes to show how the law, especially the law of war, has evolved.  Their style is witty and they tell many excellent stories; it is almost the page-turner that Philippe Sands’ East West Street is. (Did you see the review of East West Street in the most current issue of AJIL, 111:2, April 2017?)  The Internationalists is fun to read and yet has a thesis about how to understand international law.  It begins with the 16th century and Grotius, who is deemed to formulate the law of the Old World Order, i.e. “Might Makes Right”; sees the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 (though, the authors prefer calling it the the Paris Peace Pact because Secretary of State Frank Kellogg was so Trump-esque), where the nations of the world sat down and agreed to renounce wars as an instrument of national policy and effectively created a New World Order; and concludes with an assessment of the contemporary scene.  I’ll let the law professors debate whitmanbookthe validity of their interpretation, but I can certainly recommend the book at one level as a wonderful, “light” read.

I have not yet had the chance to read the book that featured in Wednesday’s book talk: James Q. Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017). Jim is a professor of Legal History and Comparative Law at Yale.  His thesis is that the Nazis based their race laws, the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, on American laws rising out of Jim Crow and state miscegenation laws. This is certainly an intriguing idea!

Happy Reading!

It’s the Little Things That Matter Most: Enhancing Legal Vocabulary in French and Spanish with Function Words Found in United Nations Security Council Resolutions

By Katherine Orth

In my previous post in the Acquiring Foreign Languages series, I wrote about building a foundational legal vocabulary in French and Spanish.  I browsed the children’s portals of foreign legislative websites to gather a preliminary content vocabulary.  Now it’s time for me to review prepositions, conjunctions, and adverbs.  I want to do it in a way that keeps the focus firmly on FCIL resources.  My solution is to search for and identify functional vocabulary terms in UN Security Council resolutions.

Buckle Up!

From Zero to Reading in 60 Days!” is the tagline on the promotional flyer that my university’s Department of Romance Languages uses to entice graduate students to enroll in “French for Reading” and “Spanish for Reading.”  Although I’m not starting from zero in either language, I certainly feel the effects of early and rapid acceleration!

Starting with the second class meeting – in both classes – my fellow students and I are reading progressively longer French and Spanish texts.  We silently translate passages, summarize them, or write out answers to reading comprehension questions as our professors stand by ready to offer advice and explanations.

The texts are written in the present tense, along with some instances of verbs used as adjectives, either as past participles (“A painting done by . . .”) or present participles (“Being a painter, he . . . “).  Our professors will teach us more complicated verb tenses later.  For now, my classmates and I are bolstering our comprehension of prepositions, conjunctions, and adverbs: the little words that are so crucial to instilling content with meaning.

A foundational vocabulary in a foreign language should be comprised of content words suitable to the specific field of study, balanced with function words applicable across all fields of study.  Content words are nouns and verbs; words with meaning in and of themselves.  By contrast, function words do not have inherent meaning, but they are vitally important to comprehension – no ifs, ands, or buts about it!

Time to Face Facts

In my homework translation exercises, I’ve noticed that I sometimes translate prepositions and adverbs incorrectly.  I haven’t taken the time to properly memorize these vocabulary words, and I tend to rush through their practice exercises because they’re so boring to do.

I’m tempted to let myself off the hook, but then I re-focus on my objective for taking “French for Reading” and “Spanish for Reading.”  I aim to achieve bibliographic proficiency in French and Spanish by the end of this semester.  I’ll fulfill my objective if I can attain four self-set goals:

  1. To comfortably browse French-language and Spanish-language websites containing FCIL resources;
  2. To comfortably construct search queries in these websites;
  3. To be reasonably confident that my search queries have returned relevant results; and
  4. To comfortably “read” (get the gist of) primary law and secondary source material.

Clearly, I need a strong understanding of French and Spanish function words in order to meet each of these goals.  Incorrectly translating a function word can assign meaning to a sentence that is very different from the meaning that the author intended.  We’ve all seen examples in case law where statutory interpretation hinged on the meaning of a single preposition!

Back to the Drawing Board

UNBefore attending law school, I was an aspiring international policymaker with a Master’s degree in International Relations.  The United Nations was one of my daily go-to websites for global news and information.  I come up with the idea of skimming U.N. Security Council  resolutions in French and Spanish in order to familiarize myself with the many function words that these documents employ.  I will memorize these words in context, rather than attempting to memorize a list of words in isolation.  Moreover, this task will enable me to search for and identify function words most commonly used in building a legal argument.

I want to choose a resolution that is substantive and addresses a well-known global event, so I choose U.N.S.C. Resolution 1441.  This resolution was cited as the legal justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and, as such, it is one of the U.N.’s most famous (or infamous) documents.

After skimming the Resolution in English, I print the text in French and Spanish.  Then I work my way through both texts, circling every function word I recognize.  Resolution 1441 is only five pages long, but the task takes a while – it’s chock-full of prepositions, conjunctions, and adverbs!  Fortunately, about a dozen of the same words recur frequently.  Later, I’ll gather sample sentences containing the same function words to compare them against the English-language text.  I need to parse out the different ways that the same function words can be translated.

An unexpected bonus of this task?  Each paragraph in Resolution 1441 begins with a present-tense verb (“decides,” “endorses,” “requests”) or a present participle adjectival verb (“recalling,” “recognizing,” “deploring”).  I make a list of all these verbs, leaving space in my notebook to conjugate them later.  My French and Spanish class syllabi show that our lessons on verb forms in the past tense are right around the corner.

Introducing…Jessica Pierucci as the October 2017 FCIL Librarian of the Month

Jessica Pierucci

1. Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in California. I was born in San Francisco and lived there for the first two years of my life. I then lived in other cities in the San Francisco Bay Area throughout my childhood.

2. Why did you select law librarianship as a career? 

I discovered law librarianship as a career path when I was working on a project under the supervision of the then dean of my law school, the UC Irvine School of Law, after graduation. I asked a couple questions of the law librarians when I came across some particularly perplexing questions in my research. I realized through these interactions that their job perfectly aligned with my interests and enjoyment of legal research. I spoke with them about my interest, and they were very supportive and encouraging.

3. When did you develop an interest in foreign, comparative, and international law? 

My interest in foreign and international issues began in college, where I studied abroad in Namibia and Guatemala. My interest continued in law school, where I spent my first summer focusing on international human rights law and the next at a public interest immigration law firm working with clients born around the world.

4. Who is your current employer? How long have you worked there? 

I am the FCIL librarian at the UC Irvine School of Law Library. I started at the Law Library in 2014 and held positions in the reference, access, and collection development departments while I worked towards my MLIS degree from the online program at San José State University.

5. Do you speak any foreign languages? 

I speak some Spanish, but would like to be more conversant. I studied Spanish during college in courses and abroad in Guatemala. During winter break of my second year of law school, I returned to Guatemala for a short Spanish language program.

6. What is your most significant professional achievement? 

I am proud of the fact that I have worked in each of the UCI Law Library’s departments—reference, access, and collection development—prior to becoming the FCIL Librarian. I was able to experience and learn the full operational and service spectrums of the Law Library and how the departments work together to help best serve students, faculty, and other patrons in my current role.

7. What is your biggest food weakness? 

Sushi tops the list for me. But the list is quite long.

8. What song makes you want to get up and sing/dance? 

I take Zumba fitness classes a few times a week at the gym down the street from where I live, so pretty much any song you can Zumba to!

9. What ability or skill do you most wish you had (that you don’t have already)? 

Like many FCIL librarians, more language skills.

10. Aside from the basic necessities, what is one thing you can’t go a day without? 

This question has me stumped. There’s nothing I can think of (besides basic necessities) that I really couldn’t go a day without. There are things I prefer to not go without though, like internet access. Related fun fact, the new 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style changes Internet to internet. I learned this from one of my colleagues at UCI Law.

11. Anything else you would like to share with us? 

I am very excited to join the FCIL community. I look forward to meeting and working with other FCIL librarians across the U.S. and the world. Please feel free to reach out any time!

The Emergence of LGBT Rights in International Human Rights Law: A Historical Inquiry

By Carlos Andrés Pagán

Are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights “human rights”? If so, how and when did this inclusion take place?

lgbt international human rights lawSome non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Amnesty International, argue that LGBT rights are encompassed under human rights law.[1] On the other hand, organizations like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation claim that LGBT issues “have no legal foundation in any international human rights instrument.”[2] Within the United Nations (U.N.) system, the issue of LGBT rights has been hotly debated.[3] The U.N. foundational documents themselves are broad and therefore susceptible to both interpretations. For example, the U.N. Charter encourages “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction.”[4] Similarly, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that: “[e]veryone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind.”[5]

On December 15, 2011, the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its first report on the “human rights” of LGBT persons.[6] This report detailed the worldwide manifestations of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The publication of this report followed two historic developments at the U.N. First, in December 2008, sixty-six member nations signed onto a statement calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality and “to ensure that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity” are brought to justice.[7] Then, in June 2011, the first resolution recognizing “human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity” was approved in the Human Rights Council by a vote of 23 in favor, 19 against, and 3 abstentions.[8] Notwithstanding this feat, the voting results reveal that a significant part of the international community disagreed with the resolution’s passing.

In recent years, those who argue in favor of the inclusion of LGBT rights as human rights allude to or make explicit reference to the UDHR[9] and/or prevailing international law.[10] Yet for any advocate wishing to argue that LGBT rights are encapsulated in the UDHR or any other international document, the most salient question is how these rights were conceived when those documents were composed or when they began to be frequently invoked and relied on.

Where did the notion of LGBT rights emerge as human rights? What was the UDHR framers’ position on LGBT rights and what was the broader debate on this issue in the drafting commission? Did the activity of LGBT activists influence the work of the commission? If not, when did LGBT activists begin to prioritize lobbying international organizations? In order to address these questions, a historical enquiry into the origins of international human rights law is necessary.

To my knowledge, there has been no systematic study conducted on the history of LGBT international human rights. I trace back this lacuna to at least three causes. First, the field of LGBT legal scholarship is relatively new, and therefore comparatively small. Second, when scholars have addressed these rights, they have typically examined their development only at the national level.[11] Finally, the “novelty” of these rights has led scholars to focus on recent history.[12] In a nutshell, legal scholars have generally not critically engaged with the full historical background.

Henkin, et al., assert that “the major human rights treaties and most national constitutions were adopted prior to the emergence of LGBT rights consciousness or advocacy movements” and partly due to this “the treaties do not expressly mention homosexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity and some provisions (such as the right to marry) refer to men and women.”[13] Yet at the same time, these scholars point out that these “treaties include numerous provisions relevant to LGBT individuals, including not only privacy and equality but also the right to life, freedom from arbitrary arrest, the right to health, and freedom of association.” Likewise, they observe that the “treaties also leave undefined concepts such as discrimination on the basis of “sex” and “other status” that may be applicable to sexual orientation and gender identity issues.”[14]

In 1870, German writer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs wrote about uniting “urnings” (homosexuals) to champion their human rights. [15] In 1897, Doctor Magnus Hirschfeld founded the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee), which is considered Germany’s – and the world’s – first gay rights organization.[16] The Committee had three goals: to repeal a provision of the German Criminal Code that criminalized homosexual acts, “to enlighten public attitude about homosexuality and homosexuals, and to interest homosexuals in their struggles for their rights.”[17] In 1919, German writer Friedrich Radszuweit took over Vereinigung Freunde und Freundinnen, a Berlin-based homosexual club. In May 1922, he renamed it to Bund für Menschenrecht (Alliance for Human Rights). By 1929 the Alliance would boast 48,000 members.[18] From 1923 to 1933, the organization published a bimonthly periodical called Blätter für Menschenrecht (Bulletin for Human Rights).[19]

In 1912, Jacob Schorer, a Dutch lawyer, founded the Dutch Scientific Humanitarian Committee (NWHK), affiliated with Hirschfeld’s movement. Schorer’s organization interests lay “in the human rights aspect, the ability to be who you are without damaging the self-determination of others.”[20] Likewise, the earliest known U.S. gay movement, the Society for Human Rights, was inspired by the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee and founded in 1924. It is noteworthy that they sought to coin the term Human Rights into its name.[21]

In Switzerland, the Damen-Club Amicitia started publishing a magazine called Freundschafts-Banner (Friendship Banner), whose name was changed in 1937 to Menschenrecht (Human Rights). It repeatedly called “for equal laws and equal application of prevailing laws for heterosexuals and homosexuals, writing in 1947, for example, ‘It is for us only a matter of the same human rights! Not special rights, but the same!”[22]

In 1949, the Shakespeare Club, another Dutch gay organization, originally founded in 1946, changed its name to Cultuur en Ontspanningscentrum and based its policy on the UDHR.[23] Likewise, it has been noted that the Kredsen af 1948, Denmark’s first gay organization, was founded in response to the UDHR.[24] A Swedish branch of Kredsen af 1948 was formed in 1949 and a Norwegian branch in 1950.[25]

In 1951, the first International Congress for Sexual Equality saw fit to send a telegram to the U.N. demanding equal rights for homosexual minorities.[26] Based on “the Principles of the United Nations laid down in the Rights of Man,” the “findings of modern psychological, biological and medical research,” and “mankind’s greater awareness of social injustice”, the Congress members called on the U.N. to “initiate steps towards granting [the] status of human, social and legal equality to homosexual minorities throughout the world.”[27]

Arcadie, the first French homophile organization, founded in 1954, “consistently championed a liberal humanist agenda founded upon a discourse of universal human rights and institutionalized tolerance”.[28] Interestingly, gay rights’ discussions within Amnesty International were taking place as early as 1974[29]— three years before the organization received the Nobel Peace Prize and before the start of the period called the “breakthrough of human rights.”[30]

What are we to make of these early developments? What influence or relation, if any, did these movements and others exert over international human rights law?

Much has been written about LGBT rights. But much remains to be done. A historical examination of the efforts to include LGBT within human rights law is not only a necessary chapter in the story of LGBT rights but also a prerequisite for current debates about the status of these rights in human rights law. The issue of LGBT rights is very much alive today, ranging from decriminalizing LGBT relationships to guaranteeing marriage equality. Worldwide, people are detained and imprisoned solely because of their homosexuality—including those individuals prosecuted for having sex in circumstances that would not be criminal for heterosexuals or for their gender identity.

Assessing the relation of LGBT rights and human rights, both historically and in terms of how these concepts have involved in international law, could be an extremely valuable resource to understand the challenges that LGBT people face today in the international community. Exploring how advocates concerned with LGBT rights have chosen to frame their struggles in human rights terms, and vice versa, is of great normative value.


[1]Amnesty International, http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/lgbt-rights/about-lgbt-human-rights (last visited March. 5, 2016) (arguing that human rights abuses based on sexual orientation or gender can include, among others, the infliction of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; arbitrary detention on grounds of identity or beliefs; the restriction of freedom of association; and the denial of the basic rights of due process).

[2] Zamir Akram, Delegate of Pakistan and Representative behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Remarks at the March 2012 Meeting of the U.N. Humans Right Council, (March 7, 2012).

[3] Are LGBT rights human rights? Recent developments at the United Nations, Psychol. Int’l, June 2012

[4] U.N. Charter art. 3, ¶ 3.

[5] G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, art. 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 10, 1948).

[6] Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation, Report of the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/19/41 (2011).

[7] U.N. General Assembly, Statement on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (Dec. 18 2008) (available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49997ae312.html) (accessed 22 April 2016). The representative of Syria, on behalf of 57 member nations, introduced an alternative statement. The statement, rejected the introduction of the “so-called” notions of sexual orientation and gender identity and expressed that the creation of these new rights seriously undermine “the entire international human rights framework”. As of April 2016, 96 member nations have joined the declaration in favor of LGBT rights while 54 still opposed it.

[8] Human Rights Council Res. 17/19, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/RES/17/19 (June 17, 2011).

[9] In a Human Rights Day address to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on Dec. 6, 2011, then-United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that one of the remaining human rights challenges before the world today is guaranteeing the equality and dignity of members of the LGBT community. She spoke of this “invisible minority,” whose “human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world,” and called for greater protection of LGBT persons. She asserted that gay rights and human rights are not distinct and referred to the UDHR as a foundational U.N. document guaranteeing LGBT rights as human rights. See Hillary R. Clinton, Secretary, United States Department of State, Remarks in Recognition of International Human Rights Day (Dec. 8, 2011).

[10] Addressing the U.N. Humans Right Council, U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon stated: “We see a pattern of violence and discrimination directed at people just because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. There is widespread bias at jobs, schools and hospitals, and appalling violent attacks, including sexual assault. People have been imprisoned, tortured, even killed. This is a monumental tragedy for those affected — and a stain on our collective conscience. It is also a violation of international law. You, as members of the Human Rights Council, must respond. To those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, let me say: You are not alone. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is a shared struggle. Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to defend and uphold. Today, I stand with you, and I call upon all countries and people to stand with you, too.” See Ban-Ki moon, U.N. Secretary-General, Address at the March 2012 Meeting of the Human Rights Council, U.N. Doc. SG/SM/14145-HRC/13, (March 7, 2012).

[11] Julie Mertus, The Rejection of Human Rights Framings: The Case of LGBT Advocacy in the US, 29 Hum. Rts. Q. 1036 (2007).

[12] Julie Mertus, Applying the Gatekeeper Model of Human Rights Activism: The U.S.-Based Movement for LGBT Rights, in The International Struggle for New Human Rights 52 (Clifford Bob ed., 2009).

[13] Louis Henkin et al., Human rights 1208 (2009).

[14] Id.

[15] Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. 385 (1976). See also Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Araxes: a Call to Free the Nature of the Urning from Penal Law (Michael Lombardi trans., 1981) (1870) (“The Urning [homosexual], too, is a person. He, too, therefore, has inalienable rights. His sexual orientation is a right established by nature. Legislators have no right to veto nature; no right to persecute nature in the course of its work; no right to torture living creatures who are subject to those drives nature gave them. The Urning is also a citizen. He, too, has civil rights; and according to these rights, the state has certain duties to fulfill as well. The state does not have the right to act on whimsy or for the sheer love of persecution. The state is not authorized, as in the past, to treat Urnings as outside the pale of the law. The prohibition of the expression of the sex drive, i.e., between consenting adults in private, lies outside the legal sphere. All grounds for legal prosecution are lacking in this case. Legislators are hindered from doing this by human rights and the principle of the constitutional state”).

[16] Strongly influenced by Ulrich’s work, the Committee was active until its disbandment by the Nazis in 1933. For nearly 25 years, the Committee published scientific and cultural studies of homosexuality. Hirschfeld also founded the World League for Sexual Reform, which held several congresses on the topic: Berlin (1921), Copenhagen (1928), London (1929), Vienna (1930), and Brno (1932). See Ralf Dose, The World League for Sexual Reform: Some Possible Approaches, 12.1 J. Hist. Sexuality 1 (2003).

[17] Paul Russell, The Gay 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians, Past and Present 16 (2002)

[18] Laurence Senelick, The Homosexual Theatre Movement in the Weimar Republic, 49 Theatre Survey 5, 22 (2008).

[19] Florence Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe, Vol. I & II: Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 75 (2007).

[20] Bert Boelaars, Urgency and Strategy: Homosexual Men and Women in the First Half the of the Twentieth Century, in Urgency Required Gay and Lesbian Rights are Human Rights 10 (Ireen Dubel & André Hielkema eds., 2010).

[21] St. Sukie de la Croix, Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago before Stonewall 75 (2012).

[22] Hubert Kennedy, The Ideal Gay Man: The Story of Der Kreis 215 (1999).

[23] Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History Vol.2: From World War II to the Present Day 124 (Robert Aldrich & Garry Wotherspoon eds., 2000).

[24] Jason Pierceson, Sexual Minorities and Politics: An Introduction 157 (2016).

[25] Id.

[26] Leila J. Rupp, Professor, University of California–Santa Barbara, American Historical Association conference: Transnational Homophile Organizing: The International Committee for Sexual Equality (Jan. 2011). See also COC, Report of the First International Congress for Sexual Equality (1951), 2.19.038, box 158.

[27] Id. at 2.  See also Telegramm an die UNO, 7 Der Kreis 1 (1951).

[28] Keith Harvey, Intercultural Movements: American Gay in French Translation 29 (2003).

[29] Sexual Orientation and the AI Mandate, Luxembourg Section, for 1982 ICM, AI Index: 21/01/82 in Stephen Hopgood, Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International 116 (2006).

[30] See Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History 4, 222 (2012).