Construction of Good and Bad

The Framing of Muslim LGBTIQ+ Refugees in Austrian Media

Short Summary and Take Away

“Identity”, as a word, can be misleading. All of us have multiple, intersecting identities. In this regard, I could say, “I am many”. Those identities influence each other. They have an impact on how we perceive of this world and how the world perceives of us. One problem in media representation is that, often, identity categories are singled out for the purposes of the piece, failing true representation and furthering essentialist, simplified, notions of humans. I discuss the case of the framing of Muslim LGBTIQ+ refugees in the Austrian media in this context and argue that only certain identity categories are allowed to exist alongside each other. They are used to, as narratively convincing, create the images of a “good” and “bad” migrant.


While some refugees are welcome, others are securitised alongside a dichotomous construction of “good” and “bad”. This research analyses the discourse around LGBTIQ+ refugees in the Austrian media and how their de-securitisation based on Western conceptualisations of identity leads to a further securitisation of Muslim refugees. In 2015, after a period of welcome, a so-called “refugee crisis” took hold of the media in Austria. This study comes three years later to research the perception of refugees in relation to different identity categories. The identity categories of gay and lesbian had gained importance throughout the year of 2018 due to cases of LGBTIQ+ refugees not being granted asylum by the Austrian Federal Agency for Immigration and Asylum (BFA) for not being “gay enough” or “too gay.” This study will focus on LGBTIQ+ identities and their role in (de)securitising processes, especially in relation to the Muslim faith and integration into a “Western” mainstream Austrian society. The lead question reads thus as follows: To which end are Muslim LGBTIQ+ refugees (de)securitised by the Austrian media? Other questions that will be raised to arrive at a more profound understanding of the topic are: What is the role of sexuality in the process of (de)securitisation? In what ways are identity categories used in the discourse?

Combining an intersectional approach with (de)securitisation theory will allow for an understanding of how Western notions of what it means to be a “good” or “bad” migrant are constructed in the discourse based on singled-out identity categories. I argue, from an intersectional perspective, that the category of “good” migrant is created through being a “good” (read fitting in Western identities) queer. This “good” migrant, that is a “bad” Muslim because of their queerness, in turn creates “bad” migrants that are “good” Muslims. In this framing, one cannot be a good migrant and a good Muslim at the same time, the intersections of identity categories are overlooked, and Muslim migrants are further securitised. I am going to analyse how the discourse on LGBTIQ+ refugees in the Austrian media fails its queers in three ways, firstly by singling out identity categories as narratively convincing. This, secondly, fails to address the intersections of identity. The media, thirdly, places the focus on the international community rather than on LGBTIQ+ refugees themselves.

Methodologically, I will apply a critical discourse analysis on the basis of Wodak (2001) and Van Dijk (2001) in the form of a desk research study. Sixteen newspaper articles were printed and chronologically analysed in a cyclical coding process (cf. Saldana 2009). I will add to Van Dijk’s (2001) approach to critical discourse analysis by including “sexuality” as a central notion alongside “religion.”

The first part of this paper introduces an intersectional approach to (de)securitisation and links these two theories to grant an understanding of how identity categories are used in the discourse. The second part outlines the methodology used in this essay, discussing critical discourse analysis and how it can be expanded. The third section presents the results and findings by dividing the articles in three different, but related, parts. The fourth and last section puts the findings into context and discusses them critically.

1 An Intersectional Approach to (De)Securitisation

This essay aims to analyse LGBTIQ+ refugees with a Muslim background in the theoretical framework of (de)securitisation. This section reviews the literature on (de)securitisation and gives an outline of the importance of studying LGBTIQ+ refugees in this context. To arrive at an understanding of the specific positionality of LGBTIQ+ people in the process of migration to “the West” from a Muslim majority country, I am going to combine the (de)securitisation framework with an intersectional approach.

The traditional approach to the study of security was confined to the military sector (cf. Buzan/Waever/de Wilde 1998:1). Security, in this sense, is easy to define through issues concerning the military. Buzan, Waever, and de Wilde (1998: 2), however, argue for a broader sense of security, and it is this sense of security that will be used in this essay. Security, here, does not solely have positive connotations. In line with Waever’s argument, preference is given to desecuritisation. Desecuritisation designates “the shifting of issues out of emergency mode and into the normal bargaining processes of the political sphere.” (Buzan/Waever/de Wilde 1998: 4) What does this approach to security imply for the analysis? The aim is to understand how shared meaning regarding threats to the community is constructed. The analysis focuses on how and why some people or phenomena are considered a threat, while others, in the context of migration, are welcomed with open arms. The process of securitisation works through speech acts: “It is not interesting as a sign referring to something more real; it is the utterance itself that is the act.” (Buzan/Waever/de Wilde 1998: 26) The focus lies on the attribution of the security problem, the process of making something into an ‘existential threat’ (cf. Buzan/Waever/de Wilde 1998: 44). An existential threat can only be defined in relation to whose or which existence it is threatening (cf. ibid.: 21). The wider discourse and power relations are thus an integral part of any analysis.

Huysmans (1998) adds to this by analysing the ‘ethico-political dimension of desecuritising’. The interpretation that he puts forward focuses on the way people relate to themselves and others with the aim of organising a collective. For Huysmans (1998: 588), “the kernel of the desecuritising representation is the refusal to define the political community as ultimately a question of distancing from or eliminating the enemy.” Who is the enemy? Who is the collective? Such questions are going to be asked throughout the analysis.

Research on LGBTIQ+ refugees covers different grounds. Firstly, it addresses questions of intersectionality and multiple sites of oppression (cf. Alessi et al. 2018). Intersectionality is identified by Hill Collins and Chepp (2013) to be able to add to existing fields of research and reframe the questions asked. This is because intersectionality takes into account the positionality of research and people in general. Intersectionality locates power relationally and seeks to understand how different systems of oppression and the different identity categories within it work together. The added value intersectionality will bring to my research is an understanding of the way Muslim identities, LGBTIQ+ identities and refugee identities work in relation to each other to create different positionalities within the (de)securitising process. Secondly, research on LGBTIQ+ refugees has looked at how ‘gayness’ is proven in the asylum-seeking process (cf. Lewis 2014, Luibhéid 2008) and how a category of a for the ‘West’ ‘good’ queer is produced (cf. Luibhéid 2008, Waites 2009). Luibhéid (2008) criticises how those queers, that form part of heteronormativity and existing power structures, are admitted asylum while others, that do not fit those norms, are not granted the same rights. Waites (2009) argues alongside similar lines, criticising the Western-centric employment of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ in human rights discourses. Questions of cultural ‘diversity’ and globalization, the split between a perception of the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’ and religion and sexual politics become increasingly important in global politics and are thus also subject of this research (cf. Waites 2009: 137). The analysis of the discourse on LGBTIQ+ refugees is hence led by a critical lens towards the employed categories and analyses the role of sexuality and linked identities in (de)securitising migrants. Constructions of “good” and “bad” are analysed based on Luibhéid’s (2008) discussion of “good,” “Western” queers.

What is yet missing in the research around LGBTIQ+ refugees is this combination of the theoretical framework of (de)securitisation and an intersectional approach. Alongside Huysmans’ (1998: 580) statement, that the rules are confirmed by the exception in the case of (de)securitization, I am going to analyse how the desecuritisation of LGBTIQ+ refugees in the Austrian media is facilitating a securitisation of other refugees, creating “good” and “bad” migrants, “good” and “bad” queers, and “good” and “bad” Muslims. Questions raised in the discourse analysis of the newspaper articles will focus on how constructed LGBTIQ+ refugee identities are framed as re-affirming ‘Western’ values while other refugees are depictured as a threat to these same identities based on a selection of different identity categories.

2 The Workings of the Research

While the theoretical framework used in this research is a combination of (de)securitisation theory and intersectionality, the analysis of the chosen texts will be conducted in the form of a critical discourse analysis (CDA) on the basis of the work of Wodak (2001) and van Dijk (2001). To arrive at grounded conclusions of the CDA, a multiple cycle coding process will also form part of the methodology (cf. Saldana 2009). This methodological approach is linked to the theoretical framework of (de)securitisation, as both focus on the importance of the discourse as active part of power dynamics.

The basis of analysis in CDA is text (cf. Wodak 2001: 2), which is why I have selected 16 articles for my study. The articles used are from Der Standard, Kurier, Die Presse, and Kronen Zeitung, which represent four of the largest newspapers in Austria and reach from the political left to the political right respectively (for a similar framework of Austrian media see Greussing and Boomgaarden, 2017). Aiming at a representation of the discourse, I have chosen four articles per newspaper from the year 2018. 2018 marks an interesting year in the discourse on LGBTIQ+ people in Austria, as cases became public in which the institution in charge, the BFA, declined asylum to people on the basis of homosexuality, because it questioned the authenticity of their claim (cf. Kurier 2018a, Der Standard 2018, Völker 2018, Die Presse 2018b, Martinz 2018). The topic was, thus, prominent in the media and politics, and I am going to contextualise the reporting on those claims by taking the entire year as the basis for my analysis. In terms of the migration discourse, 2018 represents a time when the ‘welcome’ culture of Austria ended, and in which the discourse shifted to a more securitising frame (cf. Zeitel-Bank 2017). This time frame promised contextualised but yet not too broad insight into the Austrian media landscape. This research does not claim to represent the full discourse as political speeches, but also small narratives form part of it. There are, therefore, clear limitations to this analysis in as far as it is examining exclusively newspaper articles. The keywords for the selection of the newspaper articles are German variations of “LGBTIQ+” in conjunction with “Migrant_in” (migrant), and “Flüchtling” (refugee). The hand selection process was minimal, as there were not many more than four articles written on the relevant topic per newspaper. Once selected, I printed and chronologically analysed the articles in the form of a desk research study and application of CDA within the theoretical framework discussed.

What is CDA and what is critical about it? “Basically, ‘critical’ is to be understood as having distance to the data, embedding the data in the social, taking a political stance explicitly, and a focus on self-reflection as scholars doing research.” (Wodak 2001: 9) The ‘critical’ part of CDA is what distinguishes the method from other discourse analytical work, as the social and political is made explicit (cf. van Dijk 2001: 352). There is an awareness of the scholar being part of the value system. As a result, it is of importance to note my own positioning in the research, which will form part of the discussion in the fourth section of this essay.
Van Dijk (2001: 354) notes that CDA expands DA by adding analytical notions such as “power,” “dominance,” “ideology,” “religion,” and “gender” to the analysis. I argue that this framework should include “sexuality” as such a category because of the way in which it is employed by the state and public discourse in relation to rights. I am, therefor, taking sexuality as one line alongside which the discourse needs to be analysed. The intersection of “religion” and “sexuality” in the discourse on LGBTIQ+ refugees will form the focus of the CDA and further show the importance of the category “sexuality” for the discourse.
Van Dijk (2001: 363), furthermore, calls for a multidisciplinary and multifaceted CDA which is why the theoretical framework of (de)securitisation in combination with intersectionality is so important to this research. It will allow a more profound understanding of the inequalities and power relations active in the discourse on LGBTIQ+ refugees in Austria. Another facet is given to the research by applying Saldana’s (2009) conceptualisation of coding: coding is a way of forming and finding categories present in the data, and in doing so helps to recognise themes (cf. Saldana 2009). Coding is, thus, a process that turns data into findings. It is important to note, however, that this is not a single, one-way route. Coding is a cyclical process: “The second cycle (and possibly the third and fourth, and so on) of recoding further manages, filters, highlights, and focuses the salient features of the qualitative data record for generating categories, themes, and concepts, grasping meaning, and/or building theory.” (Saldana 2009: 8) Coding means discovering, exploring meaning, identifying patterns, and finding connections. Through re-applying the codes, I codified the data and was able to identify the limitations of the discourse (cf. ibid.: 8).

3 Focus on One Category

Throughout my research I analysed 16 articles, half of which treat cases in which an asylum seeker asks for asylum based on homosexuality but is denied their request due to being “too gay” to be credible or “not gay enough” to be authentic (cf. Kurier 2018a, Der Standard 2018, Völker 2018, Die Presse 2018b, Martinz 2018, Die Presse 2018c, Brickner 2018, Rieger 2018). The other eight articles represent the context of the Austrian media landscape, treating topics ranging from how to prove homosexuality in the asylum-seeking process (cf. Grimm 2018), LGBTIQ+ refugees not being granted entry in a gay night club (cf. Brickner/Gaigg 2018), which countries are on the list of “safe countries”, (cf. Die Presse 2018a), studies on Muslim violence and book introductions on “clash of cultures” (cf. Hollauf 2018, Richter 2018, Kronen Zeitung 2018a, Kronen Zeitung 2018b, Kurier 2018b). In this section, I am going to lay out the results of my analysis to arrive at a critical discussion of the codified data in the next section. The results were generated through a cyclical coding process and desk research, with CDA as the backbone of the methodology.

It was during the first cycle of coding that I realised the importance of intersectionality for the analysis, which is why I went back to the theory and reworked the framework accordingly, putting an emphasis on “sexuality” and its relation to “religion” in the CDA. With an expanded theoretical framework, I came back to the texts and identified three parts of the discourse interacting. The first part is the reporting of the right-wing newspaper, Kronen Zeitung, that focuses on a clash of cultures and presents studies on Muslim violence (cf. Hollauf 2018, Richter 2018, Kronen Zeitung 2018a). The second and smallest part is one article of the left-wing newspaper Der Standard on the denial of entry of LGBTIQ+ refugees to a gay night club (cf. Brickner/Gaigg 2018). The last and most important part is the reporting on the actual cases of LGBTIQ+ refugees not being granted asylum, because the institution in charge was not convinced by their claim of homosexuality. Also forming part of this section are two articles on the list of “safe” countries and how to prove homosexuality in the asylum-seeking process as they directly relate to the cases discussed (cf. Grimm 2018, Die Presse 2018a). First, I am discussing part one and two for a contextualisation of the Austrian media landscape on LGBTIQ+ refugees and then turning to presenting the findings of part three.

The theme that emerges from analysing the articles of Kronen Zeitung are a focus on religion, namely Islam. The basic claim is that Muslim refugees think violence is legitimate in certain cases, mostly relating to women’s rights and homosexuality, and that “they” are against what “we” stand for. This is presented in two of the articles in form of two studies that give legitimacy to the claim (cf. Hollauf 2018, Richter 2018). In line with Buzan et al. (1998: 44) stating that the focus is not the source of the security problem, but the attribution of it, the articles do not talk about extremism or lacking state support for integration. They solely build a narrative of potential aggression of Muslim refugees, therefor building them as an existential threat. What is more, in an article presenting books on Islam, it is discussed how it has become socially acceptable to criticise Islam because it is against what the “West” stands for; namely progress, women’s and gay rights (cf. Kronen Zeitung 2018a).

The second part of the data is interesting because of the way identity categories are reported. Again, the theme of religion emerges, this time however in relation to sexuality and ethnic background. The main actors in the article are gay, male refugees from Bangladesh. Their Muslim background is discussed in the article. From an intersectional perspective the actors are entangled in a system of multiple oppressions, stemming from the perceived norm diverging sexualities and cultural/religious background. They are being discriminated against because of their foreignness, while they want entry in the club because of their gayness. They are portrayed in the article as “too foreign” for the club, and yet “too gay” for their “own” community. While the article, thus, addresses parts of their intersecting identity categories, it also leaves a generalised picture of Muslims as homophobic intact. What is more, an emphasis is put on “Sexualität ausleben”, which translates to “freely enact” their sexuality. The fact that gender performance and sexuality are not always linked, that sexual orientation in this sense of identities is a Western concept (cf. Waites 2009), remains unaddressed. “Us” is taken as the norm, that “they” need to adapt to, but never fully can because of their ethnic background. Only in the last paragraph there is a short mention of the fact that the criteria of entry based on ethnicity is discriminating overall and should be changed. The emphasis of the article is, hence, on the category of “sexuality”. By doing so however, the newspaper indirectly draws a negative picture of Muslim refugees as oppressive of norm diverging sexualities.

The last part of the data represents the largest part of the analysis. The article discussing the list of “safe” countries is relevant, in as far as it emphasises the security of Austria which is said to benefit from a more “restrictive, efficient and ordered asylum system” (Austrian minister for internal affairs Kickl quoted in Die Presse 2018a). The article that discusses the “delicate” topic of proving homosexuality in the asylum-seeking process in the EU links to this restrictive asylum system (Grimm 2018). The focus of the text is whether movement of people across borders is legitimate or illegitimate and how the EU member states decide this matter. While in the past psychological tests were allowed to test legitimate claims of homosexuality, the European Court of Justice decided that this was no longer legal (cf. ibid.). The way this decision process is carried out in Austria is largely criticised in the other articles of this section for being too dependent on the asylum officer in charge of single cases. Two cases in which self-identified LGBTIQ+ people have been denied asylum have been picked up by the Austrian media. One is the case of an Afghan man that was said by the institution not to be “gay enough” to claim the LGBTIQ+ identity. The other one was an Iraqi man that was “too gay” to be authentic, he was thought to be assuming a role in order to be granted asylum. More than half of the newspaper articles covering the cases criticise the stereotyping role of the BFA. The LGBTIQ+ identity is highlighted, and the role of religion is only indirectly mentioned through, for example, the mention of a Muslim country or there is no mention of religion at all. The intersection of categories is only touched upon in one of the articles and one other article criticises racism next to stereotypes. Half of the articles present the BFA as the guilty party in the story. The victims are the LGBTIQ+ asylum seekers, and Austria is independent from the institution of the BFA, presented as the saviour. Another striking fact is that more than half of the articles mention the bad image Austria has gotten from the international (read Western) community for these two cases. One of the articles, written from the centre right newspaper, even titles the coverage accordingly: Decision on Asylum Against Homosexual Draws International Attention (Die Presse 2018b). The far-right newspaper did not cover the cases. These first results are going to be further discussed and contextualised in the next chapter.

4 The Importance of Intersecting Identity Categories

In this section, I will discuss the failure of the discourse to actually address LGBTIQ+ refugees with a Muslim background as such because of the focus that is put on singled-out identity categories. The previous section presented the findings of my analysis and now I am, based on CDA (cf. Wodak 2001) and (de)securitisation theory (cf. Buzan/Waever/de Wilde 1998: 44), going to put them into context and discuss them further. As discussed in the methodology section, there is an awareness within CDA that the scholar is also a part of the power dynamics they are addressing. I, thus, find it important at this point to express my political stance explicitly to be able to then embed the data in the social accordingly. I am born in Austria and grew up on the countryside. During the so-called refugee “crisis” in 2015 I lived in Vienna, where most refugees arrived. I was volunteering for an organisation that aimed at rendering accessible the Austrian social system to refugees. I am, thus, writing, generally, in favour of refugees being granted asylum and not being securitised on the basis of their nationality. I also identify as part of the LGBTIQ+ community and am against anyone being threatened in whatsoever form for their sexual identity. What I am writing against is the way in which Western LGBTIQ+ identities are instrumentalised in the discourse to further securitise Muslim refugees without, in fact, helping LGBTIQ+ refugees.

The most important fact that became apparent throughout the analysis is the way in which identity categories are isolated to further certain agendas. The categories are clearly separated depending on which one is forwarded, the refugees are seen as positive or negative. One of the key questions of securitisation theory is how certain people are made into a threat; in the context of the discourse on LGBTIQ+ refugees in Austria, it depends on which identity category is considered and portrayed as the strongest. Their portrayal certainly also depends on the newspaper behind the article, which is visible in the different focuses of left- and right-wing papers. While the right-wing newspaper Kronen Zeitung focused on Muslim identities and only indirectly mentioned LGBTIQ+ identities in contexts of Islam aggression and oppression, the left-wing newspaper Der Standard focused on LGBTIQ+ identities, and, in this context, barely touched upon Muslim identities. What can be seen in both cases, however, is the way in which a dichotomy of “good” and “bad” refugees is constructed. Huysmans (1998: 580) states that rules are confirmed by the exception in (de)securitisation processes. It is by creating the perfect victim, namely LGBTIQ+ refugees, that “good” refugees are constructed. This construction of “good” refugees in turn renders Muslim refugees, that are supposedly as an entity against LGBTIQ+ people, the “bad” refugees. “Good” LGBTIQ+ refugees that fit into Western identities are de-securitised while “bad” Muslim refugees are securitised.

What is the context in which this (de)securitisation process “makes sense”? ElTayeb (2008) understands the context of the discourse on migration to be a “clash of civilisations.” This holds true in my analysis. There is a clear distinction of the West and Islam as two opposing entities. This is especially visible in the focus on the international community, which is to be understood as the West. Austria’s image in the reporting show the relevance of the perceived civilizational divide. Not only the articles of the third section affirm this context, also the articles of section one and two of my analysis confirm this narrative. One article of the Kronen Zeitung (2018a) is even titled as follows: Clash of Cultures? The Islam-Books Austria Is Talking about. LGBTIQ+ refugees are thought to reaffirm “Western” values of sexual freedom, gender equality, and democracy. LGBTIQ+ refugees reaffirm the collective. Muslim refugees, however, are thought as a threat to these same identities, and are depicted as the enemy.

People that are threatened because of their sexuality should be granted refuge. Their stories are, however, not always as easy as they are portrayed. Firstly, sexual identities in the way they are referred to today have Western roots (cf. Waites 2009).
There is more to sexuality than being “gay” or “straight”, cultural associations and constructs define who is considered what at what time. Secondly, identity categories do not stand by themselves. One identity category doesn’t equal one person, human experience is more complex and cannot be reduced to being solely this, or being solely that. LGBTIQ+ refugees with a Muslim background still have that same Muslim background and their experiences as diverging from what is perceived the norm is different from a white, “Western”, gay man. This is why intersectionality is so important in this context. Finally, what the discourse misses is the existence of extremism within Islam and that also non LGBTIQ+ refugees are threatened by it. I argue, together with Waiter (2009: 138), that the focus should be “justice” and “self-determination” of LGBTIQ+ refugees rather than their victimisation based on a narrative in which the West is the saviour. The intersectionality of their multiple identity categories must be taken into account. Only then can LGBTIQ+ refugees form an active part of the discourse rather than playing into a narrative that further securitises Muslim refugees and only cares about Austrians image in the Western community.


At the beginning of this essay stood the question: To which end are Muslim LGBTIQ+ refugees (de)securitised in Austrian media? I argued based on an intersectional approach to (de)securitisation theory, that “Western” perceptions of LGBTIQ+ identities are used to desecuritise LGBTIQ+ refugees, which, in turn, further securitises refugees when their Muslim identity is moved to the forefront. Put concisely, this “good” LGBTIQ+ migrant, that is a “bad” Muslim because of their queerness, in turn creates “bad” migrants that are “good” Muslims. “Good” Muslims cannot be “good” migrants in this framing. The end to which LGBTIQ+ refugees are portrayed, it became clear, is neither their safety nor their agency.
The discourse on Muslim LGBTIQ+ refugees fails its queers. Three reasons have been identified to second this argument based on a CDA and multiple coding processes of Austrian newspaper articles. Firstly, the discourse fails its queers because of the way it singles out identities as narratively convincing. In the rightwing newspaper Muslim identities are forwarded to further arguments of an existential threat to “our” civilisation. While the left-wing newspaper Der Standard forwarded LGBTIQ+ identities, it still draws a negative picture of Muslims by emphasising the importance of freely pursuing sexual identities, which is thought as only possible in a “Western” context. The categories are strictly separated, and intersections are not truly considered by either newspaper. Secondly, the discourse fails to address intersections and does not address the full range of human experience and positionality. Thirdly, the discourse puts a focus on the international, read “Western”, community rather than on the LGBTIQ+ refugees themselves. Titles such as Decision on Asylum Against Homosexual Draws International Attention (Die Presse 2018b) reveal the true narrative of saviour and victim behind the text, in which the “West” saves LGBTIQ+ refugees from their oppressive Muslim regime.

Limitations of the study can be seen in the focus on mainly two identity categories, namely sexuality and religion. Further research should thus look at other identity categories such as age or gender, as well as their intersections, to be able to better understand the discourse and the way categories are used within it. The combination of intersectionality and (de)securitisation theory remains a promising tool to provide further answers. One of the key questions of (de)securitisation theory had been identified to be why some people are considered threats. An intersectional analysis has led to the partial conclusion that, depending on which identity is perceived strongest, people are seen as in need of securitisation or not. From the norm diverging sexualities, if in line with “Western” interests and perceptions, were found to be a desecuritising agent. The selective focus on singled out identity categories prevented an intersectional understanding of portrayed people and was used in a way that further securitised Muslim refugees. Intersectionality is key to arrive at a discourse on Muslim LGBTIQ+ refugees that does not fail its queers.


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