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Social inclusion key to equity in the Americas

Betilde Muñoz-Pogassian of OAS underscores need for intersectionality



Dr. Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian is the director of the Organization of American States’ Department of Social Inclusion of the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Responsibilities. (Photo courtesy of Geovanny Vicente Romero)

Editor’s note: Geovanny Vicente Romero is the Washington Blade’s newest contributor who seeks to highlight the LGBT rights movement in Latin America and efforts to extend rights to these communities.

Women’s empowerment, eradicating hunger and poverty and promoting the inclusion of people who are vulnerable. Many of those who are often treated as second-class citizens — such as people of African descent, indigenous people and members of the LGBTI community — do not have equal access to basic benefits and services as well as the protection human rights in general. These issues are part of the life and works of Dr. Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian, director of the Organization of American States’ Department of Social Inclusion of the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity.

Muñoz-Pogossian is Venezuelan with a PhD in political science from Florida International University in Miami and a master’s degree in international relations from the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla.

Her more recent publications include the volume “Equity and Social Inclusion: Overcoming Inequalities Towards More Inclusive Societies” in 2016; and “Women, Politics and Democracy in Latin America” in 2017 from the “Crossing Boundaries of Gender and Politics in the Global South” series. Following her tenure of more than a decade as the OAS’ political-electoral secretariat of the OAS, in 2015, Muñoz-Pogossian assumed the leadership of working on social inclusion issues at the OAS General Secretariat.

She recently spoke with the Washington Blade in D.C. about the progress made and the main challenges regarding the equity agenda in the Americas.

BLADE: What is equity? What are the key issues in the equity agenda in the Americas?

Muñoz-Pogossian: All human beings, from the time we were kids, understand how situations of inequity feel; those situations in which due to gender, race, age, migration status, ethnicity, sexual orientation or identity, a person cannot enjoy their rights and cannot have access to all goods and services in a society. We are all equal before the law. That is a basic obligation of democratic governments. But equity is something else. Equity makes evident the differences amongst all individuals, of their life trajectories that often impede equal access to opportunities. It seeks to generate conditions to level the playing field so that all can effectively have access to education, health, housing, social protection, jobs, to the benefits of economic growth and development throughout their life cycle, and ultimately, to all their human rights. Because the Americas continues to be the most unequal region in the world, the General Secretariat of the OAS has decided to prioritize its efforts to promote more equity in the region, and to contribute to ensuring more rights for more people.

Apart from eradicating poverty and extreme poverty, the regional equity agenda must be focused on the social inclusion of populations in situations of vulnerability. The emphasis should be placed on promoting and ensuring the enjoyment of the rights of children and youth, people of African descent and indigenous peoples, LGTBI people, people with disabilities, and to continue moving forward with the gender equity agenda. This is where we have had the most progress, but where there is still much to be done.

This work needs to focus, on one hand, on generating conditions of real democracy where these populations can, on a comparable basis as the rest of the members of society, enjoy their civil and political rights, namely, to elect and be elected, to have influence in decision-making processes, and to have incidence in the political agenda. On the other hand, the equity regional agenda must refine the series of public policies that have been implemented so far to ensure a more equal distribution of the benefits of economic growth and development. But we must also move one step further regarding economic and social rights. More political will is needed to ensure the full socio-productive inclusion of these populations, and to ensure a life free of discrimination for all. This, in the end, has everything to do with their capacity to exercise their civil and political rights. Which person who has to provide for his or her basic needs regarding food, housing or health can effectively enter the political arena and compete for public office? The discussion regarding what to prioritize is a national one. The fact is, however, that the continued existence of socioeconomic inequities that are replicated in the power asymmetries in the political sphere have a negative impact for the stability of our democracies, and on the levels of citizens’ trust in political institutions. This is something that should concern us all.

BLADE: Which progress should we celebrate? Which challenges should we prioritize?

Muñoz-Pogossian: One of the most important achievements in the last few years has been to have moved the scale in favor of the gender equity agenda. Women’s right to vote is today the norm in all countries of the Americas, and legal frameworks guarantee their right to be elected. According to data from ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), the average number of national female legislators went up from 9 to 25 percent between 1990-2015. Today practically all countries of the region have implemented quota or parity reforms, and some have even legislated in favor of targeted political financing for female candidacies. This has been manifested in greater representation of women in national legislatures, in ministerial cabinets, and although in 2018 we will only have one woman directing her country’s future in Trinidad and Tobago, we have had a number of women as heads of state in a few Latin American countries.

The challenge that we must prioritize is actually a historic debt that we have as a region. We have about 200 million Afro-descendants and 50 million indigenous people in the region. These populations are generally in the most vulnerable situations: 90 percent of these populations in the countries of the region live in poverty or extreme poverty, and in many cases, do not enjoy universal access to health, education, housing and potable water. This perpetuates a situation of political underrepresentation. At the same time, this translates into the formulation of public policies that do not consider the ethnic specificities of these populations, which again affects the representativeness of the decisions that emerge from the political system, and people’s trust in democracy.

BLADE: What is the OAS doing to promote the equity agenda in the region?

Muñoz-Pogossian: At the OAS Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity for its Department of Social Inclusion, we strive to give our support to member states in their efforts to address inequality in all its forms using an integral, inclusive and sustainable approach. We base our work in the commitments established in the OAS Charter, the Social Charter of the Americas, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Protocol of San Salvador, and the numerous inter-American juridical instruments on human rights. The OAS work on the equity agenda is organized along three key strategic lines:

1. Supporting intersectoral dialogue processes at the highest level to capitalize national capacities, both human and institutional, as well as to promote the exchange of lessons and solutions that contribute to the full exercise of all human rights by the people of the Americas.

2. Promoting and strengthening efficient cooperation strategies and the generation of alliances amongst countries of the region to promote social inclusion and the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights, to contribute to the eradication of poverty and extreme poverty in particular, and to revert situations of inequity and discrimination.

3.Accompanying countries of the region to fulfill obligations contained in the inter-American normative frameworks regarding development, social inclusion and no discrimination of groups in vulnerable situations, to ensure the effective protection of their human rights.

We at the OAS understand equity as the goal, and social inclusion as the process to achieve it. Promoting more rights for more people is our strategy to tip the scales in favor of equity in the region.

At the end of the conversation with Muñoz-Pogossian, it is clear that, although there is much to do, there has been important progress made in our region to ensure more social and political equity. It is also clear that we have the tools to do it. Via legislation, administrative measures and public policies with a rights-based perspective, we can reverse situations of inequity. The work is monumental, urgent and difficult because we are dealing with people who are in highly vulnerable situations. The work, however, is worth it because it brings us closer to having better democracies and better societies.



Latest Uganda anti-homosexuality bill incites new wave of anti-LGBTQ hate

Mbarara Rise Foundation appeals to international community for help



(Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

To the international community, 

I write to you today on behalf of the organization I lead, Mbarara Rise Foundation.

Since the year began, our rural grassroots LGBTQI+ communities have faced life threatening problems including an increased number of mob attacks, individual threats, police arrests and non-stop fears and insecurities arising from the homophobic campaigns happening in Uganda. Sadly, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 was introduced on March 9, inciting a new wave of anti-LGBTQI+ hatred.

This anti-homosexuality bill is worse than previous bills because, under this new law, simply identifying as LGBTQI+ means you have committed a crime. Even before the bill has passed, this homophobic action in Parliament has encouraged more of the general population, bloggers, celebrities and politicians to increase their hate campaigns all over the country. More than ever, Uganda is not a safe environment for us now. 

Currently, attacks are happening all over Uganda. Our communities have faced mob “justice” scenarios, threats and arrests and we have no legal recourse. Many of our constituents have received death threats, and in fact some have gone into hiding. This all increased dramatically when the bill was read in the Parliament and homophobic people are using it as a new excuse to inflict harm upon us. In just one of many examples, a transgender woman associated with our organization was beaten, publicly, by a group of cis men and she now sustains serious wounds. The police do not care.

Your voices are needed to speak out against these human rights abuses in Uganda. Your kind support is crucial and timely for us because we need protection, visibility and defense of our basic human rights. Mbarara Rise Foundation is working tirelessly to help LGBTIQ persons through building the capacity of the LGBTQI+ community, by documenting and advocating against violence, and through providing safety and security where we are able. We are fighting to increase access to legal counsel and justice and working to repeal homophobic laws and transform the attitudes of duty bearers towards LGBTQI+ persons. We cannot do this work alone.

These matters are urgent because Uganda needs interventions to protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons amidst escalating violence and homophobia given the limited capacity of LGBTQI-led organizations, a shrinking civic space. In short, we need your outrage, your voices, and your support and we need it now.

Yours sincerely,

Real Raymond

Executive Director

Mbarara Rise Foundation

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Brazil insurrection proves Trump remains global threat

Jair Bolsonsaro took page out of former U.S. president’s playbook



Former U.S. President Donald Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. (Washington Blade Trump photo by Michael Key; Bolsonaro photo by Celso Pupo/Bigstock)

I was at home in Dupont Circle on Sunday afternoon when I learned that thousands of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro supporters had stormed their country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace. I grabbed my iPhone, used Google Translate to translate my initial thoughts into Brazilian Portuguese and sent them to many of the sources with whom I have worked while on assignment for the Washington Blade in the country.

“Muito perturbador a que está aconterendo em Brasília,” I said. “What is happening in Brasília is very disturbing.”

One source described the insurrection as “terrible.” Another told me that “everything is chaos.”

Toni Reis, president of Aliança Nacional LGBTI+, a Brazilian LGBTQ and intersex advocacy group, said what happened in Brasília was “horrible.” Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals) in a statement said the insurrectionists “attacked democracy.” Congresswoman Erika Hilton, who is transgender, described them as “terrorists.”

The insurrection, which has been described as a “coup” and a “terrorist” act, took place two days after the U.S. marked the second anniversary of Jan. 6. I felt a real sense of déjà vu because what happened in Brasília was nearly identical to what I witnessed here in D.C. two years and two days earlier with Blade Photo Editor Michael Key and then-Blade intern Kaela Roeder.

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump refused to accept the 2020 presidential election results, and thousands of his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, laid siege to the Capitol after he spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse. The insurrection began after lawmakers began to certify the Electoral College results.

supporters of former u.s. president donald trump storm the u.s. capitol on jan. 6, 2021. (washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

Bolsonaro, who has yet to publicly acknowledge he lost to current Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, flew to Florida on Dec. 30.

Da Silva’s inauguration took place in Brasília on Jan. 1. Bolsonaristas laid siege to their country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace a week later. 

“The Brazilian presidential election has fueled a misinformation emergency that has tipped the LGBT+ community into a boiling pot of fake news,” wrote Egerton Neto, a Brazilian LGBTQ and intersex activist who is also an Aspen New Voices Fellow and manager of Oxford University’s XX, in an op-ed the Blade published last Oct. 28, two days before Da Silva defeated Bolsonaro in the second round of Brazil’s presidential election. “This is part of a broader global problem and we need a global plan to stop it.”

supporters of then-brazilian president jair bolsonaro rally near the brazilian congress in brasÍlia, Brazil, on oct. 1, 2022. (washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

I was on assignment in Mexico City on July 16, 2018, when Trump defended Russian President Vladimir Putin after their summit in Helsinki. I wrote in a Blade oped the “ridiculous spectacle … proved one and for all the U.S. under (the Trump) administration cannot claim with any credibility that it stands for human rights around the world.”

“American exceptionalism, however flawed, teaches us the U.S. is a beacon of hope to those around the world who suffer persecution. American exceptionalism, however flawed, teaches us the U.S. is the land of opportunity where people can build a better life for themselves and for their families,” I wrote. “Trump has turned his back on these ideals. He has also proven himself to be a danger not only to his country, but to the world as a whole.”

Bolsonaro during a press conference with Trump at the White House on March 19, 2019, said he has “always admired the United States of America.”

“This admiration has only increased since you took office,” said Bolsonaro.

The so-called “Trump of the Tropics” clearly took a page out of his American ideological counterpart’s anti-democratic playbook, and Sunday’s insurrection in Brasília is the implementation of it. The bolsonaristas who stormed the Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace perpetrated an assault on democracy in the name of their country’s former president who cannot bring himself to publicly acknowledge that he lost re-election. Sunday’s insurrection also proves that Trump, his enablers and those who continue to blindly defend and worship him remain as dangerous as ever.

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New York Times’ decision to hire anti-LGBTQ attorney as columnist is appalling

David French has worked for Alliance Defending Freedom



David French (Screen capture via Wheaton College/YouTube)

GLAAD, the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization, is responding to the New York Times’ recent announcement of their hiring of anti-LGBTQ attorney and writer David French as a columnist.

“It is appalling that the New York Times hired and is now boasting about bringing on David French, a writer and attorney with a deep history of anti-LGBTQ activism. After more than a year of inaccurate, misleading LGBTQ coverage in the Times opinion and news pages, the Times started 2023 by announcing a second anti-transgender opinion columnist, without a single known trans voice represented on staff,” responded GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis. “A cursory search for French turns up numerous anti-LGBTQ articles and his record as an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group that actively spreads misinformation about LGBTQ people and pushes baseless legislation and lawsuits to legalize discrimination, including just last month at the Supreme Court. The Times left out these facts in its glowing announcement of French’s hiring, and also forgot to mention his work as a co-signer on the 2017 Nashville Statement, which erased LGBTQ voices of faith and falsely stated ‘that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism.’ The Times had the gall to claim French as a ‘faith’ expert despite this known history.

The Times’ opinion section continues to platform non-LGBTQ voices speaking up inaccurately and harmfully about LGBTQ people and issues. This is damaging to the paper’s credibility. The Times opinion section editors’ love letter to French yesterday shows a willful disregard of LGBTQ community voices and the concerns so many have shared about their inaccurate, exclusionary, often ridiculous pieces. Last year, the Times ended popular trans writer Jenny Boylan’s column, leaving the opinion section with no trans columnists and a known lack of transgender representation on its overall staff. Who was brought on after Boylan? Pamela Paul, who has devoted columns to anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ disinformation, and David French. This reflects a growing trend on the news and opinion pages of misguided, inaccurate, and disingenuous ‘both sides’ fearmongering and bad faith ‘just asking questions’ coverage. The Times started 2023 by bragging about hiring another anti-trans writer, so LGBTQ leaders, organizations, and allies should make a 2023 resolution not to stay silent as the Times platforms lies, bias, fringe theories and dangerous inaccuracies.”

Examples of French’s anti-LGBTQ activism:

Examples of NYT columnist Pamela Paul’s anti-LGBTQ work:

Recent examples of inaccurate news coverage of LGBTQ people and youth, and their consequences:

  • In court documents, the state of Texas quoted Emily Bazelon’s June 15 report in the New York Times Magazine to further target families of trans youth over their private, evidence-based healthcare decisions. Every major medical association supports gender affirming care as best practices care that is safe and lifesaving and has widespread consensus of the medical and scientific communities.
  • The World Professional Association of Transgender Healthcare (WPATH), the world’s leading medical and research authority on transgender healthcare, criticized the Times’ November 2022 article “They Paused Puberty, But Is There a Cost?” as “furthering the atmosphere of misinformation” about healthcare for trans youth, noting its inaccurate narratives, interpretations and non-expert voices. WPATH noted the Times elevated false and inflammatory notions about medications that have been used safely in non-LGBTQ populations for decades without an explicit statement about how the benefits of the treatment far outweigh potential risks.
  • Writer Michael Powell elevated anti-transgender voices to falsely assert, in a piece about one successful transgender athlete, that transgender athletes are a threat to women’s sports. Powell’s other pieces have been used to support Pamela Paul’s inaccurate opinion essays falsely claiming “women” are being erased by the inclusion of trans people in discussions about abortion access. 
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