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OutRight Action International announces new executive director

Maria Sjödin to succeed Jessica Stern

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OutRight Action International Executive Director Maria Sjödin. (Photo by Carlos Alayo/carlosalayo.com)

OutRight Action International on Thursday announced it has named Maria Sjödin as its next executive director.

Sjödin was executive director of RSFL, the largest LGBTQ and intersex rights organization in Sweden, from 2005-2014. Sjödin had been OutRight Action International’s acting executive director since last September.

They will succeed Jessica Stern, who President Joe Biden in June 2021 named as special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad.

“I’m super honored and couldn’t be more excited to carry on the work that we’re doing at OutRight at the moment,” Sjödin told the Washington Blade on Wednesday during an exclusive interview. “I’m super grateful and extremely happy.”

Julie Dorf, who is now a senior advisor for the Center for Global Equality, founded the group that is now OutRight Action International in 1990. 

Sjödin noted OutRight Action International, which has staff in 12 countries and works with advocacy groups in many others, is the world’s largest LGBTQ and intersex rights organization. OutRight Action International is the only LGBTQ- and intersex-specific organization with a permanent presence at the U.N. 

OutRight Action International earlier this year launched LBQ Connect, a program that seeks to bolster the work of activists who identify as lesbian, bisexual or queer women. Sjödin said they plan to continue this initiative as executive director.

“Over the length of my activism, I have often heard LGBTQ women say, you know, we feel invisible, we’re not seen, and we don’t have enough resources,” they told the Blade. “And LBQ connect, has been developed in response to that.”

Sjödin said there “has been an enormous progress in a lot of different countries” over the more than two decades they have been in the LGBTQ and intersex rights movement. Sjödin also acknowledged “there’s still a very long way to go.”

“It takes a long time to create the type of change that we need to see,” they said. “There’s a significant pushback from those who don’t believe that we should have rights.”

Sjödin in response to the Blade’s question about the challenges that LGBTQ and intersex people continue to face said anti-transgender rhetoric has “spread as a wildfire.” They also cited the legacy of colonial-era laws that criminalized LGBTQ and intersex people and the reaction to the monkeypox outbreak.

“It starts with the fact that the colonial powers put in place laws around the world that criminalize primarily same sex relations, but in many other cases there are restrictions on gender expressions and gender identities … there is a long history of homophobia and transphobia,” said Sjödin. “We see it right now with the outbreak of monkeypox. As soon as we heard about the first cases of monkeypox, we knew that okay, soon the leaders are going to come out and blame LGBTIQ people. And just like that it happens again.”

“LGBTIQ people and LGBTIQ communities get blamed for all kinds of things and are used as scapegoats when leaders want to, often I guess, divert attention from their own failings and just push the idea that somehow LGBITQ people are to blame,” they added.

Sjödin also said “some people seem to think that progress is kind of linear and … things that we can take for granted now are things that we can always take for granted.”

They spoke with the Blade less than two months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. 

Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurrent opinion said the Supreme Court should reconsider the decisions in the Obergefell and Lawrence cases that extended marriage equality to same-sex couples and the right to private, consensual sex. 

“There can be enormous and very dangerous rollback of rights that had already been won,” said Sjödin.

Sjödin in response to the Blade’s question about the Biden administration’s support of LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world stressed it “is critical that governments take a stand and promote human rights for LGBTIQ people around the world.”

“The U.S. has an outsized influence on the world, so when it’s on the agenda of the administration it does make a big difference,” said Sjödin.

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LGBTQ Non-Profit Organizations

Comings & Goings

Imse to lead LGBTQ Victory Institute

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The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected]

Congratulations to Elliot Imse on being named executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute. Annise Parker, president and CEO of the Victory Fund said, “Elliot is a natural leader and for years has been a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community. In his new role, his vision and leadership will be instrumental as Victory Institute continues to expand its impact and programming within the United States and across the globe. As we see more and more LGBTQ people interested in running for office, Elliot’s experience, passion and drive will be an asset to our organization as we continue investing in diverse candidate pathways.” 

Imse will oversee all of Victory Institute’s U.S. and global programs. U.S. programs include campaign and leadership trainings for LGBTQ candidates, internship and fellowship programs designed to mentor young LGBTQ leaders as well as the Presidential Appointments Initiative, which recommends and advocates for qualified LGBTQ leaders ready to serve in the administration. 

“Victory Institute is the heart and soul of our movement to build LGBTQ power in governments and to be trusted with its legacy is an incredible honor,” he said. “We have an enormous task in front of us – to build governments in the U.S. and around the world that are reflective of the people they serve. Victory Institute is the accelerator to achieving that bold goal, with its programs and trainings building a new pipeline of LGBTQ public leadership. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue working with the incredible Victory Institute team and the elected and appointed leaders who are making change.”

Imse has been with the Victory Fund and Institute since 2016 most recently as Vice President of Communications. Prior to that was Director of Policy & Communications, District of Columbia, Office of Human Rights; and a web producer with GLAAD in New York.  He worked as a volunteer with Harvard as a board member of the Gender and Sexuality Caucus; on the LGBTQ alumni board of directors; and editor-in-chief of the LGBTQ policy journal at the Kennedy School. 

Imse earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and his master’s in Public Policy from Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government.

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