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UN Security Council urged to focus on LGBTQ, intersex rights

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield chaired Monday meeting

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The United Nations (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Monday chaired a meeting at the United Nations that focused on the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. co-sponsored the meeting along with Albania, Brazil, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the U.K. and the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield announced four “specific steps the U.S. will take to better integrate LGBTQI+ concerns into the U.N. Security Council’s daily work.”

• A regular review of the situation of LGBTQ and intersex people in conflict zones on the Security Council’s agenda that “includes regularly soliciting information from LGBTQI+ human rights defenders.

• Encouraging the U.N. Secretariat and other U.N. officials to “integrate LGBTQI+ concerns and perspectives in their regular reports” to the Security Council.

• A commitment “to raising abuses and violations of the human rights of LGBTQI+ people in our national statements in the Security Council.”

• A promise to propose, “when appropriate, language in Security Council products responding to the situation of LGBTQI+ individuals.”

“We are proud of these commitments,” said Thomas-Greenfield during Monday’s meeting. “They are just the beginning.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks outside the U.N. Security Council on March 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues, provided a briefing on LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world. 

“My mandate is based on one single fact: Diversity and sexual orientation and gender identity is a universal feature of humanity,” he said. “For too long, it has been made invisible in national level contributions to peace and security, including policies and programs and in the political and programmatic action of the United Nations.” 

María Susana Peralta of Colombia Diversa — an LGBTQ and intersex advocacy group in Colombia that participated in talks between the country’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that led to an LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement then-President Juan Manuel Santos and then-FARC Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed in 2016 — and Afghan LGBT Organization Director Artemis Akbary also took part in the meeting.

Peralta said Colombia’s peace agreement “has created a standard by which other countries can use,” but noted the country’s Special Justice for Peace has yet to prosecute anyone who committed human rights abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity during the war.

Akbary noted the persecution of LGBTQ and intersex people in Afghanistan has increased since the Taliban regained control of the country in 2021. Akbary also said LGBTQ and intersex Afghans cannot flee to Iran and other neighboring countries because of criminalization laws.

“The whole world is watching as the rights of LGBTQ people are systematically violated in Afghanistan,” said Akbary. “LGBTQ people on the ground in Afghanistan need and deserve protection.”

Representatives of U.N. delegations from France, Brazil, Albania, Japan, Ecuador, Switzerland, the U.K., Malta, Colombia, South Africa, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and the European Union spoke in favor of the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the Security Council’s work.

“A person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or sex characteristics often increases the risk of of becoming the target in conflict and crisis situations,” said Luis Guilherme Parga Cintra of Brazil.

British Ambassador to the U.N. General Assembly Richard Crocker made a similar point.

“We know the conflicts have disproportionate impact on marginalized communities: Women and girls, persons with disabilities, members of ethnic and religious minority groups,” he said. “It is only right the Security Council is discussing this issue today.”

Ambassador Karlito Nunes, who is Timor-Leste’s permanent U.N. representative, read a statement in support of the Security Council discussions about LGBTQ and intersex issues. Representatives from China, Russia and Ghana who spoke said the Security Council is not the appropriate place to discuss them.

“Sexual orientation is an individual choice of every individual,” said the Russian representative.

The meeting took place less than 13 months after Russia launched its war against Ukraine. 

A Russian airstrike on March 1, 2022, killed Elvira Schemur, a 21-year-old law school student who volunteered for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride, while she was volunteering inside the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv’s regional administration building. Activists with whom the Washington Blade has spoken said LGBTQ and intersex people who lived in Russia-controlled areas of the country did not go outside and tried to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were afraid of Russian soldiers.

A Pride commemoration in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sept. 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sphere Women’s Association)

The Security Council’s first-ever LGBTQ-specific meeting, which focused on the Islamic State’s persecution of LGBTQ Syrians and Iraqis, took place in 2015. Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who is now director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and then-International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Jessica Stern, who is now the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights, are among those who participated.

Stern, along with U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), attended the meeting alongside OutRight International Executive Director Maria Sjödin, among others.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, center, speaks outside the U.N. Security Council on March 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Security Council in June 2016 formally condemned the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. The U.N. Human Rights Council a few months later appointed Vitit Muntarbhorn as the first independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues. (Madrigal-Borloz succeeded Muntarbhorn in 2018.)

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Knight Craft and then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell in 2019 during a U.N. General Assembly meeting hosted an event that focused on efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations around the world. 

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s overall foreign policy. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told the Washington Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the White House’s five priorities as it relates to the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights overseas.

The U.S., the U.K., France, China and Russia are the Security Council’s five permanent members. Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates are the 10 non-permanent members.

Ghana and the United Arab Emirates are two of the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. 

“Today’s meeting was an important first step toward further concrete actions the Security Council, and all parts of the U.N., can take to integrate LGBTQI+ human rights, experiences, and perspectives into their day-to-day work,” Thomas-Greenfield told the Blade in a statement after Monday’s meeting. “We’re proud of the four commitments we made today, and we will keep working to make sure this topic remains on the Council’s agenda.”

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United Nations

UN Advocacy Week: A glimpse into global LGBTIQ+ challenges

Outright International this month brought 24 activists to New York

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“What has the United Nations ever done for us?” Maybe not quite that bluntly, but at Outright International, we are often asked that question. LGBTIQ persons want to know what the world’s only truly universal global organization is doing for their lives and safety.

The profound and beautiful commitments of the United Nations that “all persons are born free and equal” and that “nobody should be left behind” should apply to all people, including LGBTIQ persons.

The sad reality is that LGBTIQ persons are actually neither free nor equal, and they are consistently left behind, either on purpose or by accident. LGBTIQ activists around the world work tirelessly to change the laws, policies, and society’s attitudes in homes and communities in the 193+ countries of the world.

They are supported by a global framework of law and standards at the United Nations that says, “you too are included, you too matter, you too are worthy.” Even when your country fails you, you can point to the United Nations to say that we all agreed that things should be better.

The clear inclusion of LGBTIQ persons in the international framework has not always been the case. It took decades of advocacy for the UN to say that we, too, are worthy of respect and protection simply because of who we are and whom we love. And now, powerful forces are at work trying to set the clock back, unraveling the promise of inclusion that we have fought for so hard.

We need to preserve and deepen the inclusivity of the international standards that hold our governments to account. And we need to keep reminding the United Nations of the realities that LGBTIQ persons face in all parts of the world.

At Outright International, one way we do this is each year by bringing LGBTIQ activists to the United Nations headquarters for a week of targeted meetings with various parts of the United Nations and the representatives of the world’s governments based here, guiding the setting of international standards. 

This year 24 activists from around the world came to NYC for Advocacy Week: Five trans activists, three intersex activists, four from the Middle East and North Africa; six working on lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women issues; seven from countries in Africa where aggressive anti-LGBTIQ laws are being passed, three from countries with extreme repression of civil society; 17 from countries that criminalize us.

The week was filled with intense discussions, emotional storytelling, and strategic planning. Meeting activists from diverse backgrounds highlighted the global nature of the struggle for LGBTIQ rights. Each personal account of the lived experiences of LGBTIQ people underscores the universal quest for dignity and equality. The significance of this week cannot be overstated — it was a true beacon of hope, a testament to our shared commitment to advancing LGBTIQ rights worldwide. 

The week’s emotional impact was profound. Hearing activists recount their personal and shared experiences of discrimination, violence, and resilience was both heartbreaking and inspiring. These stories testify to the human spirit’s capacity to endure and fight against oppression. They remind us that behind every statistic, there are real people whose lives are affected by our collective actions.

Several key themes emerged during the week. One prominent discussion was the shrinking civic space for LGBTIQ advocacy. Activists from countries experiencing the influence of anti-rights actors on public policy shared harrowing accounts of how restrictive laws, violent attacks, and state-sponsored discrimination are impacting LGBTIQ communities. These stories highlighted the urgent need for international solidarity and robust advocacy to strengthen legal protections. 

Another critical theme was the role of the United Nations in addressing human rights issues. Activists emphasized the importance of UN institutions recognizing and affirming the rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression and sex characteristics. Engaging directly with state missions allowed activists to advocate in person for inclusive policies and greater protections at the international level.

This year, activists representing the transgender community in the Philippines and the broader LGBTIQ+ community in the Bahamas participated in a panel discussion with Maria Sjödin, Outright’s executive director. The discussion focused on this year’s IDAHOBIT theme, “No One Left Behind: Equality, Freedom, And Justice For All.” The panelists shared the unique experiences of LBQ and transgender women and the impact of criminalizing legislation on societal acceptance of LGBTIQ+ persons in former colonies of the United Kingdom.

During a meeting with the UN Under Secretary General (USG) Guy Ryder and the UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ilze Brands-Kehris, the activists were also able to directly engage and share information on LGBTIQ+ community experiences of human rights violations and the threats to human rights defenders and their mobility of the movement. USG Ryder emphasized the importance of considering broader contexts of conflict influenced by pushbacks against human rights and civil liberties. The USG held that the United Nations remains deeply committed to protecting LGBTIQ persons from discrimination, as reflected in their message for IDAHOBIT. USG Ryder also mentioned that the upcoming UN Summit for the Future in September will see the adoption of a Pact for the Future, incorporating gender and human rights considerations. 

The voices of the activists were the heart of Advocacy Week. We were particularly moved by the story of a transgender woman from the Philippines who spoke about the dual struggle of facing both legal discrimination and societal stigma as a trans woman herself and a movement leader. Her courage in sharing her story was a powerful reminder of the personal stakes in our fight for equality. Similarly, an intersex activist highlighted the medical abuses faced by intersex individuals, including unnecessary surgeries and a lack of essential healthcare. These testimonies were not just stories of struggle; they were calls to action, urging us all to continue fighting for a world where everyone can live freely and safely.

The current global landscape for LGBTIQ individuals is fraught with challenges. At least 65 countries still have national laws that criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults, and in 13 countries, transgender identity and expression are criminalized. Anti-gender and anti-human rights sentiments are on the rise in many parts of the world. These harsh realities underscore the importance of continued advocacy and learning about how we can impact LGBTIQ rights. Advocacy Week provided a critical platform for discussing strategies to counter these issues. 

We explored ways to strengthen international alliances, leverage diplomatic channels, and use collaborative strategies to amplify our message.

Individuals and communities can take several actionable steps to support LGBTIQ rights and contribute to positive change: Advocate for inclusive policies, educate and raise awareness, support LGBTIQ organizations, challenge discrimination, and engage politically by voting for and supporting political candidates who champion LGBTIQ rights. 

The path ahead requires persistent and unified action to ensure that the rights of every individual are recognized and protected. The work of organizations like Outright International and the dedication of LGBTIQ activists worldwide are crucial in driving this change, fostering a world where equality, freedom, and justice truly leave no one behind.

As we reflect on the outcomes of Advocacy Week, it is clear that the fight for LGBTIQ rights requires persistent and unified action. We urge readers to support LGBTIQ organizations, participate in advocacy efforts, and stand in solidarity with our global community. Your voice can make a difference in ensuring that everyone, regardless of their identity, is treated with dignity and respect.

At Outright International, these are the issues that we engage and highlight. Outright International is a founding member and current secretariat for the UN LGBTI Core group, an informal group comprising 42 member states, the delegation of the EU, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as Human Rights Watch, and Outright International. The Core Group is committed to advancing the rights of LGBTIQ persons through multilateral advocacy within the United Nations. 

Thiruna Naidoo (she/her) is Outright International’s program officer for Africa based in Pretoria, South Africa. They support the Outright Africa team in developing advocacy initiatives for OutRight’s Africa regional programming, with a focus on expanding Southern African programming. Previously, they have worked as a program officer, litigation coordinator, and co-project manager in the non-profit world.

André du Plessis (he/him) is Outright’s UN Program Director. André was ILGA World’s executive director from 2017 to 2021 before becoming an independent consultant on LGBTIQ human rights.  Born in Zambia, André is South African, Swiss, and British, and grew up in the UK and India before studying law at the University of Cambridge and UCL. He lives in New York, having moved to the US in 2023 to be with his husband. He enjoys hiking, cycling, trail running, reading, and cooking in his spare time.

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UN Human Rights Council adopts landmark intersex rights resolution

Final vote was 24-0 with 23 abstentions

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(Bigstock photo)

The U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday adopted a landmark resolution in support of the rights of intersex people.

The first-of-its-kind resolution specifically targets discrimination, violence and harmful practices against those with innate variations in sex characteristics. The resolution received overwhelming support from member states, with none voting against it.

The final vote was 24-0 with 23 abstentions.

The resolution that Finland, South Africa, Chile and Australia proposed urges countries to strive towards ensuring the highest possible standard of physical and mental health for intersex people. It also calls upon the Office of the High Commissioner to compile a report, slated for discussion at the council in September 2025. 

This report will assess discriminatory laws and policies; acts of violence and harmful practices around the world, while also identifying best practices and legal protections for intersex people.

“This resolution represents yet another landmark in the international community’s attention to the rights of intersex individuals,” stated 35 advocacy groups in a joint press release they issued after the resolution’s adoption. “Years of concerted efforts by both civil society and states have generated significant momentum, but this resolution could catalyze even more decisive action. By prompting the first official United Nations report on the human rights status of individuals with innate variations in sex characteristics, this vote will elevate awareness to a level that states can no longer ignore, compelling them to take concrete measures.”

The resolution expresses “grave concern” over the violence and harmful practices faced by intersex individuals, including medically unnecessary interventions regarding sex characteristics. It furthermore acknowledges this call to action aligns with statements from various human rights bodies and the commitments outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly the one that addresses health and well-being.

“We extend our gratitude to the cross-regional coalition of states that spearheaded this resolution, as well as those who supported it,” said the advocacy groups in their press release. “Intersex individuals are present in every corner of the globe, yet they endure pervasive human rights violations, including forced medical interventions, infanticide, denial of legal recognition and discrimination in accessing essential services such as healthcare, education and sports. The United Nations’ intervention to address this situation holds immense significance in improving the lives of intersex individuals worldwide.”

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US global LGBTQ, intersex rights envoy participates in UN women’s conference

Jessica Stern traveled to N.Y. this week

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Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, center, speaks outside the U.N. Security Council on March 20, 2023. She participated in this year's Commission on the Status of Women at the U.N conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, traveled to New York this week to participate in the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the U.N.

Stern arrived in New York on Tuesday and left on Friday.

The CSW68, the largest annual U.N. gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment, began on Monday and will take place through March 22 under the theme of “accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective.” This year’s session holds particular significance as global statistics reveal persistent gender disparities, with 10.3 percent of women living in extreme poverty and progress towards poverty eradication lagging significantly behind targets.

Accelerating progress towards gender equality necessitates substantial investment, with an estimated additional $360 billion per year needed to achieve key global goals. Stern while in New York sought to advocate for prioritizing policies and programs that address gender inequalities and enhance women’s agency and leadership, noting the transformative impact such investments could have on lifting millions out of poverty and spurring economic growth.

At CSW68, governments, civil society organizations, experts and activists will converge to discuss actions and investments aimed at ending women’s poverty and advancing gender equality. 

Moreover, the CSW68 serves as a critical platform for sharing best practices and innovative approaches to addressing gender disparities. Stern participated in panel discussions and workshops, offered insights gleaned from her extensive experience in advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people and marginalized communities.

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