Thursday
Nov202014

We All Deserve Justice

@HuffPost

You don't have to be a human rights activist to know that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans can get you killed pretty much anywhere.

Tragically, we can cite numerous examples: the 2012 assassination of LGBT activistErick Alexander Martinez Avila in Honduras; the brutal 2013 murder of Eric Lembembe, an activist and openly gay man in Cameroon; and just weeks ago, the sickening murder of Jennifer Laude, a trans woman in the Philippines.

In addition, there are the countless nameless cases--the depressing statistics in numerous reports by local and international human rights groups, as well as theUnited Nations.

Commonly, those responsible for the violence are rarely brought to justice. Prosecutions occur only (when they do) after long and sustained pressure by LGBT activists who are putting their own lives and liberty at risk in this cause.

Yesterday, the United Nations sought to remedy this situation.

The U.N. General Assembly's main committee dealing with human rights adopted an updated version of a biannual resolution to demand justice for all killings based on discriminatory grounds, including murders motivated by a person's real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Only one country voted against the resolution--the Pacific island of Kiribati, although its no vote was later sought changed to "abstain." The 2012 version of the resolution had had 35 cosponsoring countries--this year, it had almost twice as many, at 63.

The vote reflects an evolution in thinking that has become a broad consensus among the world's nations: no one should be killed because of who they are, and murders and extrajudicial killings should be promptly and independently investigated.

This view alone, though, misses an important nuance of the process around the resolution's adoption.

During the negotiations over the resolution, a group of countries led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia proposed to eliminate language referring to the groups of people who, research shows, are most at risk of being killed.

The text these countries wanted to delete made reference to those subject to racially motivated violence; persons belonging to national or ethnic; religious and linguistic minorities or those targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; persons affected by terrorism or hostage-taking or those living under foreign occupation; refugees; internally displaced persons; migrants; street children; members of indigenous communities; human rights defenders; lawyers; journalists; demonstrators; and those targeted for reasons related to "honor."

On the surface, it might seem reasonable to eliminate specificity in a resolution dealing with extrajudicial killings writ large. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others, argued that getting rid of the specific groups in the text would open it up for a broader interpretation.

Experience shows otherwise. At IGLHRC we know full well that unless people targeted for violence because of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity are explicitly included in protection efforts, they will be left out.

This is for example clear in a new publication by IGLHRC and its partners, MADRE and the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. The publication, When Coming Out is a Death Sentence, exposes grave human rights violations and brutal violence against LGBT Iraqis, where killings based on sexual orientation and gender identity go unpunished. Last June, for example, two adolescent boys thought to be gay were killed and beheaded in Baghdad, their heads tossed in the garbage. No one has been prosecuted.

Justice is often equally elusive for the other categories mentioned in the resolution adopted yesterday at the U.N. Therefore, last week, 30 human rights organizationsjoined together to protest elimination of the specific language, sending a direct plea to all U.N. member states to protect the right to life for all through voting against the proposal from Egypt and others.

Fortunately, the plea was heard, and the proposal to eliminate targeted protections was rejected by an 82-53 vote.

Importantly, the real target of the proposal was not the list as such, but rather just one subgroup within it: individuals killed because of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. This became very apparent in the debate preceding the vote on the resolution and the proposed change, in which a small handful of countries desperately attempted justifying why they would eliminate protections for human rights defenders and those under foreign occupation just to avoid extending those same protections for LGBT populations.

Let us be clear. What Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the 51 other countries who voted to exclude vulnerable groups from the resolution were saying, is that some people don't deserve justice. Those people include Erick Martinez, Eric Lembembe, Jennifer Laude, and countless other LGBT persons and activists killed because of who they are.

The U.N. resolution sends a signal across the world: no matter who we are, who we love, or where we live, we deserve justice.

Thursday
Oct302014

We Are All As Blind To Racism As Men Are To Street Harassment

@HuffPost

These past days, a video tracking an actress walking through selected New York City neighborhoods has gone semi-viral. The video depicts the many (many) times the actress is accosted, harassed and even stalked by men, and was commissioned and produced by the anti-street harassment organization Hollaback!

As advocacy, the approach has, rightly in my view, been celebrated for making street harassment visible to men. Some have tweeted about the irony that this kind of evidence even needs to be produced. Shouldn't it be enough that we, the women who experience street-harassment regularly, say that it exists? But since we all know that it is not enough, solid audio-visual evidence is never a bad thing.

However, the video left me with large question marks and quite a bit of discomfort about its unspoken racial bias. Though the editorializing comments note that the actress was harassed by men of all ethnic or racial backgrounds, most of the men shown on the final video are Black, some Latino, and no one -- as far as I can tell -- white.

This racial bias in the video does not necessarily reflect reality.

While research shows that women of color are more likely to be affected by street harassment than white women, there is precious little actual research on who the harasser tends to be. Testimonials from women indicate that men of all colors harass, that maybe blue-collar workers are more likely to harass, and that street harassment can happen pretty much anywhere. My personal experience is of mostly white male harassers when in western Europe or the United States, and mostly Latino men in Latin America. In other words: I have been harassed mostly by whomever happened to be around.

And maybe geography is the key to the Hollaback! video's racial bias. The video seems to show the actress wandering mostly around communities with predominantly Black or Latino populations. There is no footage from City Island, Greenpoint or Shepherd's Bush, all NYC neighborhoods with predominantly white populations, where street harassment -- I can assure you -- is frequent and loud.

Intentional or not, the racial bias strips the video not only of authenticity and therefore authority, but also of effectiveness. When we continue to convey to (white) women, through imagery, pop culture and literature, that Black men are the main perpetrators of crime, we feed into the undeniable racial injustices in the United States crime processing system.

And that is bad enough.

But we also indirectly teach women and girls to ignore the violence and harassment they might -- and often do -- face from the (white) men who according to the same cultural biases are supposed to be their protectors.

And this latter point is perhaps the biggest question mark for me. I obviously don't get why Hollaback! would want to portray almost exclusively Black men as creepy and predatory. But I really don't get why an organization that prides itself on effective street harassment prevention would want to encourage myopic attention to only a fraction of it, however indirectly.

And I certainly don't understand why this problematic aspect of the video has not been universally highlighted by commentators along with its many strengths. Is it that we, as a society, are as blind to racial injustices as men, generally, are to street harassment?

Sadly, I think we are.

Thursday
Jul312014

On Gaza

My grandmother used to laugh out loud every time someone mentioned the death and funeral of her mother. Deeply, freeingly. And, yes, hysterically.

We talked about it sometimes, amongst the rest of the family. How she had been beaten and ignored by her mother. How she had never been properly acknowledged. How, after all of her rebellion—running away, cutting her hair short, marrying outside her class—she did not feel free until her mother had actually died. We talked about it with compassion but discomfort: it was understandable and painful and hard.

This is some part of how I feel when I watch people cheer at the bombing of other human beings. When I hear them justify the destruction of memories, families, and homes with reference to ideas, beliefs, and politics. I understand that there is trauma involved. I understand that it is painful and hard.

But with my grandmother, the laughter, while uncomfortable, made me see her humanity and the humanity of her mother too. Her intimate trauma somehow felt—and feels—more closely related to post-traumatic stress disorder than watching someone else die from afar, and cheer. My grandmother would not have found the death of anyone else’s mother funny in the least.

What I am trying to say is this.

I have written and spoken sparingly on the Gaza-Israel crisis. And now I am writing to say this: please do not laugh at other people’s suffering or death. And if you feel that you must, if your intimate trauma and personal experience of the crisis is such that you cannot but laugh from post-traumatic stress and hysteria, I pray (and I truly do pray) that your laughter helps to project and understand the humanity of everyone involved, including those you laugh at. 

Friday
Jun202014

Retrocesos y Avances en Derechos LGBT

(Con María Mercedes Gómez en alternos)

El 7 de mayo, el Tribunal Constitucional del Perú emitió un fallo que pone en evidencia el desconocimiento de los asuntos trans en Latinoamérica. El Tribunal negó a una mujer que ya había cambiado legalmente de nombre, la posibilidad de registrar su sexo en el documento nacional de identidad. Con esto, condenó a la mujer –identificada como P.E.M.M.– y por extensión a todas las personas trans, a vivir bajo el riesgo permanente de ser víctimas de violencia y discriminación.

Seamos clar*s: por orden del máximo tribunal del Perú, P.E.M.M. tendrá que declararse trans en situaciones de supervivencia diaria porque su documento la registra con sexo masculino, mientras lleva aspecto y nombre de mujer. En países como el Perú, el documento de identidad es necesario para acceder a los servicios básicos de salud, educación, trámites bancarios y atención policial, entre otros; por eso, la decisión que nos ocupa expone a esta mujer a la constante violación de su privacidad, a la discriminación y a la violencia. En la región con mayor número de asesinatos de personas trans en el mundo, la sentencia en el caso P.E.M.M. es, en la práctica, una potencial condena a muerte.

Desgraciadamente, las autoridades peruanas no son las únicas en demostrar incomprensión e intolerancia en América Latina. En Colombia, organizaciones como Colombia Diversa, Santamaría Fundación y Caribe Afirmativo reportan frecuentes asesinatos de mujeres trans sumidos en la impunidad, y múltiples formas de abuso policial dirigidos en particular a quienes se dedican al trabajo sexual, o a quienes son percibidas como trabajadoras sexuales por el simple hecho de ser trans. Hay pocos procesos, mucho menos detenidos, y miopía en la recolección de datos por parte del Estado. Lo que sabemos, lo sabemos, ante todo, por la documentación que hacen los defensores de derechos humanos. En consecuencia, el asesinato de personas trans es el crimen perfecto, porque no importa cuán brutal y común sea, es con la misma frecuencia invisible.

Las reiteradas omisiones a investigar estos delitos y la violación de los derechos humanos de las personas trans han hecho parte de la información presentada ante los comités de derechos humanos y de mujeres de las Naciones Unidas por varias organizaciones de la sociedad civil entre ellas la Comisión Internacional de Derechos Humanos para Gays y Lesbians (IGLHRC). Nuestra información prueba que los Estados han fallado en reconocer, atender y solucionar la violación de los derechos de las personas trans. Algunos Estados insisten en patologizar la identidad de género como una condición médica para acceder a los derechos fundamentales; otros crean obstáculos en los procesos de registro civil y emisión de documentos de identidad y, por lo tanto, niegan el acceso a servicios fundamentales. En América Latina parece ignorarse la terrible lección del siglo XX, que nos enseña que a las atrocidades contra una población específica preceden la estigmatización y la privación efectiva de la ciudadanía.

Sin embargo, también hay gestos de esperanza. Por ejemplo, en el mencionado caso peruano, la burda opinión de la mayoría contrasta con el salvamento de voto, pues, éste muestra la predisposición y los estereotipos en los que se basa la decisión y reitera el derecho de las personas a auto-definirse.

En Argentina hay un esfuerzo pionero en los derechos trans e intersexuales, a pesar de alguna ambigüedad en las protecciones legales con respecto a l*s menores trans. En mayo de 2012, la Argentina emitió la primera ley de identidad de género en la región. En junio de este año, el Congreso de Chile tendrá su debate final sobre un proyecto de ley similar. La ley argentina asegura que las personas adultas puedan definir su identificación de género de manera autónoma y sin someterse para hacerlo a la patologización de los discursos médicos o a la discrecionalidad del Estado a través de los funcionarios judiciales. Avances de este tipo no transforman de manera inmediata los prejuicios sociales, ni eliminan automáticamente la violencia, pero aseguran ciertos derechos y ayudan a construir una sociedad más justa.

Estos procesos legislativos, el activismo de los defensores de derechos humanos, y el valiente voto de la minoría en el Tribunal peruano, son avances fundados en el reconocimiento de nuestra humanidad compartida. Son –qué duda cabe- puntos de luz en un panorama de intolerancia y violencia. Es una tarea constante hacer que crezcan y derroten las sombras.

Wednesday
Jun112014

UN Expected to Consider New Resolution on Discrimination Against LGBTI Persons

@RHRealityCheck

On June 10, the UN Human Rights Council started a three-week session, where—rumor has it—a new resolution addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity might be discussed.

Here’s how that development is simultaneously timely and late.

On June 5, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States adopted a resolution condemning violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex persons.

That resolution is one of several recent international developments to codify the notion that all human beings have equal rights, regardless of our sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or any other qualifier. In late May, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights passed a resolution, condemning violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Also late May this year, seven United Nations agencies issued a joint statement in support of transgender and intersex people’s right not to be forced to be sterilized, a sentiment the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had discussed a couple of years earlier. Last year, the United Nations’ two regional economic commissions for Asia and the Pacific and for Latin America and the Caribbean, respectively, expressed the need to address the exclusion and rights of people of diverse sexualities in order to achieve development.

Of course, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared all “men” equal in dignity and rights already in 1948. Setting the gendered aspect of this wording aside, it is clear also that, more than five decades later, not all human beings in practice enjoy equal rights. Exclusion is multilayered and complex, but it is fair to say that discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and intersex status is rife most everywhere.

For starters, there are the more than 76 countries, often cited, that criminalize adult same-sex sexual conduct in some shape or form. While it usually is a specific sexual conduct that is criminalized on paper—such as, for example, sodomy or anal sex—the effect is to punish gender expression and perceived sexual orientation more broadly.

State-sponsored discrimination targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or intersex persons also takes other forms, many of them as punitive as if sexual orientation or gender identity had been criminalized directly. For example, Russia does not criminalize same-sex conduct itself, but a law outlawing “gay propaganda,” which was signed into effect in June 2013, has contributed to a situation where violence against those who are known or appear to be gay or lesbian is quite normalized.

And even broader than that, states’ failure to deal with higher drop-out rates for LGBTI youth, employment discrimination, and lack of access to housing, leads lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people predictably to be overrepresented among the poor, the homeless, or the otherwise marginalized. Recently, a ruling from Peru’s Constitutional Court condemned a trans woman to a life in perpetual fear, by noting that while she was free to enter her female first name on her official identification card, her papers would continue to identify her as “male.” Anyone reading statistics on violence against trans persons will know that constantly having to “out” oneself as trans, regardless of context, is not a good way to stay safe.

This is why all eyes should be on the UN Human Rights Council this week. The council adopted its first resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity in July 2011, in which it commissioned a study on the effects of discrimination and promised to stay engaged on the issue. Now, three years later, information has been gathered, and several inter-governmental bodies, including most recently the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, have declared themselves in favor of equality and rights.

The rumored Human Rights Council resolution would join the growing mass of global documents that declare, unequivocally, what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights implied some 50-odd years ago. We are all equal; and when we are not treated as such, it is time to step up.