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Entries in LGBT (18)


New UN Report: Treat LGBTI Humans As Humans


This week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued its second report on the state of human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people worldwide. 

Here's a hint: It's not pretty.

Intended originally to share good practices and ways to overcome violence and discrimination, this report in reality spells out the violence and discrimination that must be overcome. That's not a coincidence. Since OHCHR issued its first reporton this subject in 2011, many countries have certainly taken significant steps to advance the rights of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and bodily diversity. But many others remain reluctant to do so. As the High Commissioner's report this week notes: "The overall picture remains one of continuing, pervasive, violent abuse, harassment and discrimination affecting LGBT and intersex persons in all regions."

There are many reasons why discrimination and abuse persist. The report addresses two of them head-on. 

First, it tackles the objection that LGBTI persons are not covered by international human rights protections. This may seem remarkably straightforward based on the premise that we are all human -- all of us -- therefore we all have rights, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and bodily diversity. 

However, human rights generate obligations for states -- to promote, protect and fulfill these basic rights. States, everywhere, are reluctant to recognize the rights of those they deem "other" or somehow less valuable: Whether it is denying felons the right to vote, excluding undocumented immigrants from schooling or criminalizing freedom of speech for political opponents. For bodily autonomy and privacy for LGBTI persons, the mechanism is the same. And some states simply want to exclude those they don't "like" from the benefits and protection that human rights standards entitle them to. 

In seeking to overcome this objection, the High Commissioner's new report details many of the specific obligations states have to address discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons: Protection against torture and abuse; refraining from criminally or otherwise punishing people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and ensuring everyone's right to freedom of speech and assembly.

Secondly, the report overcomes the general objection that there is just "nothing you can do" about stigma and prejudice. In its 20 recommendations to states, the report lays out the first crucial steps that should be taken to overcome violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons. The recommendations cover discrimination in housing, education, employment, and refugee policies; urges revision of blatantly discriminatory laws, and suggests ongoing sensitivity training for public officials in healthcare, education and justice systems. Same-sex relationships should be afforded the same protections as opposite-sex relationships, the report notes; everyone should have access to legal identity document reflecting their preferred gender, upon demand, and no intersex child should be subjected to medically unnecessary procedures.

These recommendations should serve as a blueprint for priority action to overcome the violence and discrimination that is detailed in the report. 

They may look extensive. 

But if you read carefully you will see that all the report asks for is for LGBTI humans to be treated as humans.


Protection from arbitrary killing should be a minimum standard not an aspiration


The right not to be arbitrarily killed ought to be the absolute floor for any understanding of human rights.

However, for many of our colleagues and the people they work with, basic safety and security seems more like an aspirational goal than a minimum standard. The offices of our partners are broken into. Private work meetings are cancelled by authorities. Our colleagues are arrested or harassed by police. A number are severely beaten, whether by public officers or by private individuals, often acting in groups.

And then there are those who are killed. The Transgender Murder Monitoring Project has tracked at least 226 reported murders of trans persons from November 2013 to November 2014 worldwide.  In New York City in the month of May 2014 alone, the Anti Violence Project reported 11 high-profile cases of anti-gay violence. Most likely, these are but the tip of the iceberg. Most cases of violence or murder directly against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) persons are not reported to the police, or highlighted in the media. Justice for this violence is hardly ever forthcoming, even where the incidents are reported.

But perhaps more to the point, though we know for sure that LGBTI persons, as a group, are more exposed to violence than straight and/or cisgender counterparts—all other things being equal—it is not always possible to say whether a specific incidence of violence or harassment is motivated by the victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is why it is paramount that governments pay specific attention to the violence directed at those identifying as or suspected of being LGBTI. For more than a decade, United Nations members states have pledged to do just in their biannual resolution on extrajudicial and arbitrary executions and killings. Since 2000, this resolution has included a reference to the need for states to pay specific attention to those killed because of real or perceived sexual orientation, and since 2012 also gender identity.

This resolution does not, of course, overcome the discrimination and abuse faced by LGBTI persons—and those suspected of being LGBTI—worldwide. However, the explicitly acknowledgement that violence against LGBTI persons is arbitrary, and that states must work to prosecute this violence where it happens, lends weight to the pushes for adequate legislation and policies to counter hate crimes everywhere.

Even more importantly, the resolution highlights those targeted because of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity as particularly vulnerable to arbitrary killings, implicitly acknowledging states’ failure to prevent this violence. Even if each individual murder motivated by homophobic or transphobic hatred were classified and prosecuted as a hate crime, this would still not, by itself, eliminate the societal prejudice that fuels these crimes.  The most important contribution the passage of this resolution could make is by implicitly calling out the need for cultural change.

The right not to be arbitrarily killed—or killed at all—for any reason whatsoever should not even be up for discussion. What we should be talking about is how to change the stereotypes that lead to abuse.


We All Deserve Justice


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.


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.


UN Expected to Consider New Resolution on Discrimination Against LGBTI Persons


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.