A 2019 'State of the Union' on LGBTI Issues And The Road Ahead

A true urgency for global social change
In a connected world, it is unsustainable for a minority to gain dignity and opportunities in some parts of the globe while having to remain in the shadows in others. In the case of LGBTI people, this dichotomy often leads to either migration or despair… or both, as forced migration is rarely a “happy voyage”. It is also becoming increasingly difficult and restricted to the most privileged – those who speak English, that have money or diplomas. As a result, the urgency for social change on LGBTI issues has never been greater.

The Stonewall 50th anniversary’s main takeaway is that we do not have another 50 years to achieve global equality for LGBTI people.

The glass “half full”
Tremendous progress has been achieved in most parts of the World on acceptance of LGBTI people in the past 25 years:

  • Many governments have decriminalized same-sex activity with India, Angola and Botswana’s rulings making the headlines in 2019;

  • About 68 of the UN's 193 member countries ban discrimination based on sexual orientation;

  • 28 countries now recognize same-sex marriage;

  • The Human Rights Council appointed a UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the Costa Rican Victor Madrigal.

The glass more than “ half empty”
Yet, global progress has been uneven and mostly benefited gay men: only 20 countries ban discrimination based on gender identity and to date, there have been very few initiatives to protect the rights of intersex people. Similarly, one can count the number of lesbians at the top of business on two hands which illustrates the fact that women still bear the brunt of homophobia and misogyny.

LGBTI people are also getting crumbs when it comes to power-sharing and decision making. As of January 2019, there were ten openly gay members out of 535 in the 116th US Congress or 1.8% making it the “gayest Congress” (at least that we know of). at the United Nations, I cannot think of one single openly LGBTI high-ranking official. Openly gay CEOs and board members are also a rarity in the business world: Out Leadership points out that less than 0.3% of Fortune 500 board directors are openly LGBTI.

More importantly, if LGBTI people are not featured in school curriculum – a highly controversial topic as illustrated by the recent fight in British public schools – LGBTI children will continue to be forced to lie to their teachers, parents, and community for their entire childhood. Something which truly amounts to a global public health crisis.

In short, we have only scratched the surface of LGBTI equality.

And it might be getting worse…
Unfortunately, the push back against fundamental human rights values appears to affect disproportionately human rights of LGBTI people with an increase in hate speech (watch Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel’s inspiring words at the UN last week at an event moderated by Outright’s Jessica stern) as well as a retreat from Governments which historically championed LGBTI rights. Last in First Out.

La Manif Pour Tous (The Protest for Everyone), the French anti-LGBT movement, called for another display of anti-gay sentiment in the streets of Paris this Sunday as it demonstrates against access to reproductive technologies for lesbians. And the number of newly elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who oppose same-sex marriage now stands at around 30 percent. And in the corridors of the UN General Assembly last week, a new emphasis on “traditional values”, and resurgence of conservative narratives was audible.

Where do we go from here…
Our ability to replicate some of the change in public attitude we have observed elsewhere and resist the current backlash will depend first on the scale of our financing (Please visit OutRightInternational.org/donate today) but secondly our capacity to innovate. Here are three pointers for our future engagement:

  • Increase visibility of trans people in all forums: if there is one lesson from past progress on acceptance of gay people, it is that visibility is the cornerstone of social change. With the increased visibility of trans people in our communities, the media and public life, comes awareness and changing attitudes – which is key to securing trans people’s fundamental rights. We should all make a pledge to provide a seat to a trans person when we have the opportunity;

  • Build bridges with other human rights movements: too often LGBTI issues are disconnected from other key issues such as gender, racial or economic inequalities. Yet, there is growing evidence that homophobia and transphobia are compounded by gender inequality or poverty but also that our struggle shares the same roots. Similarly, there is evidence that other movements benefit from greater acceptance of sexual orientation and gender identity. Finally, many Governments are more receptive to a holistic approach to “inclusion” than LGBTI-specific discussions;

  • Engage the private sector and other stakeholders: if Governments are stepping away from Human Rights, we might have opportunities to engage other actors which have the potential to pick up where Governments left off. The private sector, religious leaders, civil society are examples of non-traditional actors which can have an important impact on social change. This is what drives my work on engaging corporations on LGBTI issues through the UN Global LGBTI Standards for business.

Complacency is what we must really fear. Today, you cannot tell any longer to a young lesbian in Sousse, Tunisia that she must wait several generations for freedom. LGBTI people cannot wait any longer and deserve to enjoy all human rights on an equal basis with everyone and be treated as full members of the human family, in full respect of their dignity.