Meet OutRight's New Board Member Rikki Nathanson

OutRight is pleased to announce a new addition to its Board of Directors - Rikki Nathanson! Rikki is a fierce activist for the rights of trans and gender diverse persons, globally, and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to OutRight's board.

Rikki is a pioneering activist for the rights of trans people across Africa. In September 2015, she formed Trans* Research, Education, Advocacy & Training [TREAT], which seeks to address the civil rights issues of the trans and gender diverse population of Zimbabwe in the areas of health, justice and the socio-economy. In 2016, she was instrumental in the formation of the Southern Africa Trans Forum, as well as being a member of the Africa Key Populations Expert Group to the UNDP, and the Every Woman Everywhere Coalition.

Rikki has shocking first-hand experience of the violence and mistreatment trans people can be faced with on a day-to-day basis. She was unlawfully arrested for using a public female restroom at a hotel in her home city of Bulawayo in 2014. After being acquitted, she challenged the State of Zimbabwe for the arrest with a civil suit. This simple act of standing up for her right to use the bathroom which corresponds to her gender identity resulted in posing a real danger to her life, and saw her having to flee her home country of Zimbabwe to resettle in Rockville, Maryland in the United States of America.

Despite having had to move across the world, Rikki's activism hasn't been halted. In Maryland, she is part of the management team at Casa Ruby. Casa Ruby is led by transgender women of color, and is the only bilingual and multicultural LGBTQ organization in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, providing social services and programs catering to the most vulnerable LGBTIQ people in the city and surrounding areas.

Rikki joins the board of directors, where she will support OutRight staff in fulfilling the mission to secure human rights for LGBTIQ people everywhere. OutRight board members are a diverse group from the private and non-profit sectors, philanthropy, academia and the arts. Their professional talents combined with a passion for human rights allow them to raise awareness for OutRight’s programmatic work. Their volunteer service is essential to the organization.

Executive Assistant Em Rubey spoke with Rikki to learn more about her advocacy for LGBTIQ people and her work with OutRight.

Em Rubey: How did you first become involved with OutRight?

Rikki Nathanson: I first became involved with OutRight in 2016, when I attended Advocacy Week in New York as part of a group of 30 LGBTIQ activists from across the globe. Advocacy Week enables activists from across the globe to have the opportunity to interact face-to-face with representatives to the UN from states across the world in a bid to raise awareness, build support and improve the lives of LGBTIQ people through UN processes and mechanisms. That experience was amazing. Being my first interaction with the United Nations in New York, it taught me the intricacies of how the UN, and in particular, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, work. I was also honored by being asked to speak on a panel at OutSummit, which is a one day conference held at the end of Advocacy Week. This conference brings together at least 300 international and US-based activists for a day of panel discussion and workshops focusing on human rights relating to sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex issues.

Em: You are a woman of many talents - certified accountant, political organizer, and nonprofit leader. How has your activism changed over the years as you have embodied these various roles?

Rikki: Well, I would say that I was always an activist from a young age, when I refused to be bullied to play contact sports at school, and insisted on partaking in more “artsy” extracurricular activities. Things like choir, drama, and debating [which is actually quite academic] were my favorites. Growing up, I think that my talents, education and professional training metamorphosed to become the woman I am today. One who knows what she wants, and one who has utilized, and adapted all that she has learnt in life to become the woman she is.

Em: What is one way an individual can stand up for the human rights of LGBTIQ people?

Rikki: Speak out. That is certainly one way that an individual–any individual–can stand up for the human rights of LGBTIQ people. We have many silent sympathizers, but the time has come for them to now stand up, be counted, speak out and be heard.