UN New Yorker: April 2021


Over a year after the COVID-19 pandemic closed down virtually all physical spaces and borders, OutRight and the UN team continue to find ways to connect with activists around the world to ensure advocacy for LGBTIQ equality in virtual spaces.

The United Nations (UN) in New York remains closed to the public, including civil society. This continues to cause unique challenges in accessing government officials and participating in UN forums and events. However, as always, civil society proves its resilience and creativity in finding ways to push for change and hold government officials accountable. Over the past couple of months this resilience and creativity was particularly visible as we had to find ways to participate in the 65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the long overdue Generation Equality Forum in Mexico City, and other events, taking place for the first time in a fully virtual format.

I. 65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women Takes Place

The 65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place from March 15-26, 2021 in a hybrid format at the United Nations in New York. The CSW is the UN’s largest annual multilateral meeting setting a global agenda for women’s rights and gender justice. The event brings together hundreds of world leaders and ministerial delegations, and civil society representatives. This year’s CSW theme focused on women’s full and effective participation and decision making in public life, as well as elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

OutRight recognizes that the same systems of patriarchy, archaic norms and expectations of how things “should be'' which oppress women, also keep LGBTIQ people marginalized and excluded. As such, engagement with the CSW every year is a core element of the UN team's work to ensure that LGBTIQ people are included in the commitments which Member States make in relation to continued progress for gender equality.

As in previous years, OutRight worked closely with civil society to push for inclusion of diverse voices throughout the CSW. In particular, we continued our role as a co-leader of the LBTI Caucus and the Women’s Rights Caucus (WRC). Both are informal groups of civil society organizations that work together to identify areas of concern and coordinate advocacy strategies to ensure inclusion and progress for all women, girls and people through the CSW. In both spaces we facilitated representation of international LGBTIQ voices. In the LBTI Caucus we worked with partners to convene preparatory meetings to coordinate advocacy strategy, inform the group of updates ahead of and during the CSW, and helped organize statements advocating for LBTI inclusivity in the formal sessions of the CSW program. As a co-convener of the WRC we worked to ensure that LGBTIQ concerns were woven into the group's overall strategy and connected LGBTIQ civil society members to members of the WRC.

CSW Adopts Agreed Conclusions

The Agreed Conclusions are the main output document of the CSW outlining joint commitments and recommendations for continuing promotion of gender equality. The document is agreed through lengthy negotiations between states, and is an important tool which civil society organizations can use to hold their governments accountable for the commitments made, and advocate for further change at a local level. This year, due to the virtual format of the negotiations, civil society faced a multitude of challenges in both advocating with governments for our priority areas, and gathering information about developments in the virtual negotiation rooms.

Nevertheless, civil society coordination was robust, and OutRight engaged heavily to ensure LGBTIQ inclusion. We collaborated to push for a number of important issue areas, including recognition of the diversity of women, girls and gender non-conforming people, and limitations to participation in public life based on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, as well as access to services including sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Member States adopted this year's Agreed Conclusions at the end of the session. Although states recommitted to a gender equality agenda and there were some key areas of progress, such as the retention of language recognizing the diversity of women, there is ample room for incorporation of more inclusive and diverse policies and language. In particular, we were disappointed that the Agreed Conclusions failed to push further than the gains achieved two years ago, leaving more room to expand upon recognition of diverse women and their needs, as well as the recognition of diverse forms of families.

To learn more about the Agreed Conclusions read the WRC joint press release which also includes video from this year's Press Conference, co-organized by OutRight, with UN Program Officer Sahar Moazami as one of the speakers.

Advocating for LGBTIQ Inclusion Through Statements

Despite challenges in engaging in a virtual format, members of the LBTI Caucus had numerous opportunities to speak and express the importance of LGBTIQ inclusion in gender equality efforts in relation to this year's theme.

On March 17, activist and OutRight Beijing+25 Fellow Ro-Ann Mohammed from Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados, delivered a statement on behalf of the LBTI Caucus during the CSW Interactive Dialogue. This is a formal event which includes speakers from various sectors of society including Member States, civil society and other stakeholders, on Building Alliances to increase participation in public life. Ro-Ann stressed the importance of alliances between LGBTIQ activists and broader human rights movements, calling for an inclusive feminist perspective in which lesbian and bisexual women, queer, trans, intersex and non-binary people are accepted and not left behind from decision-making processes.

OutRight Beijing+25 Fellow Ro-Ann Mohammed making an intervention on behalf of the LBTI Caucus during the Interactive Dialogue on building alliances to increase participation in public life.

OutRight UN Religion Fellow Nandini Tanya Lallmon speaking on behalf of the LBTI Caucus during the Secretary General Townhall with civil society.

OutRight's 2021 Religion Fellow Nandini Tanya Lallmon, speaking on behalf of the LBTI Caucus, had the opportunity to address a question to the United Nations’ Secretary General during the annual Townhall with Civil Society on March 16. She asked what actions have been taken by the UN for a people-centered recovery from COVID-19, specifically to ensure health care access and equity issues facing LGBTIQ seniors. The Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, stated in response that the UN has a commitment to address the issues LGBTIQ persons face, that discrimination is unacceptable, and that no one will be left behind.

Visibility of LGBTIQ Issues in Official Side Events

Every year there is a rich program of events organized on the margins of the official CSW program by civil society and individual states. OutRight co-organized and participated in a number of events to highlight LBTIQ issues and to ensure that LBTI voices and experiences were included in discussions across CSW.

On March 19, 2021 Religion Fellow Nwangwu Eudora Ogechukwu participated in the event “An Agenda for Inclusion and Realization: Voices of Marginalized Communities.” Panelists discussed the need for inclusion of diverse realities of marginalized communities, especially lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming women, girls, and people, to achieve equality in the context of the 2030 Agenda. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a 15-year plan to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations Member States.

OutRight co-sponsored event titled "Generation Equality: Including diversity to the Beijing+25 Process".

On March 23, OutRight held an event in collaboration with civil society organizations RFSL, ILGA World, and COC Netherlands titled “Generation Equality: Including diversity to the Beijing+25 Process”. The event was moderated by OutRight UN Program Officer Sahar Moazami and included panelists Gloria Careaga (Mexico), Kira Xonorika (Paraguay), Khawla Bouaziz (Tunisia) and Sherqueshaa Ananya (Singapore) who highlighted the role that lesbian women played in the 4th UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, China held in 1995. This was a notable conference because for the first time a commitment to gender equality was agreed at an international level, and also for the first time lesbian activists ensured that the committments were worded in a way which was inclusive of LBTIQ women. Speakers also noted how they helped to demystify the perception people had about “lesbians”, while also calling for inclusion of LBTIQ women and girls in the fight for gender equality.

OutRight co-sponsored event titled "Women Leaders as advocates for equality and inclusion of LGBTI persons".

On March 24 OutRight co-sponsored an event with Parliamentarians for Global Action, the Permanent Missions to the UN of Denmark, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, the Netherlands, the US as well as organizations Copenhagen 2021 and LGBT+ Danmark. The event, called “Women Leaders as advocates for equality and inclusion of LGBTI persons” featured women parliamentarians from Kenya, Denmark, Mexico, Fiji and Belize who discussed the role parliamentarians have in advocating for the rights of LGBTIQ people. Panelists agreed that laws criminalizing same-sex relations and so-called cross-dressing are a major issue, because they prevent LGBTIQ persons from being able to fully exercise their rights and participate in public life.The event was important, as representatives from the states present confirmed their commitment to advocating for decriminalization of same-sex relations, and the repeal of other discriminatory laws.

The full recording of the event can be found here.

On March 25 OutRight hosted a panel discussing the film “Lesbians Free Everyone” directed by renowned film-maker Bev Ditsie. The film documents the participation of lesbian activists during the UN’s 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, China and their fundamental role in the quest to recognize the diversity of women, including LBTIQ women.

A recording of the panel can be accessed here, and for a limited time the documentary is available for streaming here.

OutRight co-sponsored event discussing the film "Lesbians Free Everyone" with film maker Bev Ditsie.

Anti-Rights Movements Continue to be on the Rise

Spaces focused on women’s rights, such as the CSW, continue to be tainted by the presence of anti-rights movements. Due to the completely virtual format this year, the presence of these groups was made visible by several attacks to parallel civil society events, either through taking control of the technology that was being used to gather the event, or through the spread of explicit anti-rights messages in the chat tool. Most of these groups use anti-LGBTI and especially anti-trans discourse and attack events focused on bodily autonomy, sexual and reproductive health and rights, among others.

These anti-rights groups also held parallel events during CSW on virtual platforms, spreading misinformation and expanding the reach for their discourse challenging protection of LGBTIQ rights.

This is not a new movement, but one that has been gaining momentum using the facade of the women’s rights movement to attack the human rights of all. This discourse needs to be combated with proper and data-based information. It is crucial to reinforce constructive and plural dialogue on human rights language, and move forward to achieving inclusive gender equality.

II. UN LGBTI Core Group Activities

The UN LGBTI Core Group is an informal group of 33 states and the delegation of the EU, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and civil society organizations Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International, which collaborate in mainstreaming LGBTIQ equality at the UN headquarters in New York. OutRight is a co-founder of the group and serves as its secretariat. On March 16, the UN LGBTI Core Group delivered a statement to the chair of the Bureau for this year's CSW. Linking to this year's theme of the CSW, the Core Group stressed that “the absence of lesbian, bisexual and intersex women and transgender persons in decision-making spaces results in public polices and laws that do not address their particular needs or that could exacerbate discrimination against them.” The group called for the inclusion of LGBTIQ voices in public affairs, because without them, gender equality, meaningful participation in public life and the Agenda 2030 (a 15-year plan to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN) are not achievable.

The full statement is available here.

North Macedonia delivering the LGBTI Core Group Statement during CSW.

On March 29, the Core Group delivered a statement at the 11th session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Aging for the Purpose of Strengthening the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Persons. The Core Group has delivered a statement in the past three sessions of this working group to highlight the particular difficulties faced by LGBTIQ seniors. The Core Group called attention to the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on the lives of older persons, in particular older LGBTIQ persons due to a lack of access to health care, lack of social security protections, and aggravated poverty, given the multiple and intersecting forms of violence and discrimination they experience on the basis of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. The Core Group asked the Working Group to include LGBTIQ older persons in their efforts to promote human rights. Find the full statement here.

Luxembourg delivering the LGBTI Core Group Statement during the 11th Session of the Open Ended Working Group on Aging.

On March 31, in celebration of Trans Day of Visibility, the LGBTI Core Group held a social media campaign to bring visibility to trans activists from their respective states to explain why trans visibility matters. To see the video campaign you can visit the LGBTI Core Group website here.

2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the 4th World Conference on Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) which set out the road to the achievement of gender equality. To recognize the anniversary and to take stock of the accomplishments and remaining challenges to achieving the BPfA, a multistakeholder process was created titled the Generation Equality Forum. The Forum aims to serve as a global meeting space, bringing together Member States, civil society, philanthropy and the private sector to discuss issues facing the achievement of gender equality. It would also serve to launch six Action Coalitions designed to address the most pressing large scale gender equality issues. The six Action Coalitions are 1.Gender-Based Violence 2. Economic justice and rights 3.Bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) 4. Feminist action for climate justice 5.Technology and innovation for Gender Equality 6. Feminist movements and leadership.

The first Generation Equality Forum took place in Mexico on March 29-31. The Forum was held online, and presented the blueprints of the Action Coalitions, igniting a conversation on commitments to be made in this process to move closer to achieving gender equality by 2026. The blueprints can be found here.

OutRight is a leader in the Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence. Executive Director of OutRight, Jessica Stern, chaired a session presenting the work that is being done by the Action Coalition to call all stakeholders, including Member States, philanthropy, civil society and the private sector to unite and bring actual commitments to the table to end all forms of gender-based violence around the globe.

OutRight Executive Director Jessica Stern moderating the Gender Based Violence Action Coalition event during the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico.

After the panel, a networking session was held to hear feedback from stakeholders on the work of the Action Coalition. Over thirty members of civil society from different regions were heard and several important inputs on intersectionality, youth inclusion and the need for using language inclusive of non-binary people were raised and will be included in ongoing work of the coalition.

OutRight UN Program Officer Luiza Veado moderating the Gender Based Violence networking session during the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico.

Some of OutRight’s Beijing+25 fellows participated in the Gender Equality Forum as panelists in events defining priorities and exposing challenges of how this new platform should move forward to achieve gender equality for all. The Fellows, among other experts on different areas of gender equality, shared their ideas about much needed actions and commitments that Member States, business and civil society should take to move the needle forward in the next five years.

OutRight Beijing+25 Fellow Rituparna Borah participating in the event "Crisis in the achievement of gender equality in Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action" during the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico.

Rituparna Borah, Director of civil society organization Nazariya and OutRight's Beijing+25 Fellow presented on the panel, “Crisis in the achievement of gender equality in Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action”. Rituparna highlighted the importance of including LBTIQ women and persons in humanitarian spaces, which traditionally exclude LGBTIQ people by using binary definitions of gender, narrow definitions or family, or using spaces which are unsafe for LGBTIQ people. Rituparna also emphasized that conversations about the rights of LGBTIQ people should not center only on their bodies, but rather be considered when addressing any rights, and all multilateral and political spaces.

OutRight Beijing+25 fellow Kira Xonorika taking part in the discussion "Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality: Challenges and Opportunities Evolving from COVID-19" during the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico.

Kira Xonorika, Paraguayan trans activist from the organization Transitar, and OutRight's Beijing +25 Fellow, joined the panel “Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality. Challenges and Opportunities Evolving from COVID-19”. She shared her views on technology and accessibility for trans communities in global south countries, especially in ones where migration for the purpose of improving one's living conditions is challenging , and therefore access to technology is not always available. She recommended that to overcome inequality in access we need to think of tech security as much as we think of food security, because networks are an essential part of societies. Tackling the digital divide should include trans and non-binary voices so that they are included in this digital world and not left behind in decision making spaces, especially considering the crucial role digital solutions play in connecting LGBTIQ people, particularly in especially restrictive environments.

IV. Introducing 2021 UN Religion Fellows

OutRight's UN Religion Fellows for 2021.

Since its launch in 2018, Outright International has recruited a total of 17 LGBTQ activists from around the world to participate in our Religion Fellowship Program. Through the program fellows receive training on advocacy at the UN, especially pertaining to tackling religiously motivated violence and discrimination against LGBTIQ people. The 2021 cohort of fellows includes a total of 6 activists (the largest number we have had), coming from South America, the Caribbean, and Africa.

The Fellows started their year-long program with participation in the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. In the 12 months of their fellowship, they will also engage in other high-level meetings like the High-Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals, UN General Assembly High-Level week, OutRight’s annual Week of UN Advocacy, and OutRight’s OutSummit Conference.

You can meet our 2021 Religion Fellows, Andrea Rivas (Argentina), Anna Tulie Araujo (Brazil), Barbra Wangare (Kenya), Nwangwu Eudora (Nigeria), Lavonne Wise (US Virgin Islands), Nandini Tanya Lallmon (Mauritius), here.


Send questions and comments to:
Sahar Moazami, smoazami@outrightinternational.org