UN New Yorker: Ninth Edition


OutRight’s UN Program has achieved a number of key successes over the last few months. On May 17 we held our third annual event marking International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) with the UN LGBTI Core Group at UN Headquarters. Building on this momentum we delivered our third annual Ambassadors Dinner and UN LGBTI Core Group Retreat from June 24-26. In early July we travelled to Geneva to (successfully!) advocate for renewal of the mandate of Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, only to swiftly return to New York to host the second cohort of OutRight’s Religion Fellows conducting advocacy at the annual High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development from July 8-19.

In this edition of the UN New Yorker we explore the successes of these exciting events and look ahead to what the UN has in store over fall and winter 2019.

I. Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on SOGI Mandate Renewed

The Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is one of the Special Procedures of the UN, designed to report and advise on particular human rights issues. The position of the expert - IE SOGI for short - was created in 2016 to bring attention to the disproportionate violence, persecution and discrimination that LGBTIQ people face in many countries around the world – including in 68 countries that still criminalize same-sex relations – by talking to States, and working collaboratively with UN and regional mechanisms. The existence of this mandate is crucial in not only affirming that human rights belong to all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, but also in light of the opposition to recognition of the rights of LGBTIQ people coming from a number of UN member states. As such, when the mandate came up for renewal this June, ensuring its renewal was a top priority for OutRight.

From June 30 until July 5 the UN Program’s Sahar Moazami traveled to Geneva to work within an informal coalition of civil society organizations to collaborate on the renewal of the mandate. On July 12 the resolution renewing the mandate was adopted by a vote of 27 in favor, with 12 voting against and 7 abstentions. This was a better margin than in 2016 when 23 voted in favor, 18 against, and 6 abstained. Additionally, all 10 hostile amendments aimed at weakening the mandate were defeated.

Read the press release issued by the civil society campaign calling for renewal.

II. New Draft of Crimes against Humanity Treaty Affirms Protection for Women and LGBTIQ People

The International Law Commission is a group of experts appointed by the UN to assist in the development and codification of international law. Last year they took on the drafting of a new treaty on prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity. OutRight and our partners at MADRE and CUNY School of Law noted that there wasn’t any focus on gender aspects in the draft. Instead there was a reference to an old, outdated definition of gender. We launched a successful campaign mobilizing submissions from governments and civil society organizations urging the ILC to remove the outdated definition. Nineteen out of 33 governments participating in the final cycle of the treaty drafting process issued public endorsements, declaring that the rights of women and LGBTIQ people are protected under international criminal law and that the pending treaty must reflect this principle. Nearly 600 organizations and academics representing over 100 countries signed an open letter to the ILC. 24 UN Special Rapporteurs and other experts also signed onto a submission in support of this position.

The mobilization and corresponding campaign resulted in a landmark success for LGBTIQ equality - the ILC removed the outdated definition of gender in the draft crimes against humanity treaty. It replaced it with a definition gender which affirms that discrimination and persecution based on gender includes discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics, thus ensuring that, when adopted, LGBTIQ people will be covered by the treaty’s provisions.

Read the press release co-issued by OutRight and MADRE.

III. UN LGBTI Core Group Goes on its Annual Retreat

UN Program held its third annual UN LGBTI Core Group Retreat on June 24-26. The Core Group is an informal cross-regional group of United Nations Member States. It was established in 2008 with 8 Member States. By now it has expanded to 27 Member States, including Albania, Australia, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States of America, Uruguay, as well as the European Union, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the non-governmental organizations Human Rights Watch and Outright Action International. The group is currently co-chaired by Argentina and The Netherlands.

The objective of the LGBTI Core Group is to work within the New York-based UN system, contribute to multilateral work and negotiations, seek common ground and engage in a spirit of open, respectful and constructive dialogue and cooperation with UN Member States and other stakeholders outside the Core Group to raise awareness and promote progress for LGBTIQ equality.

The annual retreat began on June 24 with an Ambassadors Dinner and brought together over 50 guests representing 25 countries, as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Based on the great feedback from last year, this year, the UN LGBTI Core Group once again opened up the first day of the program to other like-minded countries and potential allies which resulted in attendance by a total of 35 UN Member States. The first day featured expert LGBTI panelists on topics such as rights of intersex people; gender identity and expression; and civil society access to UN systems. During the second day UN LGBTI Core Group members formulated their third 12-month work plan, which contains an ambitious plan to increase LGBTIQ visibility in forums such as the Security Council as well as increasing engagement with member states that are not part of the Core Group.

UN LGBTI Core Group retreat. (Photo credit: OutRight)

Earlier in the year, OutRight took on the task of launching a website for the UN LGBTI Core Group and in May the official web site went live. It contains information on members, statements delivered in official sessions, and past and upcoming events. You can visit the official website at www.unlgbticoregroup.org.

IV. High Level Political Forum Begins

Overview of the HLPF

The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is a major annual event in which Member States come together at UN headquarters to review global progress toward reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a set of goals agreed by Member States to eradicate poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people are able to reach their potential (also known as the 2030 Agenda). The HLPF operates both as an opportunity for diverse societies to reach consensus on major themes in the state of the world, and as a platform for individual nations to highlight their own strengths and weaknesses through Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). Usually at the end of the HLPF, a Ministerial Declaration which summarizes the beliefs and commitments of the UN Member States to sustainable development in the coming year is agreed.

This year was the fourth occurrence of the HLPF since the 2030 Agenda was agreed in 2015, and the first cycle of four-year implementation review foreseen in the Agenda. Therefore, besides the HLPF held under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council in July, there will also be an HLPF Summit under the auspices of the General Assembly in September. As such, on this occasion there is no Ministerial Declaration concluded in July. Instead a Political Declaration focusing on reviewing the past four years of implementation of the SDGs and looking forward to how progress can be accelerated going forward is drafted and negotiated, and will be issued in September based on consensus.

This year’s HLPF theme was “empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”, with six SDGs under review:

LGBTI Group Recognized as Official Stakeholder

Last year, OutRight together with Swedish LGBTIQ organization RFSL and COC Netherlands started a process to formalize an LGBTI Stakeholder Group. This process was finalized in June and the LGBTI Stakeholder Group has now been recognized as an official Stakeholder Group. Consequently we will be guaranteed to be able to hold events and deliver statements during the official program, and formally submit statements and responses, thus amplifying voices of LGBTIQ activists working on the SDGs and providing a direct line of influence to states as they engage in advocacy at the UN in New York.

In order to help prepare activists and advocates taking part in the HLPF, OutRight co-hosted a webinar with other LGBTIQ organizations which gave a comprehensive introduction to the forum. OutRight and RFSL also updated the HLPF Primer.

OutRight and partners took advantage of our official stakeholder status to take part in the SDG review sessions and highlight the importance of inclusion of LGBTIQ people. The LGBTI Stakeholder Group delivered its first statement on July 9 on the topic of quality education (SDG 4), which LGBTIQ people are often excluded from due to factors such as disproportionate bullying. On July 11, the Group delivered an intervention during the official Major Groups and Other Stakeholders session on interlinkages between the human rights framework and the SDGs. In the afternoon the group delivered another statement on the continued impact of inequalities (SDG10), we provided recommendations such as putting the people who are most affected by inequalities, such as LGBTIQ people, at the center of the process by, among other things, ensuring decriminalization of LGBTIQ identities.

On July 19 during the High Level Segment of the HLPF, where high level government representatives, such as relevant representatives of Ministries of Foreign Affairs, private sector, civil society and academia come together to discuss the annual cycle of work, the LGBTI Stakeholder Group also had the opportunity to deliver a statement on the theme of “empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” OutRight, COC Netherlands, and RFSL also submitted a written contribution which can be found here.

At this year's HLPF, the LGBTI Stakeholder Group was warmly welcomed by the broader Major Groups and Other Stakeholders (MGoS) during the first day’s preparatory meeting. OutRight and other LGBTIQ groups also teamed up with the Women’s Major Group, including briefing the group on the lived experiences of LGBTIQ people – such as violence and harassment or family ostracism, resulting in members of the Women’s Major Group making LGBTIQ-inclusive statements.

LGBTI stakeholder group briefing the Women's Major Group. (Photo Credit: OutRight)

UN LGBTI Core Group Statement During HLPF General Debate

OutRight’s UN Program worked with the LGBTI Core Group to deliver its second statement as a group at the HLPF during the High Level Segment General Debate on July 16. The statement highlighted how issues facing the LGBTIQ community must be addressed - such as ensuring decriminalization of same-sex relations, and including explicit LGBTIQ related targets in any SDG efforts - to assure that the commitment of the Sustainable Development Goals to “leave no one behind” is truly achieved. The statement was read by Spanish Secretary of State for International Cooperation and for Ibero-America and the Caribbean, Juan Pablo De Laiglesia.

Read the press release

Spanish Secretary of State for International Cooperation and for Ibero-America and the Caribbean, Juan Pablo De Laiglesia, delivering the statement of the LGBTI Core Group. (Photo Credit: United Nations)

UN LGBTI Core Group Side Event with Parliamentarians for Global Action

On July 12 on the margins of HLPF the UN LGBTI Core Group held a dialogue with Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), a network of parliamentarians dedicated to collaboration in the promotion of human rights, discussing the role of parliamentarians in advocating for equality and inclusion of LGBTIQ persons. The conversation was held at the Luxembourg House and was moderated by OutRight's Maria Sjödin. Parliamentarian speakers included the PGA President Margareta Cederfelt from Sweden, Carla Pitiot from Argentina, Valerie Woods from Belize, Jorge Cálix from Honduras, and Naveed Qamar from Pakistan.

Left to right: PGA President Margareta Cederfelt from Sweden, OutRight Action International Deputy Director Maria Sjödin and Naveed Qamar from Pakistan at UN LGBTI Core Group Side event with Parliamentarians for Global Action (Photo credit: OutRight)

OutRight’s Religion UN Fellows Reflect on the HLPF

The HLPF marks the second major UN advocacy event for the OutRight Religion Fellows. At the end of HLPF, OutRight’s Fellows sat together and reflected on their experiences from the past two weeks in a recorded interview.

OutRight UN Religion Fellows (Photo credit: OutRight)

V. UN Women Event at UN – Gender Diversity Beyond Binaries

On July 15th, UN Women held its first ever event on the gender binary titled “Gender Diversity Beyond the Binaries”, thus explicitly and publicly acknowledging gender diversity beyond binaries. As the UN’s driving force for gender equality, the ripple effect of this step could have significant impact on the recognition and promotion of the rights of non-binary and trans people.

Left to right: UN Religion Fellow Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Ambassador Martín García Moritán of Argentina at the “Gender Diversity Beyond the Binaries” event. (Photo credit: UN)

The event was cosponsored by the Permanent Missions of Argentina and the Netherlands as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Globe, an organization advocating for equality of LGBTIQ staff in the UN system, and OutRight Action International. The discussion focused on the challenges created by the gender binary. The event was moderated by journalist Imara Jones and included a performance by poet Kay Ulunday Barrett and remarks by Ambassador Martín García Moritán of Argentina, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity Victor Marigal-Borloz, OutRight’s UN Religion Fellow Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile, and Model and Founder of Gender Proud Geena Rocero.

VI. May 17th, IDAHOTB Event at the UN

To mark the 2019 International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOTB), together with the UN LGBTI Core Group, OutRight co-organized an event at UN headquarters in New York. The panel focused on Justice and Protection for all and featured remarks from Randy Boissonault, the Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada on LGBTQ2 issues, Flavia Piovesan the Commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Guyana trans activist Candace McEwan and Kenyan activist Yvonne Oduor. The event also featured remarks from representatives of the Netherlands, Argentina and Uruguay and was moderated by OutRights Jessica Stern. The purpose of this event was to increase LGBTIQ visibility by ensuring that the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia is marked at the UN, as well as providing a broad overview of the legal and policy landscape in terms of LGBTI equality.

Panelists at the UN LGBTI Core Group event marking International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (Photo credit: OutRight)

VII. In the Spotlight

UN Program Officer, Sahar Moazami

Read Sahar’s article “Propping up Patriarchy: Threats of the Growing Anti-Gender Movement” on genderit.org.

Read Sahar’s article “Defending the Human Rights of LGBTI People at the UN” on the Global Observatory.

Read the interview with Sahar on CIVICUS.

Read Sahar’s op-ed about the renewal of the IE SOGI mandate on Passblue.


Opening of 74th Session of the General Assembly: September 17
HLPF under the auspices of the General Assembly (SDG Summit): September 24-25
UN GA High Level Meeting Week: September 24 - September 30
UN LGBTI Core Group Side Event during UN GA High Level Meeting Week: TBA

First day of the meeting of the 3rd Committee: 7 October
Report of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: TBA
UN General Assembly Side Event: TBA

OutSummit at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, New York: December 7
OutRight Week of Advocacy: December 9-13

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