The world continues to face the global COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis is affecting every realm of life, including Outright’s UN Program. The United Nations closed its physical doors in March and the work moved into the virtual realm, creating a new reality for the work that is done at headquarters. By extension, OutRight has had to dramatically shift how we conduct our UN advocacy and UN engagement work.
Those most vulnerable are always more affected in situations of crisis, and COVID-19 is no exception. At the start of the pandemic OutRight swiftly shifted into working virtually, identifying and responding to the needs of LGBTIQ people around the world. In May we released a pioneering report, “Vulnerability Amplified: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on LGBTIQ People,” showing that the challenges faced by LGBTIQ people as a result of the virus and surrounding containment measures are specific and amplified compared to the broader population. Simultaneously, OutRight also launched a COVID-19 Global LGBTIQ Emergency Response Fund to respond to the urgent needs of LGBTIQ people and communities around the world, particularly in the global South where humanitarian interventions are likely to overlook or exclude the specific needs of the LGBTIQ population. To date we have been able to release over $710,000 to 90 organizations. As the crisis continues to unfold, we are continuing to fundraise for the fund, and will release more funds as and when possible.
In parallel to our COVID-19 response work supporting the LGBTIQ movement, OutRight’s UN Program has worked to raise visibility of the experiences of the LGBTIQ community at the UN through our work at the High Level Political Forum, in the Beijing+25 process, and with the UN LGBTI Core Group.
I. LGBTI Core Group Grows and Hosts Numerous Virtual Events
A. An Event to Mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia, and Transphobia
The UN LGBTI Core Group is an informal group of 31 states, the delegation of the EU, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as the civil society organizations Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International which collaborate to identify and utilize opportunities to increase visibility of LGBTIQ issues and mainstream LGBTIQ equality through UN processes in New York. OutRight was instrumental in founding the group in 2008, and serves as the secretariat of the group now, enabling us to coordinate and support the work of the group.
On May 18 the UN LGBTI Core Group held a virtual event to mark IDAHOBIT, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia, and Transphobia. This year's event focused on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTIQ people globally and included remarks by the Permanent Missions of Argentina, the Netherlands, Uruguay and Spain. The event was a panel discussion moderated by OutRight’s Executive Director Jessica Stern, featuring the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity Victor Madrigal Borloz, the Secretary General of Mawjoudin We Exist for Equality Khawla Bouaziz, and Founder and President of Colours Cayman Billie Bryan. Over 300 participants tuned into the event. Reactions from the audience regarding the online nature and corresponding accessibility of the event were overwhelmingly positive.
The UN LGBTI Core Group's event marking IDAHOBIT. (Photo credit: OutRight)
Alongside the IDAHOBIT event, the Core Group released a statement which was supported by 24 United Nations Member States who are not Core Group members. The statement asserted that the “ongoing public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges that affect the global community as a whole, but additionally have a particular and unique effect on those who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including LGBTI persons”.
B. Nepal and Iceland Join the UN LGBTI Core Group!
Notably, the IDAHOBIT event also announced the addition of Iceland and Nepal to the Core Group. The addition of the two new members brings the group to a total of 31 States and the delegation of the European Union. Nepal is the second Asian country to become a part of the group. Both Iceland and Nepal made official statements during the event and highlighted how excited they are to join the group and work within it to continue to promote and protect the rights of LGBTIQ individuals globally.
States can only join the group in pairs, partnering across global north and global south countries in order to dispel the myth that LGBTIQ people and LGBTIQ equality is a “western” invention, and instead showing that LGBTIQ people exist and their rights should be protected everywhere.
C. UN LGBTI Core Group Annual Retreat
On Thursday, June 18 the UN LGBTI Core Group held its annual retreat. Although the retreat had to be held in a virtual format, differing significantly from previous years, Members of the Core Group were very engaged and came with a number of original ideas for increasing Member State and global LGBTI civil society engagement at the UN in New York. Following the retreat the UN LGBTI Core Group finalized its 2020-2021 Work Plan which includes a number of new ideas to engage at the UN and bring visibility to the rights of LGBTIQ people. As its Secretariat, OutRight helped to facilitate the retreat and finalize the work plan.
D. The UN LGBTI Core Group Celebrates Pride For the First Time!
On June 29, the UN LGBTI Core Group held its first ever event marking Pride month. The event was moderated by activist, artist and OutRight Beijing +25 Fellow Kira Xonorika from Paraguay, included remarks by the Mission of Argentina and the Netherlands, and featured performances by Calenna Garba, Ivri Lider and Dr. Tāwhanga Nopera (Ngāti Whakaue).
II. LGBTIQ Issues Feature in the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
The High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, or HLPF for short, is a United Nations conference that meets annually under the UN Economic and Social Council. It reviews and follows up on the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. The HLPF is tasked with tracking the international implementation and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s HLPF was, for the first time ever, held in a virtual format. The session was held over 8 days and included formal panel discussions, 47 voluntary national presentations about their progress towards the SDGs, side and special events, as well as VNR labs (an informal platform for experience sharing and reflection on the Voluntary National Review process). Civil society participation was guaranteed through the work of the Major Groups and other Stakeholders - formalized groups of 18 sectors of society as the main channels through which broad participation is facilitated in UN activities related to sustainable development.
The virtual format allowed a record number of civil society to participate in and watch the events – The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs calculated that over 3,000 persons were present at the VNR Labs. However, civil society was given the floor only 27 times over 8 days, which is significantly lower than during in-person meetings.
OutRight is one of the LGBTI Stakeholder Group Organizing Partners, working together with other civil society organizations and activists to guarantee that the development agenda conversation includes LGBTIQ populations.
Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the opening of the HLPF 2020 High-level segment. (Photo credit: UNTV)
A. LGBTI Stakeholder Group Elevates LGBTIQ Visibility at the HLPF
The LGBTI Stakeholder Group (LGBTISG) is one of the official Major Groups and other Stakeholders. It is composed of global, regional, and national civil society organizations and activists concerned about the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development - the UN's current action plan for sustainable development. OutRight is one of its organizing partners. This year was the first time that the LGBTISG fully participated in the HLPF process as an official part of the Major Groups and other Stakeholders.
On July 9, the LGBTI SG held its first ever official side event on "Sustainable development for LGBTI people in times of COVID-19". Participants included the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity Victor Madrigal Borloz, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and civil society.
The LGBTI Stakeholder Group was represented in the official session of the HLPF on “Transformative pathways to realize the 2030 Agenda: a whole of society approach taking into account the impact of COVID19 (Stakeholder perspective)” by Bree Chacha from TransSmart Trust in Zimbabwe. She emphasized that “the COVID-19 crisis has further deepened already existing inequalities, impacting the poorest and most marginalized hardest, including LGBTI and gender-non conforming people”.
Bree Chacha at the session "Transformative Pathways to Realize the 2030 Agenda: A Whole of Society Approach Taking into Account the Impact of COVID19 (Stakeholder Perspective)" (Photo Credit: UNTV)
The LGBTI Stakeholder Group also participated in the Voluntary National Reviews, a review of the progress on the domestic implementation of the 2030 Agenda with the presence of high-level domestic authorities which states choose to undergo. The LGBTISG worked together with the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders to guarantee that the reviewing countries address LGBTIQ inclusion in their development agendas. This was the first time LGBTIQ inclusion was so prominently addressed and included in the general questions and points to be addressed by Member States going through Voluntary Reviews.
The LGBTI Stakeholder Group intervention during the Voluntary National Reviews (Photo Credit: UNTV)
B. UN LGBTI Core Group Issues a Statement for the HLPF
The UN LGBTI Core Group delivered a statement on the importance of including LGBTI persons in the development agenda. The Core Group highlighted that the goal of leaving no one behind can “only be achieved if all relevant stakeholders offer support and opportunities for all, including LGBTI persons, without discrimination and without violence of any kind, in full respect of their human rights, fundamental freedoms and dignity.”
III. Beijing+25: Generation Equality Forum
A. Action Coalitions Formed
As outlined in OutRight’s Beijing+25 Primer, 2020 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action - a historic moment for gender equality. To mark the occasion, UN Women announced the Generation Equality Forum - a global gathering for gender equality - which would result in the creation of Global Equality Action Coalitions. The Action Coalitions aim to address the most pressing large-scale gender equality issues including gender based violence, economic justice and rights, bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights, climate justice, technology and innovations, and feminist movements and leadership.
On July 1 the leaders of the Generation Equality Action Coalitions were announced. The 65 initial leaders include representatives from States, diverse feminist and women’s rights organizations, youth-led organizations, philanthropic entities, UN agencies and other international organizations. In the next few months the Action Coalition leaders will meet virtually to begin working on design of the respective Action Coalitions and the aims of each group on route to achieving transformative change for gender equality. OutRight is proud to have been selected as one of the civil society leaders for the gender based violence Action Coalition and we look forward to working across the coalitions, and civil society more broadly, to ensure LGBTIQ inclusion.
IV. Independent Expert on SOGI Publishes Report on So-Called “Conversion Therapy”
In June, the UN Independent Expert on SOGI launched his report on "conversion therapy" practices designed to convert, change, suppress or reorient the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTIQ people, sometimes through brutal physical or psychological force. During the process of compiling the report, the IE SOGI held numerous consultations with civil society. OutRight took part in the consultations, and OutRight's Senior Research Advisor Amie Bishop played a particular role in supporting the IE SOGI in this process due to OutRight's pioneering report “Harmful Treatment: The Global Reach of So-Called Conversion Therapy” released in August 2019.
From June 30 to July 17 the 44th Session of the Human Rights Council was held. On July 15, OutRight, together with civil society organizations RFSL, ILGA and GATE and the IE SOGI, held a side event on "conversion therapy." The IE SOGI presented his report at this event and called for a global ban of "conversion therapy" practices. OutRight's report was also highlighted. The discussion focused on existing efforts by civil society and state governments to tackle so-called conversion therapy, but also revealed the scale of the work remaining. What was echoed loud and clear was that only a process that includes all stakeholders, including civll society and state representatives, will ensure that all practices of "conversion therapy" are effectively eliminated.
OutRight welcomes and celebrates the attention to so-called conversion therapy at the UN, and echoes the IE SOGI's call for a global ban. However, the persistence of “conversion therapy” is directly related to societal beliefs about LGBTIQ people and the degree to which our lives are accepted and embraced within families, faiths, and societies at large. As such, bans have to be accompanied by efforts designed to facilitate acceptance and understanding of LGBTIQ people.
OutRight's Senior Research Advisor Amie Bishop presenting OutRight's report on the global reach of "conversion therapy" during the Human Rights Council side event on "conversion therapy." (Photo credit: OutRight)
Many events have been postponed, canceled or moved online due to COVID-19. Please check websites for information about events sponsored by the United Nations or OutRight.
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Published on July 22, 2020 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization