LGBT Rights at the Commission on the Status of Women in New York

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The sixty-second session for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) was recently held at the United Nations in New York from March 12 through the 23.

Representatives of Member States, UN entities, representatives from Non-Governmental Organizations from all corners of the world attended official meetings and side events. Established in 1946 as a platform for women to observe, inform and advocate for causes focused on economic, educational, health, and civil rights of women; the commission is a proactive place for intersecting issues to questions to be addressed and answered.

One such side event session, “SOGIESC in Gender-Mainstreaming Measures,” was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Malta to the United Nations, and sponsored by the U.S. based, international LGBTQI Human Rights NGO, OutRight Action International. Co-sponsors were the governments of Argentina, Australia, Canada, Germany, Norway and the European Union Delegation to the United Nations.

The panel was moderated by Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International. “Some people come to the session because they don’t understand why we’re talking about LGBTQI rights in a conference that’s focused on the Commission on the Status of Women. And maybe some people come because they are concerned that we are here to take something away from women’s rights,” stated Stern. Stern emphasized that this is not the case. “We’re here because the definition of woman is expansive. LBTIQ women are women too.”

Stern explained to the audience that many of the root causes of gender-based oppression that restricts women’s access to employment, education, health care and freedom of mobility are the same issues that restrict the safety, security and dignity of LGBT people.

Stern said that many adversaries to LGBT rights ask if they are calling for “special rights.” Stern explained that they are not advocating for special rights. “We’re here with a panel of experts and government leaders to explain how we want to see intersections in government functions and civil society so that we can advance better together.”

One of the panelists, Helena Dalli, Minister for European Affairs and Equality of the Republic of Malta, stated, “I believe that it is very important that more is done here at the Commission on the Status of Women to promote equality for LBTIQ women.”

Randy Boissonnault, Canadian member of Parliament and Special Advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on LGBTQ2 Issues, explained “When the Canadian government talks about gender equality, we’re talking about it in its largest and most expansive form and we want to make sure that no one is left behind.” MP Boissonnault described the efforts that the Canadian government has made to apologize and make amends for the persecution, interrogation and forced outings of 9,000 Royal Canadian Mounted Police forces during the 1950’s through the 1990’s where many had committed suicide. A 145 million Canadian-dollar class action lawsuit was launched with reparations to the community, service medals and a permanent exhibit at the museum of human rights. “A heritage program will air on television, so the next generation knows this history so that it won’t happen again.”

Panelist Sjoerd Warmerdam, Senior Policy Advisor for Gender Equality and LGBTQI Equality for the Government of the Netherlands discussed how gender justice and LGBT justice efforts initiatives are intertwined in the Dutch government.

“We used to have two teams, but we saw that we had to use an intersectional approach. Warmerdam explained that mainstreaming gender and LGBTQI policies is much more effective in government and working with stakeholders. “We see that the two groups face the same problems with similar root causes, stereotypes and expectations,” said Warmerdam.

Panelist and Nigerian activist, Xeenarh Mohammad added that intersectionality has to be included for progress and success. Kimberly Zieselman, Executive Director of InterACT, an NGO that advocates for intersex youth, added to the intersectionality that intersex women are women too. Zieselman explained that intersex is a broad definition that describes a person born with physical sex characteristics that do not line up with what society or the medical community thinks of as either male or female.

“The number one advocacy issue for intersex is fighting against irreversible and medically unnecessary surgeries and medical interventions that happen to infants and children and results in a lot of trauma,” Zieselman said. Senior Legal Advisor at the NGO Madre, and Clinical Law Professor at the CUNY School of Law, Lisa Davis, described her efforts working with women’s groups in Iraq to incorporate LGBTQI advocacy into their mission after an influx of gay men fleeing honor killings from ISIS came to their attention. “The group in Iraq sought guidance on how to handle the situation,” Davis said. As a result, the groups partnered with OutRight Action International to confront this crisis. “We started doing trainings to document human rights abuses against LGBTQI people and launched a campaign to create advocacy messages.”

Today the group operating in Iraq is prominent and outspoken for LGBT rights with extensive programing. “The intersecting premise is that everyone has a right to life. No one should be killed.”


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