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International org changes name; keeps mission the same

In New York City, a group of LGBT advocates celebrated a major milestone on Sept. 28, 2015: the 25th anniversary of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Also on that day, the group renamed itself to the much shorter OutRight International.

“I heard people try to pronounce IGLHRC in every language under the sun and it didn’t sound the same any time someone said it,” Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight, joked. “But more substantively, we’ve always been fighting for people who are bisexual, trans, and intersex, so it was important that our name reflects the values.”

Founded in 1990 and with just a staff of 20 around the world, the organization is one of the oldest LGBT groups in the country, and its goal was to not just protect LGBT people in the U.S., but around the world. One of its first major victories was actually local – getting human rights organizations to even recognize violations against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, including at Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Also, OutRight was a part of the amicus brief in the famous Karen Atala and Daughters v. Chile case in 2004, where a woman fought for custody of her children after a Chilean judge deemed her an unfit mother when she came out as a lesbian.

When the case was heard before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – the first LGBT case – she was granted custody rights. It was a huge victory of LGBT rights in the western hemisphere.

Right now, OutRight is working with LGBT groups and allies in Syria and Iraq to help protect them from attacks from ISIS. In 2015, the group documented more than 30 people executed by ISIS for being LGBT – or at least perceived to be. Some of the 30 were “targeted based on nothing more than their reputation,” Stern said.

Sometimes the change isn’t just legislative, but cultural. OutRight has worked with the Iranian independent media to change even their language when it comes to LGBT people. When referring to a gay person at all, writers were using derogatory terms. Together, they were able to find a better word, neutral word – hamjens-garaa, translating simply as “attracted to the same sex.” It caught on, and even Iranian state media started using the word.

“We’re literally changing the way the state interprets our communities,” Stern said. “If you change the language people use, you change the humanity with which you see people.”

And how can people help their LGBT brothers and sisters around the world? Stern says to educate yourself about the issues and to donate to organizations you trust.

“If you go out on a date with someone of the same gender and you don’t think twice about your safety, or you go home to your partner at night, or you go to a gay wedding and you never have to think, is someone going to follow me home? Is my photo going to appear in the paper tomorrow? Am I going to be arrested for this? Will I lose my job as a result of having a social life? Well, the best thing you can do is try to create that opportunity for someone else,” Stern said.