Moving Forward on LGBT Rights

Friends,

I write to you about two recent, stimulating dialogues about the state of LGBT rights globally and the strategies for change.

Earlier this month, I participated in a three-day event on the south coast of England – the first-ever LGBT rights conference organized by Wilton Park, the storied independent global forum associated with the U.K. Foreign Office. Along with fellow activists and human rights advocates from around the world, the Sept. 1-3 conference brought together influential policy makers from a number of governments, along with British lawyers and scholars with the intent of moving our cause forward.

The conference opened my thinking on potential avenues to progress.

In the session that I chaired about LGBT rights at the U.N., we emphasized the need to organize around the now-urgently unfolding Human Rights Council resolution condemning discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. At the same time, we must also think beyond the resolution toward opportunities like the Sustainable Development Goals and mainstreaming LGBT rights within U.N. agencies.

I was struck by how many strong allies were in the room and how many more were not present.

Lastly, I felt acutely the active engagement of a range of British stakeholders, two or three times the number we’d previously worked with on LGBT rights internationally. It’s thrilling to watch the evolution of global solidarity for our cause.

A week earlier, I led a dynamic brown bag conversation in honor of a visit to New York by IGLHRC’s Africa program director, Shehnilla Mohamed, based in our office in Johannesburg. Introductory remarks were provided by our generous Human Rights Watch host, Graeme Reid, followed by commentary from Njeri Gaeru, an HRW fellow, and analysis from two IGLHRC fellows, Chalwe Mwansa and Michael Ighodaro.

With experts speaking from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and Nigeria, we focused intensely on the question: what needs to happen to make a real difference in people’s lives? How can we build a broad-based LGBT movement for change? And, what forms of international solidarity are helpful? We focused on practical suggestions – from using radio to change hearts and minds and keeping a dialogue going within the larger human rights movement, to quiet diplomacy and awareness-building campaigns directed at a younger audience.

This enlightening discussion reflected both the harsh environment in which activists operate and the extraordinary resilience with which they lead the cause. From IGLHRC’s perspective, it is very important that we continue to facilitate conversations like this one.

With warmth and solidarity,

 Jessica