Religion Fellow, Neish McLean, Share Their Experience At CSW 2018

As an OutRight Action International Religion Fellow, I had the opportunity to participate in various advocacy events in and around UN spaces over the past eight months. I’ve networked with other LGBTQI activists from around the world who are all fighting to dismantle oppressive policies and systems that prevent our community from affirming the full rights of our citizenships in countries across the world. A common thread has been the role of religiously based homophobia and various practices that have sought to dictate and perpetuate violence against LGBTQI people.

Coming to the UN in the heart of New York provided various opportunities to hear from human rights defenders about the various challenges facing LGBTQI people. My expectations were met with regards to meeting brilliant, passionate and resilient human rights defenders from all over the world. It was a tremendous opportunity to share best practices and resources in order to maximize our time at the UN.

What I wasn’t expecting was the little space afforded to civil society organizations. The UN was not as inclusive as I thought it to be. In fact, several organizations struggled to host LGBTQI events inside the UN headquarters and for those few who’s sessions were approved, quite a few of those sessions were scheduled at the end of long days where there were less likely to be people attending. In a show of resilience and solidarity, LGBTQI organizations rallied to attend these sessions and made the best of the spaces.

Unexpectedly as well was the access given to anti-LGBTQI and anti-women’s rights focused side events at the UN. One such event was an anti-abortion event co-hosted by the Holy See during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March. The panelists, which included women from countries in Africa, sought to explain abortion as ‘un-African’ and ‘unchristian’. The sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls in all their diversity was sadly limited by their religious fundamentalists’ approach. Additionally, LGBTQI rights were explained as a threat to ‘traditional family values’. The event was startling and uncomfortable, as throughout the room, there was much approval for the narrative being shared.

As a UN Fellow, the experience was a stark reminder that the fight for LGBTQI rights is a global issue and that expertise does not lie only in countries like the USA but actually activists all across the world have been the champions for equality and equity. Our voices and stories matter and what is significant and useful about accessing spaces like the UN, is the opportunity to engage each other as well as various missions who are leaders in LGBTQI rights and policies in order to advance our movement.

The fight against religious based homophobia and transphobia, is not a struggle solely for countries outside the Global North. In fact, much of the religious based homophobia and transphobia have been a result of colonial import to regions such as the Caribbean. The struggle of our region, and in countries like Jamaica, lies in redefining what queerness means to us and carving out our own way of celebrating and affirming our identities that resonates with us. We must reclaim our history and dismantle oppressive religious practices and ideologies that perpetuate violence and discrimination against LGBTQI people.