We Need an LGBTQ Advocate at the UN—Now More Than Ever

Andrea Ayala is an international human rights advocate from El Salvador, and former executive director of ESMULES. Jean Freedberg is the Director of Global Partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign and is from South Africa.

Some of us have been forced to leave our homes because of death threats — leaving our lives and families behind and our own communities still facing a horrific epidemic of violence. And all too many of us know that in the countries we now call home, transgender lives and LGBTQ rights remain under threat by societies where discrimination and bigotry are commonplace. In our home countries of El Salvador and South Africa, and around the world — LGBTQ people and our families are under attack. 

This global threat to the rights and lives of LGBTQ people is why the two of us are going to join dozens of international advocates in Geneva on July 11 and 12 — where the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRCouncil) will vote on whether to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on Violence and Discrimination on the basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI). 

Established by a narrow vote at the U.N. in 2016, the role of the Independent Expert on SOGI is critical to bringing together nations to protect LGBTQ people. It is a voice that is desperately needed at this time, but once more the vote will be dangerously close. Of the 47 member states of the HRCouncil, just over 20 are a reliable yes, mostly from Latin America and Europe. That means that advocates will be working hard to counter the “No” votes of countries like Afghanistan, DRCongo, Nigeria and Iraq, among others.

This is a crucial moment for us, for our families and for LGBTQ people worldwide. Though the number of countries that criminalize consensual same-sex activity has dropped, it remains dangerously high at 68. While the number of countries with marriage equality has increased, they still comprise only a little more than 10 percent of the U.N.’s member countries. In places like Chechnya and Tanzania, LGBTQ people are under state-sanctioned, brutal assault. And in spite of a number of countries passing protections for transgender people, in most places, transgender people continue to struggle for legal recognition and face daily threats of harassment and violence. Read more via Advocate