Intersectionality, Women's Rights, LGBT Rights and Moving the Conversation Forward

03/09/2015 06:59 am ET | Updated May 09, 2015
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A woman -- I will call her Mrs. D. -- seeks asylum from her native Sub-Saharan African nation in a Western country. Her family, her community and her country have brutalized her. She was imprisoned for over a year without trial under something called "suspicion of homosexuality".

A group trying to assist Mrs. D.'s asylum request contacted me.

There are a lot of hearings to be heard, scheduled intakes, a review of evidence, etc., etc. There are hoops -- lets say that. Here is what I know: Mrs. D. is a lesbian. Like many LGBT persons she married and had children (keeping up appearances). Mrs. D. fell in love with a woman and began a relationship. Her husband found and beat her to a pulp. Repeatedly. She was subsequently jailed for over a year without trial.

As is often the case in these situations, the husband managed to turn her three children against Mrs. D. undoubtedly with horrible claims, slanderous bile and disgusting, lurid details of mother's so-called crimes. She is seeking asylum now in a country that doesn't really believe that she could have been held in prison for over a year without a trial.

Those who approve asylum in this Western nation say according to her home country's laws (setting aside the mere fact that homosexuality is a jailable offence) she must have had a trial -- been afforded some due process -- prior to her imprisonment.

I have some unfortunate expertise in this area. This from my visit to a prison in Cameroon. It is Cameroon but it could be one of any of the nearly 80 countries that criminalize homosexuality.

Mrs. D. is a perfect example of the intersectionality of LGBT and women's rights. Women (gay or straight) and LGBT persons are at a significant risk every day of their lives compared to straight men. Women and LGBT persons suffer more violence, poor access to reproductive healthcare (or health care at all), little or no access to education and are at increased risk of contracting HIV.

This week the UN Commission on the Status of Women will meet in New York City. The gathering will bring together women and men from around the world to talk about the progress made -- and the arduous work ahead -- in women's rights internationally.

Women are at higher risk of everything: domestic and sexual violence, rape, poverty, little or no access to reproductive (or any kind of) health care, women and children are more likely to flee conflict and become either IDPs (internally displaced persons) or refugees facing further abuses within so-called friendly camps. Women don't have equal access to education and economic opportunities. On a global scale, women are at high risk for contract HIV.

Last month I attended the UN Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: "protection challenges and needs faced by woman and girls in armed conflict and post-conflict settings." I was lucky enough to be a guest of Ms. Ilwad Elman of the Elman Peace Foundation and Sister Somalia -- the only rape crisis center in her native Somalia. She made this in her opening statement to the chamber:

Just days ago in Mogadishu the mother of a 14-year-old girl called me. Her daughter was raped two years ago by a Ugandan Soldier in the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). The soldier returned to Uganda, where he remains in detention awaiting trial. The mother often calls me, not to get an update on the case but to help her daughter, who has been labeled the 'girl who was raped by the infidel' and has been ostracized by her community.

This is the truth of what happens to women and girls around the world. We are brutalized and then re-victimized because in some way the violence visited us was "our fault." We see this in the United States and around the world.

LGBT persons face many of the similar atrocities. Last year I was lucky to attend the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. A topic I hear over and over again was the alignment of women's and LGBT communities to fight for common rights to dignity, life, safety, education, access to healthcare and economic empowerment.

The challenge is maintaining autonomy of the individual while aligning to face down deadly and common foes. There are numerous side events buzzing around the UN CSW in the next couple of weeks. Many amplify the need to work on understanding intersectionality of issues of LGBT persons and women in order for us all to move forward.

It is a difficult task. I think of the comparatively simplistic way the abuse felled upon Patricia Arquette at the Oscars (backstage comments not withstanding). Her words illuminated the danger in leaving someone out. And for better or worse, she did deserve an education -- not necessarily a pummeling.

-- inclusion of women of all stripes and strata -- no matter color, sexual orientation, gender identity or economic status or physical ability -- can ever be left back from the table when talking women's rights. But intersectionality is not on the tip of everyone's tongue. Yet.

If we can learn something from these failing -- intentional or unintentional -- then we have a shot.

Building a bridge -- one that has already been started in many areas -- between the causes of LGBT persons will be no easier. We will make mistakes, learn a lot, perhaps take some scoldings or get a wee bit of praise for a twinkling of understand. But we have to start if we hope to move forward post CSW 2015.

I am lucky to be a part of a side event on Friday, March 13 at the historic Riverside Church. Titled Women of Faith, Women of Doubt our challenge is to discuss the positive and negative role of religious traditions and gender norms are causing international conflict and threaten to erode recent gains for women and LGBT people around the world. With 80 countries still discriminating against the legal and constitutional rights of significantly poor populations, what advice can this expert panel bring to the discussions on gender and LGBT equality for the next 20 years?

‪The panel will include the following amazing women:

Maxensia Nakibuuka, Catholic Archdiocese of Kampala
‪Angeline Jackson, Quality of Citizenship, Jamaica
‪Dr. S. N. Nyeck, Clarkson University, NY

Please join us if you are able. Let's talk.