At the UN, 'Disappointment and Cautious Optimism' About LBTI Rights

03/23/2015 11:18 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

The 2015 session of the UN's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which just concluded in New York, involved thousands of delegates and hundreds of meetings. But, if a single theme resonated over and over again, it was that the work of advancing the human rights of women really only begins with discrimination on the basis of their gender.

Indeed, many women in the world also experience other, often multiple, forms of further marginalization that interact with their gender to increase their vulnerability to violence, exploitation and discrimination.

The distinct human rights concerns of such "multiply marginalized" LBTI (lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people were outlined in a Statement in Reaction to Political Statement of the 59th Commission on the Status of Women that was signed by more than 50 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and activists from around the world.

The Statement underscored that many LBTI people are denied their human rights on the basis of their (actual or perceived) sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or intersex status -- or put more eloquently, "because of whom we love, what we look like, the work we do or because we exercise bodily autonomy and choice." Such discrimination and marginalization comes in many forms, including denial of employment and education, diminished access to housing and medical care, and the risk of legally and social condoned violence, poverty and other needless suffering.

Regarding this year's CSW political declaration, the Statement expressed "both disappointment and cautious optimism."

The disappointment was over the elimination of opportunities for citizen input and debate, given that the content of the declaration was settled before the session even opened. This effectively excluded the voices of thousands of representatives from grassroots communities who had gathered in New York -- including those of diverse LBTI communities.

The signatories' "cautious optimism," however, was based on their perception that many governments were recognizing "the persistence of intersecting forms of discrimination, marginalization and vulnerability that affect different groups of women and girls" and pledging to take concrete actions.

As a next step, the Statement called for "a true vision for transformative development and empowerment that also benefit lesbians and bisexual women, and trans and intersex persons."

The stakes are especially high this year because it marks the end of a 15-year cycle in which the UN system was focused on the "Millennium Development Goals" that were adopted in 2000. This fall, the UN General Assembly will aim to approve new "Sustainable Development Goals" (SDGs) for the post-2015 period. The SDGs are a new set of 17 goals, 169 targets, and multiple indicators for all UN members states to integrate into their political and economic agendas.

While goal five is a call to "achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls," it's unclear whether or how the specific concerns of LBTI people will be addressed.

Hence the urgency on the part of the Statement :

We refuse to be rendered invisible, or to have development policies touted as progress even as they ignore, marginalize or create further risk for us...As the post-2015 negotiations continue, we demand to be recognized in these negotiations that directly impact our communities and lives.

Because underlying all such negotiations is that reality that "our lives," concluded the Statement, "are nonnegotiable."

The author participated in the 2015 session of the Commission on the Status of Women as a representative of the United Nations Association of the United States (UNA-USA).