CEDAW represents the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women." Not some forms of discrimination. Not just some women. As stewards of the implementation of the rights and obligations contained in the Convention, CEDAW Committee Members should include lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) people in their forthcoming General Recommendation on Access to Justice. For LBT people across the globe who face excessive violence and discrimination, access to justice is key to ensuring their rights.
Hatred, fear and prejudice make LBT people a regular target for violence and discrimination. As Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Rashida Manjoo reported, "Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex Queer (LGBTIQ) persons, including women, are especially vulnerable to... violent crime, from killings in private homes to killings in public spaces." Even worse, these crimes may be more violent than those found in other types of hate crimes. Seeking justice for violations of their rights is difficult, since LBT people often suffer from violence and discrimination at the hands of the very authorities that are supposed to protect them. These facts only underscore the importance of including LBT people in the CEDAW Committee's forthcoming recommendation.
LBT people are particularly vulnerable because they live -- and love -- at the intersections of several forms of discrimination. As I clearly stated to the CEDAW Committee in Geneva, "As women, they are subject to the same barriers as all other women, and as people they are persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These barriers multiply the effects of discrimination."
Importantly, the CEDAW Committee has acknowledged this concept in its General Comments on CEDAW making clear that sexual orientation and gender identity are compounding factors in discrimination. They have encouraged states to recognize the rights of marginalized and vulnerable women, including rural women, women with disabilities, elderly women, women with HIV/AIDS, as well as LBT people.
Given the precedent that the CEDAW Committee has set, excluding LBT people in the Recommendation on Women's Access to Justice would be sorely out of step with past actions of the Committee and would make it even more difficult for LBT people to enjoy the rights to which they are entitled. Discrimination against LBT people falls squarely under the Convention's mandate. LBT people are specifically discriminated against, attacked, abused, criminalized and even killed for their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Under CEDAW, regardless of sexual orientation or sex assigned at birth, LBT people are equally entitled to all rights.
While meanings attached to the terms lesbian, bisexual and transgender vary across cultures, one thing is immutable: Violence and discrimination against anyone is a violation of fundamental human rights. For this reason, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) , International Women's Human Rights Clinic, CUNY Law School, and MADRE, with the endorsement of 55 general human rights, women's rights, sexual rights, women's health and reproductive rights organizations, urged the CEDAW Committee to include an explicit reference to sexual orientation and gender identity in the general recommendation.
While the CEDAW Committee has taken significant steps over the years to combat discrimination and violence rooted in stereotyped gender norms, it is still at risk of being undermined by homophobic and transphobic sentiments. Staying silent on LBT peoples' experiences of discrimination and violence would reverse the progress that it has made. The CEDAW Committee must stay the course in eliminating all forms of discrimination against all women and people targeted because they are seen to be women, regardless of their gender identity. The very meaning of CEDAW must be protected, and in turn, the dignity and respect of LBT people everywhere.
NOTE: In February the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) met in Geneva. The call for LBT inclusion is being carried forward as human rights defenders assemble at UN headquarters in NYC, March 4th -15th for the convening of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
Grace Poore may be reached at Gpoore@IGLHRC.org.
Blakeley Decktor, Legal Fellow, Program Officer -- Documentation & Advocacy, IGLHRC, and Floriane Lefebvre assisted with research for this blog.