Below is a list of questions to serve as a starting framework for the discussion in this thread:
- How can advocates ensure that LGBTQI rights are consistently integrated into human rights conversations?
- Why should human rights or other organizations include LGBTQI people in their mandate?
- How can human rights or other organizations navigate resistance to include LGBTQI people in their mandate?
- What are some of the unique challenges human rights advocates face when trying to raise awareness of LGBTQI issues?
- How can human rights advocates to redirect or productively channel resistance from communities?
- How does awareness get transformed into action?
- Share stories of success
In Iran, not only the rights of LGBTQI individuals are systematically violated by the government, but also the heterosexuals can’t enjoy their most basic human rights. Journalists have been imprisoned and tortured for writing reports that were considered “threats against national security”, men and women have been arrested for going on a date or being in a party together, women are forced to cover their hair and comply with a strict dress code, etc. As a result of such situation, one of the first challenges that the Iranian LGBTQI rights defenders face, comes from the other Iranian human rights activists, asking them “while there are so many important human rights issues to talk about, why are you trying to promote the rights of a minority group?”.
Therefore, it has been a focus of ours to show them how the violation of LGBTQI rights and other people in Iran are inter-related. Perhaps, the government has been “helping” us in this regard as well. For example, in one incident they fired all the women working in Tehran City Hall, arguing that it was for the sake of “women’s dignity” if they stayed away from the harsh working environment! Back then, there were many protests to this move, considering it as an act of discrimination against women, violating the international human rights treaties, to which Iran has been a signatory. Many of the government officials tried to defend this move by saying that if they wanted to comply with all the international human rights, they should also recognize the freedom of “faggots” in Iran (the Iranian officials usually use derogatory terms to refer to homosexuals in Iran). They were trying to scare their critiques by saying that if women were to be free, then homosexuals could become free too! Therefore, unknowingly, they were sending the message that women’s rights and gay rights were inter-related.
Not only we have tried to convey this particular message of ours through the publication of educational materials, including films, books, and brochures, we have also used incidents like this to argue that the LGBTQI rights and the people’s human rights are inter-related. In fact, if the rights of LGBTQI are recognized, many of the other rights that have been violated by the Iranian regime, would be recognized as well.
Therefore, while we try to deal with the fundamentalist regime in Iran, we have taken it upon ourselves to educate the other human rights activists of the importance and the inter-relation of LGBTQI rights with the human rights in general.
This is a really interesting illustration of how oppressing groups try to divide to rule. A sadly "reverse" phenomenon happens in the global "North"/"West" where the "protection" of LGBTQI people is invoked to fuel hatred against migrants, especially Muslims.
LGBTQI advocates face many different challenges from opponents in different areas of the world – they even face different challenges across the states within the US. These varied challenges result as much from different cultural and religious objections as they do from diverse political/social goals and varying levels of progress.
There are several key challenges faced by LGBTQI advocates around the globe. These challenges are often expressed differently depending on the cultural context, but they share common underpinning beliefs. These are:
· The denial of LGBTQI existence – “There are no LGBTQI people in this country.”
· The denial of relationships – “Same-sex marriage does not deserve the same recognition as a real marriage.”
· The denial of morality – “LGBTQI people are sick and should be condemned.”
· The denial of immutability – “LGBTQI people can and should change. They can be cured.”
These beliefs are at the core of many anti-LGBTQI arguments – and changing these beliefs is integral to changing attitudes toward LGBTQI people in a given society.
I would like to contribute a few insights into the question how to ensure the consistent integration of LGBTQI rights into human rights conversations. An example that could be useful here is the idea of the protection of traditional values, or more specifically, the traditional family structure, that has rapidly gained momentum among conservative and authoritarian governments in the past decade as an adversarial position to the allegedly eager imposition of internationally recognised standards of liberty, non-discrimination, and justice. The protection of the traditional family under the guise of so-called cultural traditionalism is of an international nature and finds its greatest manifestation within the framework of UN politics.
The idea of the protection of traditional family was initially brought to the international scene in the early 90’s, headed by the Christian Right movement and conservative governments, and later backed by governments of Islamic countries after the World Conferences of Families began to be held annually - only after 10 years did the Russian Federation (the first country from the former Soviet bloc) join the international initiative. One of the leading figures of the Christian Right movement and founder of the International Coalition for Family Values, Scott Lively, in an interview with the World Net Daily, proudly admitted that his speaking tour across the states of the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007 had significantly moved the leading figures of the Russian government to initiate the introduction of anti-homosexual legislation. These are the initiatives that provided the basis for the national institutionalisation of the ideology of the traditional family, which served as the beginning of the Russian state’s increased promotion of said concept in the international system, securing for itself the right to exercise what I call value sovereignty. From this perspective, in 2014 Russia led 13 states in the drafting of a resolution on ‘Protection of the Family’ without any discussion of the definition of ‘family’ prior to its introduction. The resolution was accepted at the 20th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family held by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2014 with the support of 25 nation-states voting in favour of it. It is noteworthy that the introduction of this trend in the post-Soviet sphere by Russia plays an important role, and has nearly attained its goal, since more and more of the countries in question have started to sign up to it, which in turn has resulted in a strengthened international shift towards the rhetoric of traditional values, raising the probability that the concept of the protection of the nuclear family will become entrenched in international law. The latter in turn ensures heightened legitimisation of abuses of human rights in countries’ internal affairs. During the 29th session of the UNHRC in 2015, a second resolution on protection of the traditional family was adopted with 29 nation-states voting in favour.
Soon afterwards, the Group of Friends of the Family in the UN (GoFF) was launched in 2015, the members of which actively strived to block initiatives of the UN in relation to LGBT rights, and initiated traditional values- and family-oriented policies, statements, working groups, and international conferences, systematically across the Post-2015 Development Agenda. One illustrative example of the work of the initiative could be a recent attempt by traditionalist states to contradict the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) on November 21 and later December 19, 2016. These states argue that the work of the Expert, given the lack of a common understanding and the absence of a mutual definition of the concept of SOGI among UN members – and for some members the concept of SOGI is not admissible at all – will only create further hostility among UN member states. They claim to do this so that the international community pays proper attention “to the national laws, traditions and religious and cultural background of the UN member states related to the family and its role in society” and to assure interstate relations are beyond criticism when it comes to state compliance with universal norms and principles. The most recent initiative of the Group is to discuss a resolution on the “Protection of the Family: Role of the family in supporting the protection and promotion of human rights of older persons,” at the 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council; this resolution again, as with previous resolutions on this theme, fails to recognise various forms of family, but strives to subvert the universality of rights.
However, states in fact promote the concept of cultural traditionalism often without providing any distinctive definition of traditional, or any explanations of those factors that define state-dictated values and norms as traditional and immutable. Generally, the notion of tradition is seen as limited to a single state and protected from external influence. Traditionalist policies are considered legitimate as long as the state acts according to its sovereign rights and in pursuance of national interests (while it is yet open to debate to what extent national interests are considered by authoritarian governments if at all). The authorities promote traditionalism because it is less financially demanding than other ideological stances, but is aimed at the restoration of people's trust in the governing power, as well as the enhancement of the state’s political capital in the international arena.
Therefore, I believe LGBTQI advocates (state and non-state actors) should keep challenging the traditionalist policies which states use to erode stances regarding LGBTQI rights from the UN human rights agenda and policies, as well as states’ justifications for traditionalist policies or the absence thereof, so that consequently LGBTQI rights are further institutionalised internationally and nationally in the long run. The discourse about cultural traditionalism and the universality of human rights should be maintained not only within the realm of academia and human rights activism, but most crucially in the level of interstate politics, so that the voice and role of LGBTQI advocates are sufficiently supported and amplified.
Thanks Katsiaryna for these valuable insights! I also wanted to make a point, that is somewhat unrelated, that the LGBTQI movement itself has to be carful to be respectful of broader Human Rights, especially as regards race, ability, and other characteristics. On the one hand we wish sexual orientation and gender identity to be included in HR frameworks, on the other hand we don't always (as individuals, but also as a movement) work hard enough to make sure we respect the Human Rights of others.
We should certainly be more aware of the intersection of issues, and be more vocal and present, as a movement, in larger social struggles. Not to say that we are never, or that no one is, but sometimes the "pink blocks" in demos (the place where LGBTQI organisations/activists gather when they participate in a protest march on social issues) are strickingly small.