“We are not crumbs! We should not accept crumbs! We must not accept crumbs!” That is what Larry Kramer reminds us in 2007 in one of my favorite speeches of his on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of ACT UP.
LGBTI issues is one of the biggest human rights challenges of our times with hundreds of millions of children globally experiencing homophobia and transphobia at home and at school in which truly amounts to a global public health crisis. A challenge which could be won in our lifetime with adequate resources as we now know social change on LGBTI issues is possible.
Yet, the response from the United Nations is not only insufficient but capacities, policy guidance and institutional arrangements on these issues have significantly deteriorated in the past two years.
More than a third of the world’s countries criminalize consensual same-sex relationships. Most countries do not recognize the gender identity of transgender people and in the few that do, transgender people are routinely forced to undergo abusive procedures. Intersex children are often subjected to unnecessary surgery, causing physical and psychological pain and suffering. A lack of adequate legal protections combined with hostile public attitudes lead to widespread discrimination and violence against LGBTI people — including workers being fired from jobs, students bullied and expelled from schools, and patients denied essential healthcare.
Today there is only a handful of junior staff left on these issues in various agencies while an entire agency -UN women — is devoted to gender equality. Why should LGBTI people continue to accept crumbs from a system supposedly designed to protect all of us equally?
Shortly after I joined the United Nations in 2016 with the successive departures of Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon (December 2016), Ambassador Samantha Power (January 2017) and High Commissioner Prince Zeid (August 2018), I have seen the little capacity and clout LGBTI people had built in the Secretariat return to a pre-2011 level. While I believe there is a deliberate by UN decision-makers to move away from issues that they always perceived as “frivolous”, it also is the result of growing nationalist and populist agendas which undermine human rights as a whole.
For the past ten years, I have worked in the UN system to promote LGBTI equality and I have no wish to bear witness any longer to the immobilism of often straight decision-makers in bureaucratic institutions, who have the power to trigger real change but will not, when it comes to the well-being of our global community.
I have come to consider that for the LGBTI community, it is crucial to avoid complacency and start looking hard for new strategies and new allies.
This is why I am joining Out Leadership (see press release), the private-sector led LGBTI equality, because I believe change can happen and that the motor for it won’t come any longer from governments and multilateral institutions. As the most recent addition to the Out Leadership team, I will work directly with companies to advance equality in the most challenging environments.
It is not often in life when your work aligns with what you truly care about and I feel blessed to be able to continue this work in a place where I know I can have an impact.
The author has spent twenty years in the UN System. More recently, he spent 4 years as a Human Rights Officer in the United Nations Human Rights Office in New York. He was ranked 2nd in the OUTstanding Top 30 LGBT+ Public Sector Leaders 2019 published by Yahoo Finance in November 2019. Since January 15th, 2020 he is Managing Director, Global Equality Initiatives at Out Leadership.
This article first appeared on Medium.