Intersectionality is not a synonym for diversity

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Key topics at a high-level online event held by the UN LGBTI Core Group during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly in late September 2020 were intersectionality, protecting the rights of LGBTI people, and lessons learned from the pandemic.

While all LGBTI persons experience discrimination and exclusion, we do not experience discrimination and violence in the same way,” said Jessica Stern at the opening of the high-level event held by the UN LGBTI Core Group during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly in late September 2020. The UN LGBTI Core Group is an informal group of UN member states that was founded in 2008 with Germany involved from the start (see boxed info text).

Jessica Stern, Copyright: Outright Action International

Jessica Stern, the executive director of OutRight Action International, moderated the online side event entitled “Building Back Better ‒ How to Create a Virtuous Circle for the Inclusion of All LGBTI Persons,” which was attended by numerous ambassadors, policy makers and activists from around the world. She referred at the start to the concept of intersectionality introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw as an important analytical tool for understanding how vulnerable communities can be reached during the Covid-19 pandemic and how LGBTI rights can be advanced in sound and substantial ways. She warned that it is not sufficient simply to integrate the acronym “LGBTI” but instead urged that LGBTI rights have to be mainstreamed in the UN system!”

Structural inequalities during Covid-19

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, opened the discussion by addressing structural inequalities that the Covid-19 pandemic both revealed and exacerbated. “One key lesson from Covid 19 is that the failure to protect one community constitutes the failure to protect us all,” she said with reference to the resulting increases in rates of homelessness, discrimination and violence. She recommended using the UN’s Compendium of good practices in training for gender equality[2] and the Free & Equal campaign as tools to ensure that LGBTI people can meaningfully participate in shaping policies to respond to many and intersecting forms of discrimination.”

Intersectionality is not diversity

TN LGBTI Core Group heart, Copyright: Outright Action International

Other speakers from civil society also referred to an intersectional approach, including Shamim Salim who described her experiences as a queer Muslim activist in Kenya, and Ronald Céspedes from Bolivia who spoke about interconnections in the struggle for indigenous and LGBTI rights. The third speaker, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, warned that “we must not confuse intersectionality with diversity. Intersectionality is neither a buzzword nor a synonym for diversity.” She is the executive director of Kaleidoscope International Trust, a UK-based institute working to uphold LGBTI rights, and also a co-founder and director of UK Black Pride.

Phyll Opoku, Copyright: Outright Action International

Intersectionality describes the multiple forms of oppression that overlap on already marginalised people,” said Opoku-Gyimah who went on to note how discrimination is often rooted in and traceable to slavery, colonialization, patriarchy, power, privileges and white supremacy. “It has been the inability to recognize black women, black trans women as humans deserving of life, liberty and dignity that prevents the protection of liberation of other marginalized groups, like migrants and refugees.” She urgently appealed to decision-makers to follow their words about LGBTI rights with deeds.

Essential to acknowledge human rights

Michelle Müntefering, Copyright: Outright Action International

The fight for equality and human rights, they are not a footnote in politics. The acknowledgment of human rights is one of the most essential advancements in human history. It is crucial to assert them and it is possible,“ said Michelle Müntefering, a minister of state at the German Foreign Office. She mentioned a measure passed by the German parliament this year that prohibits so-called conversion therapies, as well as plans for a modern family law that is expected to strengthen the rights of lesbian mothers.

Gilmore, Copyright: Action International

Eamon Gilmore became the EU’s Special Representative for Human Rights in March 2019. He referred to a recent speech by the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in which she called for a “union of equality where you can be who you are and love who you want without fear of incrimination or discrimination.”

The principle of intersectionality runs through many EU policies such as the EU Gender Equality Strategy, the Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion, and strategic frameworks on disability, LGBTI+, Roma inclusion, and children’s rights. “The EU is now renewing its domestic policy framework on equality. The first ever LGBTI+ Equality Strategy will be adopted by the end of this year,” said Gilmore. “One of its main objectives will be to enhance LGBTI+ equality mainstreaming in other policy areas.”

TN LGBTI Core Group heart, Copyright: Outright Action International

More international speakers followed, such as Cristina Gallach, a minister of state at the Spanish Foreign Office, who reported on the recent founding of an LGBTI council to be part of Spain’s Equality Ministry. The council will analyse and channel proposals for LGBTI policies and also publish an annual study on LGBTI policy. After two hours of presentations, Jessica Stern brought this very successful virtual event with around 300 participants to a close.

Caroline Ausserer*

*Caroline Ausserer is a journalist, diversity trainer and moderator. For more information: www.presspectives.net

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The UN LGBTI Core Group at a glance

The LGBTI Core Group at the United Nations is an informal group of UN member states. Its overarching goal is to ensure universal recognition of human rights and basic liberties for everyone, also and especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) persons, with a special focus on protection against violence and discrimination.
Germany was involved in the Core Group from the start. Countries from the Global North can only join in pairs with a country from the Global South. The Group is co-chaired by Argentina and the Netherlands, and currently has 31 member states plus the European Union (observer), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the non-governmental organizations Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International (secretariat).
Member states: Albania, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Chile, Costa Rica, Germany, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Great Britain, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Uruguay and the USA.

More information: https://unlgbticoregroup.org

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