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The Impact of COVID-19 on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Rights

In Conversation With Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz

On July 16th, the UNA-YP had the honour of having Victor Madrigal-Borloz enrich our community with an insightful presentation, followed by an immersive Q & A session, regarding the topic of “The Impact of COVID-19 on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Rights”. Victor Madrigal-Borloz is a UN Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, so it was especially illuminating from hear from his perspective, expertise, and ongoing commitment to address the above issues.


Mr. Madrigal-Borloz’s role primarily involves communicating to member states on how they can properly address cases of violence and discrimination, alerting UN organs about related human rights violations, advocating for persons and populations, activating and mobilising local and international communities, and following up to recommendations; all of which compose a rather critical role in the realm of human rights. Some of the quintessential functions and responsibilities he highlighted include maintaining constant dialogue with member states, carrying out country visits to comprehensively examine the issue of violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ persons in that particular nation, receiving notice of allegations of human rights violations, and carrying out thematic research. Collectively, these inputs result in a series of outputs (e.g. letters, country visit reports, reports to the GA and HRC, etc.) that are disseminated through multiple communication channels (e.g. speeches, presentations, social media, etc.) in order to arrive at the final destination: inclusion in mandates and statements.


Specifically, his research agenda from 2017-2019 spanned the following areas of focus: criminalisation, anti-discrimination measures, (de)pathologisation, legal recognition of gender identity, data work, and social inclusion. On the above topics, he raised awareness on the disproportionality faced by young people and recalled a time when he, along with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, issued a joint statement for the situation of young persons in the ranks of the homeless, especially in regards to those who also identify as LGBTQ+.


Coined by the title of the event, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz then discussed his concerns with the harrowing disparities that exist in the playing field, when it comes to COVID-19. Concerningly, the pandemic has exacerbated discrimination towards LGBTQ+ persons, as exemplified by their heightened vulnerability to police abuse and arbitrary arrest and detention in the context of movement, restrictions, and curfews; this is due to the existence of criminalization laws. He further noted that LGBTQ+ children, youths, and elders receive prolonged exposure to unaccepting family members amidst lockdown, and as such, this inflames rates of domestic violence and physical/emotional abuse; a huge detriment to physical/mental health within individual households. In response, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz issued a series of ASPIRE guidelines (Acknowledge, Support, Protect, Indirect discrimination is a risk, Representation is key, Evidence must be part of the response) to further support the LGBTQ+ community during these hard times. He critically discussed the problems associated with gender-based quarantine, which fails to recognise the needs of non-conforming persons, as they would not be able to leave home at any designated time (nor receive certain forms of assistance).


With regards to forming solutions for violations like these, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz underscored the essentiality of representation. When one designs public policy, there needs to be holistic representation of the concerns of the affected populations. One step to achieve this is ensuring representation of LGBTQ+ organizations when designing protocol and processes. Mr. Madrigal-Borloz then explained different mechanisms of feedback (which is crucial), from periodic consultations, to bilateral dialogue with stakeholders, to dialogue with the UN family. One key insight later brought forward by Mr. Madrigal-Borloz was the notion of temporal intersectionality, as people’s needs and realities change in relation to time, thus continual dialogue is necessary.


On the topic of multilateral action and its plausibility for change-making, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz discussed the defining role of moral persuasion in enforcing international human rights law and the importance of deeply analysing and deconstructing the issue of criminalisation. Quite often, protection measures also reflect social norms and global understandings of what is fundamentally correct. In the context of criminalization, such approaches are more difficult to enact due to the involvement of stigma. Given that there are infinite ways in which people identify themselves (and not all of them correspond with the term LGBT acronym), there is an imbalance in perception and treatment. While countries may be extremely receptive, progressive, and forward-looking for certain identities, they may be equally regressive and backwards on others.


Furthermore, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz painted the idea of an “uneven panorama” in regards to protections against issues such as discrimination and conversion therapy. Much of the response is founded upon a dual influence: the degree in which states are willing to accept advice on international human rights law, and the degree in which individuals and organizations can make progress at the micro (or macro) level. Such progress is never static and always dynamic; it changes everyday. And it will continue to do so until the issues of violence and discrimination are completely eliminated once and for all.


On a brighter note, no state in the world has any legislation that explicitly allows for violence and discrimination. It is, after all, the most universal rule to live a life protected against such violations on human rights. Consequently, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz highlighted the need to continue evaluating and understanding how social change can happen. Only when we understand the roots of social change, we can turn our vision for a more equitable world into one of reality.


If you’d like to hear more about our discussion with Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Zoom Q & A will soon be available for you to revisit and explore further topics, such as socio-economic exclusion, what the UN can do to help LGBTQ+ persons seek refuge and asylum and interpreting legislation, among others. Stay tuned!

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