By Arvind Narrain and Kim Vance
The release of the third report of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) and the first report by the current mandate holder, Víctor Madrigal-Borlioz, provides us another opportunity to assess the workings of the mandate.
Perhaps the most important thing accomplished by the mandate over the course of its work, has been keeping the global spotlight on human rights violations on grounds of SOGI. The latest report highlights the pervasiveness of violence on grounds of SOGI from all corners of the globe – from laws providing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia and Sudan, to extra judicial killings in Chechnya, torture and ill treatment in Azerbaijan, to killing of trans people in Central America. The extent of violence suffered by LGBT persons is a stark reminder of the significant role that the mandate of the Independent Expert on SOGI can continue to play. At the most fundamental level, the mandate combats political forces that seek to denude LGBT lives of rights and dignity.
While raising awareness is an important part of the work of the mandate, the other function, which this report of the Independent Expert in particular does, is to shed light on the nuances of how violence and discrimination affect persons differentially and examine the root causes of such violations. This Report disaggregates the acronym LGBT and explores the specific forms of violence experience by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans men and trans women. To give an example from this report:
Information currently available suggests that trans men and other trans-masculine persons tend to be less visible in reports and data than lesbians, gays or trans women. Arguably, if this is a reflection of less visibility in everyday situations, this may shield them from the types of societal violence usually affecting other gender non-conforming persons; they are, however, victims of severe violence in the family, in the health sector, and of school bullying. Acts of violence include verbal, physical and sexual abuse, including so-called “corrective” rape, and forced marriage.
By highlighting the specific forms of violence faced by trans men, the mandate holder has demonstrated a sensitivity to nuance and a willingness to engage with the complex lived realities of marginalized groups within the LGBTI spectrum. This is an important perspective to stress because even as the issues facing trans communities in general are being taken up at the global and national level, the specificity of violence facing transmen often slips through the cracks.
By stressing the intersectionality of forms of oppression, the mandate holder has painted a picture of a human continuum along which violence and discrimination happens. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not discrete and insular categories but instead form part of the make up of persons who may also be older persons, refugees, of Afro-Asian descent, etc. Thus one cannot think of SOGI outside the actual life experiences of persons. By stressing intersectionality as an approach, the mandate holder signals his intention to produce more complex accounts of the actual forms of violence and discrimination that persons suffer on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, even as they relate to other forms of marginalization based on caste, class gender, disability, etc. Intersectionality also points to how the SOGI mandate is connected to the work of other mandate holders and hence, the importance of working closely with other mandate holders.