On July 15, the United Nations hosted an event called “Gender Diversity Beyond Binaries.” The event included a panel of seven people, five of whom were biologically male, but only two identified as such. Of the two biological women, only one acknowledged and identified as her given sex.
Commenting on what he described as “simple principles of international law,” Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, said that in every UN treaty “there is freedom and autonomy to be implemented in each and every moment of (a person’s) life.” This, he claims, “is a vigorous human rights framework” and creates an extrapolation in international law that gives each person a “right to be unique and distinguishable.”
However, despite what he may have implied, the claim that “sexual orientation and gender identity” is necessarily included under treaty obligation and international law is false and has been rejected by member states. It remains true that sexual orientation and gender identity are not included as a category of nondiscrimination in any UN treaty or aspect of international law.
Geena Rocero, founder of Gender Proud, wants to “reclaim that space of gender fluidity that has always been here since the beginning.” Katlego Kai Kolanyane Kesupile, an OutRight Action International Religion Fellow, felt that “If everyone is just assumed trans until proven otherwise, then the world would really just be a better space.”
According to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women executive director and one of only two female panelists at the event, the world can expect to see a focused shift in the UN entity’s core mandate. She said that “UN Women, as a feminist organization cannot be a feminist organization and a homophobic (sic).”
Taking the narrative of unfettered inclusion to its natural conclusion, Mlambo-Ngcuka said, “We cannot talk about ‘leaving no one behind’ without LBGQTI+.” The acronym, for the purposes of this panel and as defined by the moderator Imara Jones, stands for lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, questioning or queer, intersex, pansexual, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and “the full range of gender diversities that exists.”
Recognizing UN Women’s role of setting standards, in terms of policy for member states and countries, Mlambo-Ngcuka said that she hoped that this event would become a part of the process of “setting, enhancing and consolidating some of the policies that we already have in the UN.” Mlambo-Ngcuka openly admitted that while not all member states agree with UN Women on all issues, that was no excuse to not stand up and “push the envelope and ensure that the equality of all genders at some point becomes the norm, the normal.” She went even further saying that one of their responsibilities as UN Women, was to help countries change their laws to conform to this new gender ideology: “To the extent that we still have 70 UN member states that criminalize consensual same-sex acts, is obviously one of our challenges and we have a responsibility, again, to work with those members states, and the community, activists, and many enlightened people in those countries.”
Many non-governmental organizations advocate for diversity and name it as a marked strength of the international community both abroad and at home. However, that was not the sentiment conveyed when Kesupile finished by addressing the heterosexual men and women in the audience saying that “we (LGBTQI+ persons) are more than you, and essentially you need to learn how to become a bit more like us.” The narrative of this minority is reminiscent of the kinds of attitudes that are often attributed to the historical colonial powers and structures that many at the UN so ardently seek to dismantle.