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November 22, 2019 at 9:37 am PST | by Michael K. Lavers
UN LGBTQ rights watchdog talks visibility, global backlash
Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N.’s LGBTQ rights watchdog, speaks at the ILGALAC Regional Conference in Bogotá, Colombia, on Nov. 20, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Alice Ochsenbein)

The U.N.’s LGBTQ rights watchdog on Wednesday acknowledged the increased visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people around the world has prompted a global backlash.

“Visibility is the key to acceptance, but of course visibility also comes with the risk of backlash,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz during a telephone interview from the Colombian capital of Bogotá.

“This is what we’re witnessing globally, a backlash,” he added. “This is not playing out in (a) vacuum. This is playing out in the context of global geopolitics where other great conversations are taking place.”

Madrigal-Borloz did not specifically discuss the U.S. when he spoke with the Los Angeles Blade, but he referenced anti-LGBTQ narratives in Ukraine and Georgia that promote the idea of lesbians being “bad citizens” because they don’t have children” and gay men “are detrimental to society” because they are “disordered and … automatically associated with pedophilia.” Madrigal-Borloz also cited rhetoric against migrants and asylum seekers in developed countries.

“Hateful narratives all rely on the fear of the other,” Madrigal-Borloz told the Blade. “This is why we have the conversations so present at the global level.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council, of which the U.S. is no longer a member, in 2017 appointed Madrigal-Borloz, a Costa Rican lawyer, to succeed Vitit Muntarbhorn as the U.N.’s independent expert on the protection of LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination. The U.N. General Assembly’s Third Committee earlier this month adopted without objection a resolution that extended this mandate.

Four LGBTQ people murdered a day in Latin America

Madrigal-Borloz on Wednesday spoke at the opening of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC) Regional Conference in Bogotá. Madrigal-Borloz also met with representatives of Caribe Afirmativo, a Colombian LGBTQ advocacy group, and other organizations while in Colombia.

Madrigal-Borloz’s trip to Colombia coincided with the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Transrespect Versus Transphobia Worldwide, a project that Transgender Europe launched, on Wednesday published a report that says 331 “trans and gender-diverse people” were reported killed between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30. The report notes Brazil; Mexico and the U.S. had the highest number of murders, but Madrigal-Borloz described this statistic as “only the tip of the iceberg.”

ILGALAC on Wednesday in a press release said four LGBTQ people are killed everyday in Latin America.

“The levels of violence and discrimination … are still gruesome and worrisome,” Madrigal-Borloz told the Blade.

Madrigal-Borloz said LGBTQ people of African descent are among the populations that are particularly vulnerable to violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity in Latin America. Activists throughout the region with whom the Blade has spoken over the years say economic and immigration status are additional factors that can place LGBTQ people at additional risk.

“The lived realities of a gay, urban male in Mexico City is very different from the realities of a rural lesbian woman in Paraguay,” said Madrigal-Borloz.

Countries recognize ‘criminalization doesn’t stand the test of constitutionality’

Madrigal-Borloz spoke with the Blade less than a month after Colombian Sen. Claudia López became the first lesbian and first woman elected mayor Bogotá.

The Botswana High Court in June issued a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country. Lawmakers in Angola in January approved a new penal code that legalizes homosexuality and bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Madrigal-Borloz noted to the Blade that Mozambique and India are among the other countries in recent years that have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

“In all of those cases what you have is a recognition of some branches of the State — via the parliament, via the judiciary — of the fact that criminalization doesn’t stand the test of constitutionality and adhesion to human rights,” he said.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in upwards of 70 countries around the world, with Iran and Saudi Arabia among the handful of nations that impose the death penalty on anyone found guilty of homosexuality. The governments of Botswana and Trinidad and Tobago have appealed decriminalization rulings in their respective countries.

Madrigal-Borloz referenced to the Blade anti-LGBTQ crackdowns that continue to take place in Uganda, Tanzania and Chechnya and the South Korean authorities’ prosecution of LGBTQ servicemembers who engage in consensual same-sex sexual relations. Madrigal-Borloz acknowledged there “are forces that are interested in stopping” global progress on LGBTQ issues, but added he doesn’t think pro-LGBTQ court rulings and laws are “triggering” it.

“We have a combination of a better, more concerted effort of these ultraconservative, ultranationalist, regressive campaigns,” Madrigal-Borloz told the Blade. “Civil society is also becoming better.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. Follow Michael

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