Students & Campus
22 June 2022

From Stonewall to the United Nations: The Pride and Rights of LGBTI+ People

Rafael Carrano Lelis (he/him) is a PhD researcher in International Law at the Geneva Graduate Institute. His research focuses on the production of LGBTI+ subjects in International Human Rights Law discourse.

Particularly, it examines the intersection between law and social movements, in both national and international contexts, combining legal and anthropological approaches. 

June has arrived. And with it, we saw the spread of rainbows, in physical and virtual spaces. The month marks the celebration of LGBTI+ Pride; a diversity of experiences and identities that cannot be limited to a single acronym, or any of its alternatives.

Even if it is more and more common to associate this landmark with the appropriation of the movement’s liberating energy by states and corporations alike, for their own ends, it is still a memory of the achievements of activism: a queer revolution that stood up to the police force, led by people of colour and trans activists, even if this picture has only been made clear by looking at the past with present lenses. 

More than 40 years later, under very different circumstances, another historical landmark for the queer community is being delineated, again in June and just a few metres away from the Geneva Graduate Institute.

In its 50th session, at the Palais des Nations, the Human Rights Council debates the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (IE SOGI). This is equally the result of the intense effort and dedication of civil society activism. 

The mandate, established in 2016, was a groundbreaking moment with regard to the rights of LGBTI+ people. Not only in international law, but with transnational repercussions, impacting the lives of sexual- and gender-diverse people worldwide. Above all, providing hope.

The IE’s work involves different interactions with states, civil society and people on the ground; be that through the means of country visits, thematic reports, or individual communications. Despite the form it takes, there is an important underlying message in this endeavour – telling the world that LGBTI+ rights are Human Rights.

This is no minor issue. On the contrary, it holds a powerful symbolic effect not only at the level of strategic discourse, but especially in the dimension of discourse that reconstructs the grave reality of violence and discrimination faced by LGBTI+ people. It is one of the many necessary steps in securing that the “human” that qualifies international human rights law is more than an empty word, and indeed plays a role in recognising the humanity that LGBTI+ people are entitled to.

As the pride parades take back the streets around the globe, after the challenging effects of social distancing for queer people living in all parts of the world, the colours and bodies that march again are a timely reminder of the further need to claim this group’s human rights in the most varied spaces. The renewal of the IE SOGI's mandate is certainly critical in this process. But not enough. Let this pride be both the celebration of past struggles and the commemoration of the many achievements that are still to come. And one more step in crystallising LGBTI+ rights as human rights.

More about Rafael: Rafael worked as a Research Consultant for ILGA World between 2020-2021, and co-authored the 2020 edition of the State-Sponsored Homophobia report. He has also worked in different human rights and LGBTI non-governmental organisations, with a particular focus on public policy advocacy and mapping of human rights violations.