A Way Forward for the LGBTI part II

Michael O’Flaherty
FRA Directory continues the plenary discussion on 'A Way Forward for the LGBTI+ Community' during the World Pride Human Rights Conference in Copenhagen on 19 August 2021.

Change takes many actors and to some extent it’s out of our control, but there's still the question of ‘what can we do?’ that I'd like to address.

The first thing I'd say is that we have to re-examine what it means to use a human rights approach, and I have a few very specific dimensions in mind this afternoon.

The first is to remember that we're dealing with law. We're not asking for favours. We're not asking for charity. We're demanding rights under law. And the breadth of those rights under law is wider than is often appreciated. Victor [Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity], through your mandate, you're constantly drawing to our attention exactly those issues. You spoke about the gender dimension.

But human rights law speaks to not being given food in a handout during Covid because you're trans. Human rights speaks to you not being able to get an apartment to live in. It's not just about torture. The breadth of what has been committed to by States is impressive and it's law. I think we've lost some of the energy behind that demand.

The other dimension of why law matters is critical to the discussions we've had here all week: it guarantees the principle of self-identity; you belong to a group if you self-identify as being part of that group, and that speaks directly to some of the really tough issues that you've been debating here.

One other very closely related, dimension is that in human rights law, founded on the dignity of the human being, there are no hierarchies. There are no hierarchies of rights, and there are no hierarchies of groups either. So, all of these, I think, are deeply enriching.

The second thing is we've got to evidence our claims. That's where surveys come in. We need to show the basis for our claims, the basis for our complaints, the argument that if you do it our way, you end up with a better social outcome.

All of that can be done, but it requires an investment, and that's why the Fundamental Rights Agency will continue the LGBTI survey. This will be repeated every four or five years, so that people working at the country level can use it for advocacy, use it as the evidence base for your claims.

The third thing – and I'm going to maybe annoy a few people in the room because I'm going to criticise us – is that we aren't doing a good enough job of communicating our claims; we have to get better at it.

The other side is often much better at it, the other side is often much better at getting a simple message out there into society. So, we need to look at how we transmit our messages. Again, my agency is heavily invested, for the last four years now, in exactly that issue of how we do a better job of communicating human rights messages, so, I'm criticising us as well, obviously, but it's an area that needs attention because we're losing the communication challenge.

Then, the next thing I would say is that we have to demand accountability, personal accountability for crimes, for instance. It's shocking the extent to which, including within the EU, somebody who pronounces a hate speech, which crosses the line of criminality, will not be either investigated or prosecuted. Here and everywhere else, we need to insist on judicial accountability when crimes are committed.

Finally, I'll just make one further point, which is that we have to go local. Change happens locally. Change happens on the streets and in the villages. It doesn't happen in Geneva, New York, Brussels, Strasbourg.

This requires some very smart new thinking. We have to figure out what it means to work on the street when an activist could put him or herself at risk by being visible. I'm not giving easy answers here, I'm just saying that in every sector of human rights we see that what works is what goes local.

Migrant integration works best when the city is leading the effort, not the State, and I could go on with an example from every imaginable sector, but this also has to be an important dimension of going forward.