Diversity in Adversity: stories from SOGI rights defenders

People who work to end violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) face multiple forms of risk. They can be targeted for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and for being human rights defenders (HRDs). 

“Diversity in Adversity: stories from SOGI rights defenders” is a new video campaign by UN experts* Victor Madrigal-Borloz and Mary Lawlor. It features human rights defenders peacefully fighting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in different parts of the world, who share their success and the risks they face. 

Read a statement from Victor Madrigal-Borloz and Mary Lawlor on the situation of SOGI rights defenders:

Joint Statement Declaración conjunta Déclaration commune

The Defenders

Please note that the views expressed in the interviews do not necessarily reflect the views of Mary Lawlor, Victor Madrigal-Borloz or the United Nations.

Each week from March to June 2022, Mary and Victor released an interview with a different HRD working on SOGI rights. The videos are listed below starting with the most recent.

Week 9: Wisdom, Ghana

Wisdom Kwame Bebli worked as the executive director of Solace Initiative, an advocacy and community-based organization focused on the LGBTIQ+ community in Ghana. The organization’s main objectives are overcoming the stigmatization and vilification of LGBTIQ+ persons, advocating for public policy changes, and implementing Ghana’s international human rights obligations. Recently, he was involved in the campaign to release the Ho 21, a group of Ghanaian human rights defenders who were arrested during a training workshop on LBQTI-related issues. He has also participated in mobilising the local and international community against the Ghana’s Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Bill, 2021 a law under Parliament’s discussion that would introduce wide-ranging restrictions on advocacy and rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Find more information about attacks against Human Rights Defenders working on SOGI rights in Ghana in a UN communications written to the Government of Ghana in June and August 2021. The latter received no response.

Read the June 2021 communication to Ghana Read the Government's response Read the August 2021 communication to Ghana

Week 8: Zhanar Sekerbayeva & Gulzada Serzhan, Kazakhstan

Zhanar Sekerbayeva and Gulzada Serzhan are women human rights defenders, LGBTQI+ activists and the co-founders of Kazakhstan Feminist Initiative “Feminita”. They have been trying to register the organization as a legal entity in Kazakhstan since December 2017. In 2020, they appealed to the country’s Supreme Court against the Justice Ministry’s refusal to register Feminita, but have not yet been successful in their claim. Zhanar has a PhD in Social sciences and Gulzada has a Master’s degree in Economic Theory. They have been advocating on local and international levels, linking the academic and civic realms. In 2021, they were attacked while holding a public event in Shymkent about gender equality and women’s rights. Unknown male individuals were reported to verbally and physically attack them, effectively halting planned activities. Following the attack, police officers intervened but proceeded to harass Zhanar and Gulzada, and later arrested and detained them.

Read more about Feminita and Zhanar and Gulzada’s case in a UN communication that were sent to the Governemnt of Kazakhstan in July 2021.

Read the communication to Kazakhstan Read the Government's response

Week 7: Malak Al-Kashif, Egypt

Malak Al-Kashif is a transgender woman human rights defender who advocates for the rights of trans people and promotes social and economic rights in Egypt. Ms. Al-Kashif began her human rights work by publicly documenting her transitioning experience, and sharing what she learned to help other trans women in the country. In March 2019, she was arrested and placed in pre-trial detention for four months, after peacefully calling for justice for the families of those killed in a train accident in Cairo that year. She spent much of those four months in solitary confinement in Tora Men’s prison. In recent years, Ms. Al-Kashif has been working with non-governmental organisation Transat, promoting the rights of transgender people in Egypt and combatting discrimination against them.

Read more about Malak’s case in a communication written to the Government of Egypt in 2019, following her arrest. The Governemnt never replied.

Read the communication to Egypt

Week 6: Franco Fuica, Chile

Franco Fuica is a trans activist from Chile with a degree in Education. He began his activism in 2005 when he became the first trans leader of his university’s Student Federation and created CUDSO (Coordinadora Universitaria de la Diversidad Sexual de Osorno). His work has focused on influencing law and public policy in Chile: he was actively involved in the establishment of the country’s Gender Identity Law. He states that trans organizations have been feeling pushbacks from certain sectors of society after recent achievements, including from State authorities. He is a part of several international civil society networks and is currently the leader of OTD Chile – Organizing Trans Diversidades Chile, his grassroots community.

Week 5: Nayyab Ali, Pakistan

Nayyab Ali is a transgender woman human rights defender from Pakistan and Co-Chair of the Pakistan Alliance for Ending Violence Against Women and Girls. She also manages the Khawaja Sira Community Centre in Okara which provides vocational training, life skills education and driving classes for the transgender community. She has been leading advocacy for the approval of Pakistan’s National Transgender Rights Protection Policy and has been a vocal critique of physical attacks on transgender persons and rights defenders in the country.

Read more about Nayyab’s case in a communication written to the Government of Pakistan in January 2021. The Government never responded.

Read the communication to Pakistan

Week 4: Karla Avelar, El Salvador

Karla Avelar is trans woman human rights defender from El Salvador who has been working since the 1990s to defend the rights of LGBTI persons, people with HIV and other marginalised groups. After being subjected to two and a half years in prison, where she was tortured, sexual assaulted and denied access to medical treatment, she began to work more intensely for the rights of LGBTI persons. She began by calling for appropriate provision of HIV medications and greater access to justice within El Salvador. In 2008 she founded COMCAVIS trans, El Salvador’s first organisation for trans women with HIV. In 2013, she was the first trans woman to appear before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. After multiple threats to her own life and that of her mother, she applied for asylum in Switzerland in 2017, where she now lives and continues her work.

Read the communication to Pakistan

Week 3: Rhadem Musawah, Philippines

Rhadem Musawah is an indigenous Muslim human rights defender and documentary filmmaker from Mindanao in the Philippines whose work focuses on encouraging understanding, tolerance and peace between Muslim and LGBT communities. As part of his work, he has assisted in the organisation of the first LGBT Pride in Mindanao as well as diversity-themed film festivals around the country. Rhadem has been the target of hate, verbal harassment and death threats disseminated on social media on account of his human rights work and identity as a gay Muslim, advocating that religion should be inclusive and affirmative of sexuality.

Read more about Rhadem’s case in a communication sent to the Government of the Philippines in November 2019, which the Government never responded to.

Read the communication to the Philippines

Week 2: Sandrine Julien, Mauritius

Sandrine Julien is a woman human rights defender and LGBT activist who works as a consultant for the Collective for Human Rights in Mauritius.

As part of her work, she accompanies LGBT people in vulnerable situations and advocates for decriminalisation of same-sex relationships. In 2018 she was physically assaulted by family members of a woman who had requested help moving to a safe space. She has also worked extensively to ensure the safe passage of Pride events in Mauritius, which have often come under violent attack.

Read more about Sandrine’s case in a communication sent to the Government of Mauritius in May 2019.

Communication to Mauritius Reply from Government of Mauritius

Week 1: Bart Staszewski, Poland

Bart Staszewski grew up in Lublin, in East Poland. He is a Polish SOGI rights defender and documentary film director. In 2017, he produced a documentary film – Article 18 about the struggle for LGBT equality in Poland.

Staszewski is one of the co-founders of the Equality March in Lublin, which has often been met with riots and protests from anti-rights groups. One of his most important projects is a photo series called “Zones” in which he briefly hung and photographed signs outside Polish towns that had passed symbolic resolutions declaring themselves to be “free from LGBT ideology”. Since then, he has been battling multiple court cases and smears from public officials.

Read more about Bart’s case in a communication written to the Government in November 2021.

Communication to Poland Polish Government's response