LGB Alliance highlights the worrying trend in the recent report by Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN’s Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI). Because of his position, his ideas are influential. They will be used to impose an extreme form of gender identity ideology across the UN and deep into UN agencies, from WHO to UNESCO and UNHCR. Activists who insist that everyone has a gender identity, which matters more than biological sex, are undermining the rights of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. These proposals are presented as “progressive” but they are the opposite. Mr Madrigal-Borloz’s recent report provides a notable example. It is time to halt this dangerous drive to take us back decades, to a world of gender stereotypes. Every sentence that combines sexual orientation with gender identity obscures the conflict between them – to the detriment of LGB people.
Across the world LGB rights are being undermined and dismantled by activists who promote gender identity ideology. They aim to replace in law and policy the factual reality of biological sex with the vague and ill-defined notion of “gender identity.” The latest and perhaps most glaring example of this is Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN’s Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), whose report on violence and discrimination was published this summer.(1) (1a)
The ideas are summarized in a recent official account of Mr. Madrigal-Borloz’s speech to the UN General Assembly. They are a mix of confused notions and deliberate obfuscation. Worryingly, these ideas could be used to impose an extreme form of gender identity ideology across the UN and deep into all its agencies, from WHO to UNESCO and UNHCR.
LGB Alliance believes that Mr. Madrigal-Borloz is well-intentioned and genuinely seeks to combat discrimination and harm. Nonetheless, we are alarmed to see him promoting profoundly ill-conceived ideas, with implications that directly undermine the rights of lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
We have produced a response that highlights just some of the most blatant examples of bias and confusion, and shows how they will further erode LGB rights.
Words in bold italics are quotations from the official account of Mr Madrigal-Borloz’s speech published on a UN website: (2)
“Urgent action needed against exclusionary rhetoric and practices that endanger human rights – UN expert”
This title contains the word “exclusionary.” What does it mean? In our view it is a buzzword, designed to make people feel guilty for having boundaries. When used in this way, it cheapens and makes meaningless a word that we need to combat the unacceptable exclusion of people based on characteristics such as race, disability, and class. But sexuality does have boundaries. We uphold the existing, sex-based rights of people with same-sex sexual orientation.
“A steep rise in discrimination and harsh rhetoric have put people who do not conform to gender norms – lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and gender-diverse people – at increased risk of persecution and violence.”
We agree that people who do not conform to the stereotypes associated with males and females are at increased risk of persecution and violence. We also agree that this is a matter of grave concern.
However, the muddle starts when Mr Madrigal-Borloz explains who these people are. They are “lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and gender-diverse people.” To start with, “intersex” evidently refers to persons with Variations of Sexual Development (VSDs). These are medical conditions and in the vast majority of cases have nothing to do with “gender norms.” The vast majority of people with VSDs are indisputably male or female. The human species is sexually dimorphic. This is not an opinion but a simple biological fact. People with VSDs frequently complain about being co-opted into the debate on gender (see @RaeUK, mrkhvoice.com/).
The lack of definitions is a huge problem in this area, especially when the aim is to produce laws protecting people from discrimination. What does “gender-diverse” mean? Most people would fall under this heading. What does “trans” mean? Does this include, as many organizations say it does, cross-dressers and gender-fluid persons, whose gender may vary from day to day? How would such a person’s rights be inscribed in law? Using such woolly, undefined terms undermines the existing rights of well-defined categories such as lesbians and gay men. It makes it impossible for lesbians or gay men to have any services (dating sites) or events that exclude the opposite sex. But by definition, same-sex sexual orientation does exclude the opposite sex, and people with that protected characteristic have the right of association on that basis in the UK under the terms of the Equality Act 2010.(3)
“He spoke as he presented a report on ‘Practices of Exclusion’ that analyses the backlash against the incorporation of gender frameworks in international human rights law.”
Many countries and organizations made submissions to assist the Independent Expert to draft this report. They were intended for publication. A list has been published of those who made submissions.(4) It is not complete, however:
LGB Alliance also made a submission, which has not yet been not published. It is mentioned in a single footnote to the full report, in a paragraph rejecting our concerns about pressure on lesbians to accept that transwomen may be lesbians. Groups from several other countries focusing specifically on LGB rights also made submissions. We hope that all these submissions will be published on the OHCHR website very soon: we will keep you posted.
From the UN summary of his speech:
“Those who oppose protection of gender and gender identity under international human rights law evoke a global conspiracy and create an atmosphere of panic and moral concern that allows the perpetuation of violence and discrimination mainly against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and gender-diverse individuals.”
This jumbled paragraph misrepresents the views of those who challenge the replacement of “sex” by subjective “gender” in law and who believe efforts to protect “gender identity” are undermining the existing rights of women, lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. Bundling all these groups together obscures the issue and does a profound disservice to LGB people.
Our concerns have nothing to do with fears of a “global conspiracy.” They do not arise from “panic” or from “moral concern.” They arise from logical thinking about human rights, clashes between interest groups, and a desire to engage in clear thinking instead of meaningless virtue signaling.
What is the main issue here? It is that if activists want to protect subjective “gender identity,” they must find a way to do so without undermining the existing rights of those with same-sex sexual orientation. There is a clash of interests here and pretending it doesn’t exist risks doing untold harm and unravelling decades of progress in LGB rights.
Worse still, let’s look at para 33 of Mr Madrigal-Borloz’s lengthy report:
“the threat to children’s innocence is at the heart of anti-gender discourse, which is based on a ‘policy of fear.’ The proposal in the face of this moral panic is to offer the past as the best future: to return to societies where traditional gender roles placed women in a situation of inferiority.” [bold ours] This proposal is based on offering a ‘safe’ alternative focused on the traditional family, the nation and religious values as opposed to individualism that – according to conservative groups – represents gender policies.”
We completely reject this facile suggestion. It is not “conservative” or promoting a “policy of fear” to draw attention to the need for child safeguarding. We do not seek a return to the past: quite the opposite. In our view, gender is a prison, and we abhor the resurgence of gender stereotypes, which we see as the inevitable consequence of gender identity theory.
“These narratives resonate with conservative platforms and – with solid funding and catchy slogans – have been distressingly successful in national election campaigns around the world,’ said Madrigal-Borloz. “Too many ultraconservative political leaders and religious groups are using their platforms to promote bigotry, stigma and intolerance by dehumanizing people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”
This paragraph heaps insults on all those who strive to protect the sex-based rights of women and LGB people. It suggests we are linked to ultra-conservatives, “religious groups,” that we have “solid funding and catchy slogans,” that we are characterized by “bigotry, stigma and intolerance,” and we are engaged in “dehumanizing people.”
Who is Mr Madrigal-Borloz referring to? It is true that religious right groups in the United States and similar far right groups in Central and Eastern Europe are attacking LGBT rights with contemptible, reactionary arguments, with which we strongly disagree. Their campaigns have nothing to do with the brave volunteer groups who are battling to retain the rights of women and LGB people particularly in the UK, where LGB Alliance is based.
We care about the rights of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. We care about women’s rights. We are concerned that our rights are being thrown overboard by people who believe they are forging ahead in the next vital civil rights issue. We think they are sadly misled and that we are the true progressives.
“In trying to rouse their bases, these leaders deliberately confuse the biological reality of sex characteristics with the social construct of gender, he said.”
On the contrary. It is not us who are confused. We stand for the maintenance of the sex-based rights of women and LGB people. Women’s rights are based on the worldwide discrimination against the female sex on the basis of their lesser strength and their reproductive function – biological sex.
To protect the rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals we must acknowledge that sexual orientation is based on “the biological reality of sex” and not on subjective gender. A lesbian is no more likely to be attracted to a male-bodied person who “identifies” as a woman than to any other male-bodied person.
This confusion is having a particularly harmful effect on young lesbians.
We agree in referring to “gender” as a “social construct.” In our view it is a negative force, imposing patterns of behavior on boys and girls instead of encouraging them to develop their individuality. Ironically, those who promote the notion of “gender identity” almost always end up invoking the very sex stereotypes we have worked so hard to abolish.
“Sex characteristics are biological features and a physical reality,’ he said. ‘However, the roles, behaviors and forms of expression attributed to individuals based on them are constructs. Any person must be able to ignore, shatter or subvert them as an exercise of freedom.’”
We totally agree with this statement. This is where our views and interests coincide.
“Noting further that 26 October is Intersex Awareness Day, he called on countries to protect the human rights of intersex children by prohibiting unnecessary medical procedures too often used to forcibly modify their appearance or physical development according to standards for ‘normal’ male and female bodies.”
We totally agree with this statement. Again, our views coincide here. We would only repeat that since VSDs are medical issues, they should not be linked to discussions of “gender.”
“We need urgent action from all countries to push back against anti-gender narratives and exclusionary practices,’ he said. ‘I urge you to choose the path of the law of inclusion, which captures and reflects the perfection of the human experience in all its diversity.’
What is an “anti-gender narrative”? We urge the retention of the rights of women and LGB people on the basis of biological sex, not subjective “gender”. However, we fully support all moves to advance the freedom of individuals to ignore, shatter or subvert sex stereotypes. These actions do not change a person’s sex.
The final sentence of Mr Madrigal-Borloz’s statement contains the word “inclusion.” If this means that people with male bodies must be “included” in the category of lesbians, we reject it. Lesbians have rights too.
Mr Madrigal-Borloz’s regressive views are no surprise, since we believe every sentence that combines “sexual orientation” with “gender identity” obscures the conflict of interests between them and undermines LGB rights.
It is possible – and urgently necessary – to promote the human rights and dignity of all people without resorting to lies, insults, and obfuscation. It is possible – and urgently necessary – to stop suppressing the views of those who seek to defend existing rights. To imply that our disagreements are not held in good faith, and to impugn our motives for insisting that there is a clash of interests that must be addressed, is profoundly disrespectful to all LGB people and to all women around the world who want our voices to be heard.