LGBTQI+ exclusion is not a new story. From public restrooms to houses of congress, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex persons to be seen and heard have long been questioned and denied. Ensuring the inclusion of LGBTQI+ voices in all aspects of life, but particularly political decision making, is essential to achieving the rights and protection of LGBTQI+ people the world over. On the occasion of the publication of the major research outputs of the project VoiceIt: Strengthening LGBTQI+ Voices in Politics, in which UNRISD is a partner, this blog gives a brief overview of UN engagement with the issue so far and sets out how this research-action project is contributing to LGBTQI+ inclusion in politics.
In a 2013 speech
to the Oslo Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as “one of the great, neglected human rights challenges of our time”. While over time many advances in LGBTQI+ rights have been made, progress has stagnated in recent years, and in fact some countries are moving backwards, with access to rights and protective laws being rolled back as right-wing ideologies gain a strong foothold across the globe. Now, as the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the next 10 years is newly underway, ensuring the inclusion of LGBTQI+ persons, their equal access to rights, and protection from discrimination is essential for achieving the SDGs and leaving no one behind.
At the international level, the UN has pushed forward the struggle to expand the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals and protect them from discrimination and violence. A number of Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolutions have focused on sexual orientation and gender expression, specifically protection from discrimination and violence, resulting in two UN reports in 2011
and the appointment of an Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2016
. However, despite purposeful moves to address these issues, there is also recognition within the UN that more must be done. In 2015, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) convened an Expert Group Meeting to develop recommendations about how to conceptualize and measure LGBTI* inclusion, feeling that “a systematic examination of the opportunities for LGBTI people to engage in civic and political processes is largely lacking”, as it was described in a subsequent report
. The project identified lack of research and high-quality data as one of the greatest challenges to creating and implementing effective LGBTQI+ policy, as currently only 5% of global funding for LGBTQI+ issues goes to research. As the report highlights: “If sufficient strategic investments are made in LGBTI research and data collection, knowledge about LGBTI people will increase dramatically, which will empower LGBTI people and their governments to move toward the SDG promise of inclusion and human rights for all”.
Recognizing the necessity not only for research on the subject, but also for action that fosters uptake of that research in policy making, and the need to shift public option and challenge harmful cultural and social norms, UNRISD has recently been engaged in an EU-funded research-action project
focusing on the political inclusion of LGBTQI+ persons in three countries in Europe, a region in which LGBTQI+ rights have been under threat in recent years. ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) Europe Rainbow Index
findings show no positive improvement in 49% of the countries studied in the last year, and in fact some countries are moving backwards, as laws and policies are being revoked. There has also been a rise in hate speech in the last two years, in particular on the part of public figures, including political and religious leaders. Surveys conducted by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in 2012
reveal that the pace of change is slow, if moving at all. Their results show
that LGBTI* people continue to face multiple and overlapping forms of discrimination. 11% of respondents said they felt discriminated against when looking for work, only a 2% decrease from 2012. For those who felt discriminated against at work, the number increased, from 19% to 22%, and for transgender respondents, the increase was even larger: 22% in 2012 and 36% in 2019.
VoiceIt: Strengthening LGBTQI+ Voices in Politics
is an integrated research-action project which aims to enhance the inclusion of LGBTQI+ people's voices, rights and concerns in political decision-making processes in Cyprus
. In the past year, the project partners designed and conducted surveys in the three countries, targeting four groups: LGBTQI+ individuals, government officials, representatives of political institutions and the general public. Combined with desk research on the legal and policy landscapes in the three countries, the objective of the survey was to determine the needs of, and misconceptions about, LGBTQI+ individuals in the respective countries, specifically exploring knowledge of, and perceptions about, LGBTQI+ rights, occurrences of discrimination, LGBTQI+ participation in politics, and needs for policy reform.
In terms of perceptions and beliefs, the findings were quite positive. The majority of respondents from all three countries agreed that people should be able to freely express their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that LGBTQI+ people should have the same rights as heterosexual cisgender people.
In contrast to these beliefs, most respondents in all three countries felt that in practice, the LGBTQI+ community is not widely accepted in their country. They cited a high frequency of negative verbal comments and harassment, while noting that physical abuse on the basis of people’s LGBTQI+ identity occurs only sometimes or rarely, with some Greek respondents feeling it occurs often. The survey responses of the majority of LGBTQI+ identifying participants from all three countries showed that their lived experiences generally match these observations.
Concerning political representation, a similar pattern emerges. While the majority of respondent from all four target groups agreed that the LGBTQI+ community should have equitable representation in politics, most LGBTQI+ respondents felt that in practice they cannot engage in political processes without the risk of discrimination, and that if they did, their position would not be taken into account as much as a cisgender heterosexual citizen. With this in mind, the VoiceIt project operates on the premise that achieving justice for LGBTQI+ people is contingent on their inclusion in political decision-making processes, and works towards achieving it.
That is why the second phase of the project will build on the research findings so far to conduct empowerment workshops that aim to engage LGBTQI+ persons in political processes and equip them with the tools necessary to make their voices heard. These will be complemented by informational workshops to raise awareness among government officials, representatives of political institutions and the general public about LGBTQI+ issues and how they can help. Together, these workshops aim to create a shared vision of LGBTQI+ inclusion in politics and take steps to make it a reality.
These activities, in combination with other VoiceIt activities such as the creation of action plans for LGBTQI+ inclusion in each country, will help put into practice the policy recommendations
that have arisen from the research. The findings have highlighted the need for education and training around LGBTQI+ rights, especially from a young age, as well as awareness raising, which should engage key actors across the political spectrum and the general public, in order to influence public opinion. Findings also highlight the need for further investment in LGBTQI+ rights and protections, for example to provide support for organizations working for the benefit of LGBTQI+ individuals, as well as investing in more research into LGBTQI+ rights and inclusion in national contexts. There is much interesting work ahead as the national partners begin to engage directly with local communities in Cyprus, Greece and Italy. We invite you to participate if you are located in one of the three countries, or follow our progress in UNRISD’s two-monthly newsletter
*While the VoiceIt project uses the acronym LGBTQI+, other organizations work with the acronym LGBTI.
The content of this webpage represents the views of the author only and is their sole responsibility. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.
- LGBTI - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex
- LGBTQI+ - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning), intersex; the plus sign represents those who do not identify with the other categories (for example, those who identify as pansexual or non-binary)