Why LGBT Inclusion Matters

Sara Rahim (United Nations Advisory Councillor) offers unique insights into how communities and governments can work together in solidarity.

As a Muslim woman and interfaith activist, much of my work focuses on advocating for inclusion of all voices in interfaith dialogue, including nonreligious identities. Similarly, this push for inclusion has also expanded to welcome LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) identities into interfaith spaces. To be passionate about bringing in diverse voices to the table, I see LGBTQ acceptance within the same area of advocacy and efforts. The intersectionality of multiple identities has shown me that these areas do not need to be in tension; but rather, they are intimately connected.

Mass Exclusion

Growing up as a Pakistani American Muslim in a post 9/11 world, I have experienced exclusion based on my identities. The fear of the “other” has frequently pushed me, and many others, to the margins of society - which includes atheists, agnostics, but also LGBTQ people, Muslims, Sikhs, women, and many others. Interfaith work, which seeks to bring people from diverse communities to better understand one another and build cross-cutting networks that advocate for the dignity of all people, must welcome all communities to be a part of the conversation.

Internal Inclusion

Historically, marginalized communities have included religious and ethnic minorities. In today’s age, the LGBTQ community is no stranger the same struggle for inclusion. When it comes to issues of privilege and power, we can all recognize areas in which we experience discrimination because of our identities, be it socio-economic status, age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and so on. This is why I believe in the important role that interfaith dialogue and cooperation can play in challenging normative narratives, especially the narrative that suggests we cannot be in community with one another despite holding different viewpoints and maintaining diverse identities.

Building Mutual Respect

Not only does interfaith dialogue help create a space to recognize the complexity that exists within different communities, it is also structured to help participants see the humanity in one another. While some may view homosexuality as a sin, interfaith dialogue positions individuals to see the shared values in one another and recognize that freedom of conscience is the foundation of a cooperative society. Discussions with LGBTQ people and inclusion in religious spaces has historically been a source of contention. Yet, I believe time and time again that interfaith spaces built upon a foundation of mutual respect and a deep desire to understand our differences is fundamental towards building relationships with people outside our own communities.

Building Community

The first step towards building that community is making space at the table for everyone, and extending an invitation to communities that haven’t always been welcome, including the LGBTQ community. This idea came to life for me during the fall of 2014, in which community organizers mobilized the #BlackLivesMatter movement after the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Founded by three queer identified black women, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter has awakened grassroots activists across the country who are demanding accountability from their community, state, and federal leaders. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained strength, it pushed for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community. The assault on black lives is an LGBTQ issue, and the assault on LGBTQ people is a black issue.

The truth is that the highest rate of anti-LGBTQ homicides have been against transgender women of color. The intersectionality of identities shows that you cannot view an issue in isolation; that race, sexual orientation, religion, and gender all interlap. My advocacy efforts in Ferguson revealed to me how black people, particularly queer and trans people, are disproportionately killed by police and security forces. All of those invested in the fight for racial justice must also recognize that the LGBTQ community has been historically marginalized and discriminated against.

Development Initiative

The success of any community development initiative, local, national, or international, is contingent upon the representation and inclusion of marginalized people. For those who recognize the rights of women, children, the disabled, and indigenous peoples, do the LGBTQ communities not deserve the same recognition?

Deeply embedded homophobic and transphobic attitudes, coupled with a lack of adequate legal protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender, often expose LGBTQ people of all ages around the world to many violations of their human rights. Discrimination against the LGBTQ community occurs in the workplace, in hospitals, and in schools. In many countries, discriminatory laws criminalize consensual same-sex relationships, which exposes individuals to the risk of prosecution, imprisonment, and in some cases, the death penalty.

Concerns about these human rights violations have been expressed by the United Nations since the early 1990s. On Human Rights Day on December 10, 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered the first of several major policy speeches on the quest for LGBTQ equality, calling for a global decriminalization of homosexuality and for other measures to combat violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people. “As men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Where there is a tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, rights must carry the day,” the Secretary-General stated.

Safeguarding Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established as a basis to safeguard the human rights of LGBTQ people, as well as other marginalized identities around the world. All people, irrespective of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, are thereby entitled to receive the protection provided by international human rights law, including in respect of rights to life, security of person and privacy, the right to be free from torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to be free from discrimination and the right to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

In June 2011, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 17/19, which was the first United Nations resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity, which expressed immense concern at the violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and identity. The UN is committed to ongoing efforts with States, national human rights institutions, and civil society to achieve progress towards the global repeal of laws that criminalize LGBTQ people. 

On August 24, 2015, the United Nations Security Council held its first-ever meeting on LGBT rights and the persecution of LGBT people around the world. Ambassador Samantha Power spoke with Subhi Nahas, a Syrian refugee, and the first LGBT individual to brief the Security Council on LGBT rights.

While efforts like these indicate that the fight for inclusive human rights has come far, the truth is that many marginalized identities continue to suffer and are persecuted on a daily basis from their community and government leaders and institutions.

Whenever I speak about the role of inclusion in interfaith work or community development, I am reminded that multiple marginalized identities - women, youth, disabled, indigenous and LGBTQ - have all experienced discrimination and bigotry in many forms. I challenge myself, and others around me, to understand that our fight for racial, religious, and social justice, is bound with that of LGBTQ communities. As a Pakistani American Muslim woman, I cannot be content havinga seat at the table until my LGBTQ brothers and sisters have a seat right next to mine.