A Legal Perspective on LGBT Human Rights with the ABA

Advocates for the human rights of LGBT people across the globe face unique struggles and legal landscapes. On Friday February 6, I participated in a panel examining these issues called “LGBT Rights Issues Around the World: A Legal Perspective” at the American Bar Association’s (ABA) midyear meeting in Houston, Texas.

The Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and the Section on International Law cosponsored the panel. I sat alongside Mark Wojcik, an esteemed professor from The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, and Judge Phyllis Frye, a transgender associate judge and attorney from Houston.

Though our perspectives on LGBT human rights each had a unique lens, the overall consensus was clear—LGBT human rights have progressed worldwide, but there is still a lot of work to do. As Professor Wojcik pointed out, while 18 countries now recognize same sex marriage, countries like Russia and Uganda continue passing discriminatory and homophobic legislation.

Judge Frye presented a historical account of The International Bill of Gender Rights and shared some of her personal accomplishments as an openly transgender woman. However, she still won’t change her sex with the social security office for fear of losing certain benefits she has through her wife.

I presented an overview of Human Rights First’s work to protect the rights of LGBT people, but because I’m a managing attorney for Refugee Representation, I focused on issues I’ve seen LGBT asylum seekers face in the United States.

Here in Houston, we have represented LGBT asylum seekers in detention who were held in a separate “gay” dorm for the duration of their cases, despite their requests to be housed with the general population. Due to this separation, they received limited recreation and were restricted from performing certain jobs in the detention center. As with many asylum seekers, they fled horrifying violence in their home countries—only to be detained under exorbitantly high bonds, even after passing credible fear interviews.

After winning their cases and being released from detention, LGBT asylees often have unique challenges finding a support system. While many asylees find comfort with their fellow nationals in the United States, for LGBT people who just fled a culture of homophobia, finding a community can feel impossible.

Promoting the human rights of LBGT people around the world requires a united front, and Human Rights First joins that fight through both advocacy and direct representation. I felt privileged to sit amongst members of the ABA as we shared our accomplishments and the obstacles ahead that we hope to overcome by working together.

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Published on February 10, 2015

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