A Queer Perspective on Sustainable Development

I’m sitting on the floor following negotiations on health, education and gender equality paragraphs for the Rio+20 outcome document ‘The Future We Want’. What strikes me is how what these suited people, sat round the table, relates (or completely doesn’t relate) to me.

I’m here in Rio with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and back home I’m also a member of the Stonewall Youth Panel – the UKs main Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual rights organisation. And I’m sat here thinking ‘I haven’t seen a single person at this event addressing gender and sexual minorities’. I know that, after many nation states walked out of a meeting addressing these issues at the Human Rights Council earlier this year, there’s unlikely to any direct reference in the formal outcome document. However, I haven’t seen a single NGO side event talking about it or an organisation working on these issues directly represented (if they’re happening please point me in the right direction!).

And, I mean, there’s plenty for them to be talking about here on the small number of topics I’m following alone.

Firstly I should say that I think the idea of ‘developed countries’ is a myth – no country is perfect and all are still developing. Countries are in different places, but this linear notion of development is misguided and any support for sustainable development needs to work for ensuring rights and access to services of populations the world over.

Health

There has been extensive discussion (and challenges) of sexual and reproductive health and rights over the last few days but in a most definitely heterocentric and binary gendered fashion – what else would you expect when the Holy See is vehemently  participating in discussions?!

Being young and queer my experience of sexual health provision in the UK has been lacking, and obviously such services are non-existent in the majority of countries. Refusal to administer certain tests for sexually transmitted infections is common – the misconception being that certain diseases can’t be passed between same-sex partners being concluded for the low rates of transmission. On several occasions I have had to assure a doctor of an opposite sex sexual partner before they’ll take my request for STI testing seriously. Heterosexuality is always presumed, with me having to tell a medical practitioner otherwise – usually with the narrow category options of heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual which simple don’t reflect the diversity of sexual minorities.

Hate crime has also had a serious impact on my health as a young person, mentally and physically, and there is no doubt that levels of economic and social development, as well as historical factors, seriously influence the likelihood and severity of such crimes. Within the UK I have faced verbal and threats of physical violence based upon my sexuality and gender identity on far too many occasions. However I have also experienced the much harsher hate violence prevalent in many other countries during a visit to Ghana. Aged 17, I was picked out based on my clothing and mannerisms amongst other things, and subjected to things that no person should ever face…Everybody has a right to live a life free from violence and this is a right denied to sexual and gender minorities on a daily basis. Violence has a dramatic cost – socially, economically and environmentally – and so any programme of sustainable development should seek to address it.

Education

I was buoyed by this article today showing that a UN agency has recognised the specific education barriers faced by gender and sexual minorities, and it makes many important points. Whilst it’s well-known that girls are forced out of school for reasons based around their gender, sexuality and gender identity forces many others out of education to. In the UK, bullying based on my sexuality and gender identity forced me to drop out of formal education at the age of 13. Sustainable development, in all countries should ensure that children can remain in education regardless of any factor of their identity.

Whilst I am heartened by the news of progress that schools who participate in Stonewall’s Diversity schools programme are making in terms of homophobic bullying – I firmly believe that non-formal education has an incredible role to play it is ability to promote shared values of diversity and equality.

Conclusions

I am incredibly frustrated by my position within a group who still don’t have their rights formally recognised within the UN system – one day I hope that gender and sexual minorities will be given the due space and consideration to productively input into international political processes.

Cross posted from: http://www.soroco.org.uk/csw.aspx

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