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Who took the SO out of SOGI?

The UN bumbles on gender identity

Artillery Row

Who is responsible for undermining the rights of lesbians and gays at the United Nations? Why, that would be Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN’s Independent Expert for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI). “What’s that?” you say. Shouldn’t he be protecting the rights of people who are attracted to others of the same sex? Ah, but SOGI is a way of getting round that. Having an advocate for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is a bit like having one for Veganism and Chicken Farming. It doesn’t work.

Victor has just concluded an official visit to the UK — probably his last, since his second term is coming to an end. For the first nine days of his ten day visit, he met almost exclusively with gender identity enthusiasts. It was not, I think, a question of saving the best (in his view) for last.

Victor knows, apparently. He also has a bridge to sell you

Victor is a passionate advocate of gender self-ID. He has an impressive ability to claim over and over again, with a straight face, things that are untrue. He seems to have got on well with Nicola Sturgeon. He came to her aid twice to promote Scotland’s ill-fated Gender Recognition Reform Bill. One of Victor’s favourite untruths is that international human rights law requires the introduction of gender self-ID. This completely false notion relies on a little-known document — the Yogyakarta Principles or YP — which identifies as “best practice” when it is simply an activist manifesto. Human rights law professor Rob Wintemute, one of the signatories back in 2006, later changed his position when he realised that the impact on women’s rights had not been considered when the YP were being drafted. 

Where Victor is supposed to represent SOGI, he just focuses on the GI without the SO. Victor is the only Independent Expert (IE) to have a dual mandate encompassing irreconcilable aims. It recently emerged that he receives funding from the Arcus Foundation, which means that rather than “independent expert”, he is a paid mouthpiece for gender identity.

Victor maintains there is no conflict between the rights of LGB people and those claimed under the banner of “trans rights”. Whatever definition of “trans” you choose (and there are as many as there are scandals in the SNP), this is obviously untrue. Either people born male belong on a lesbian dating site, or they don’t. Either persons born female can be in a gay men’s sauna — without revealing their little secret — or they don’t belong there. Either it is fine to say you’re only attracted to people of the same sex, or it isn’t — because saying so out loud is hurtful and makes you a transphobe or a “sexual racist”, as Nancy Kelley (somehow still CEO of Stonewall) has been known to say. In this conflict you can jump one way or the other, but you can’t say no jumping is required.

Victor also insists — and this is his favourite mantra — that self-ID has not caused any problems in any country in the world. He has been sent pages of evidence to the contrary: abuses in prisons in countries from Ireland to Canada, explanations that data is becoming impossible to collect, abuses in women’s and girls’ sport, the self-exclusion of women of faith from vital services. Above all, there is documentation of what happens when children are sold a lie. It really isn’t possible to change sex. It is difficult to hear the pain expressed by dozens of women, and some men, now in their twenties or thirties who dare to speak in public about their bitter regret that they believed the lie, acted on it and are forced to live the rest of their lives with the consequences.

Sex is sex, and gender is — who knows? Victor knows, apparently. He also has a bridge to sell you.

LGB Alliance and other LGB groups have sent him numerous submissions, but he buries them and dismisses criticism of self-ID as “bigoted and exclusionary narratives”. It is of course exclusionary to exclude males from lesbian spaces. Nasty bigots. Everyone who stands up for sex-based rights is so used to being called names, that the abuse just inspires confidence — no one who has real arguments resorts to name-calling.

At LGB Alliance we became so concerned by Victor’s non-fulfilment of his sexual orientation mandate, his misrepresentations and his dismissal of our concerns that in January this year we submitted a long and detailed complaint in several languages to the President of the Human Rights Council and published it on our website.

The whole concept of safeguarding flies out of the window

This visit to the UK, Victor’s swan song in his ill-fated position, was a last chance to repeat the many points we have made to him over the years. We were pleased he met with Joanna Cherry KC MP, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, who was doubtless able to correct his misunderstandings of international human rights law. His final day’s schedule included — wonder of wonders (anything to do with that complaint?) — a meeting with some of those he has spent his entire term of office ignoring or belittling: Kate Harris of LGB Alliance, Dennis Kavanagh of the Gay Men’s Network and Paula Boulton of Lesbian Labour. The LGB groups’ aim was to ask some very pointed questions to elicit brief, cohesive replies — not the kind of Butlerian gibberish he is used to spouting (“Of course the challenging of the binary causes significant sensations of vertigo when the challenging of the binary appears to seek dismantling of binary structures”). We wanted him to say yes or no to whether homosexuals should have rights — simple stuff like that.

At this stage there was little point in being conciliatory. Years of polite requests had produced no result. So we bluntly repeated all the things we have been telling him for years. Funnily enough, he professed ignorance of all of it. “Cotton ceiling” (the difficulty trans-identifying males experience getting into lesbians’ pants)? Never heard of it. Homosexual detransitioners — surely part of his mandate in the interests of “inclusion”? Hmmm … please send details of such persons. Keira Bell, Sonia Appleby? Never heard of them. Quote from Dr Hilary Cass on lesbians who had felt pressured to transition? Silence. Had he met with Dr Cass? Didn’t want to say. GIDS clinic due to close because an NHS review found it to be unsafe? Oh, hadn’t heard. David Bell? Who’s that? Homophobia a key factor driving teens to seek gender transition? Here Victor raised a hand and flatly ruled it out. Not possible. HER dating site controversy? Who is HER? The Hoyle case in Tasmania in which a lesbian gathering was ruled unlawful? No, didn’t know about that. This last one is a bit telling since it is actually mentioned in one of Victor’s own reports.

Victor also wanted us to understand a few things. For one, children should have agency to make decisions about their bodies. Interesting. Would that apply to laws governing alcohol and cigarette sales, and legal or illicit drugs? Not to mention laws on the age of consent? Presumably so. With this “bodily autonomy” approach, the whole concept of safeguarding flies out of the window.

What Victor doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know, or refuses to acknowledge, is that you can’t promote gender self-ID without undermining the interests of people with same-sex sexual orientation. Self-ID zealots say two men who both identify as women can be a lesbian couple. Their opponents — including LGB Alliance, Lesbian Labour and the Gay Men’s Network — say that is homophobic nonsense.

Victor’s position is being advertised. Can it be filled by someone who sees the contradictions and dares to conduct open discussions about them? Would the UN accept such an individual? We shall see. 

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