Lawyers warn of global push for 'gender identity' language

Participants at the opening of the plenary meeting of the World Health Assembly on May 19, 2009. Credit: UN photo/Eskinder Debebe.

Attorneys working for human rights at the United Nations and other global organizations note a growing trend to introduce “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” language – as well as abortion rights – into international law.

A “newer theme that we see in international law is what we call the SOGI movement, or the Sexual Orientation Gender Identity movement,” British attorney Paul Coleman told CNA on March 23.

“It's been around for the last decade and it is seeking to promote the terms 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' on an international level; seeking to provide protections, seeking to change international laws to include those terms and having a series of knock-on effects in a number of different areas.”

Coleman, who specializes in international litigation with a focus on European law, does legal advocacy in international institutions of governance like the the United Nations, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Union.

“The terms 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' are terms that aren't particularly well understood,” explained the attorney, who serves as legal counsel in the Vienna office of the international organization Alliance Defending Freedom.

“That's part of the issue with this sort of terminology – that its so fluid, that it changes – it can mean whatever people want it to mean.”

As a result, the language becomes a kind of tool for incorporating certain beliefs into law.

“In effect, 'sexual orientation' is a 'code word,' so to speak, for homosexuality and homosexual behavior, and 'gender identity' is a 'code' for transsexualism or people who feel they are not male or female, but are something different, something in between, or nothing at all,” Coleman said.

In addition to the SOGI movement, Coleman noted an “attempt to create a right to abortion” in international law – an effort which which he says has been around since the early 1990s and continues to grow in “force” each year.

This attempt also uses key language to place these ideas in global law, he added.

“It's one of the major trends that we now see...there are many documents that are discussed at the United Nations where the phrases 'reproductive health and rights' and 'sexual reproductive health and rights' appear constantly.”

“No matter what the issue is that's being discussed, they'll always find a way to include those issues.”

Neydy Casillas, an attorney and former law professor from Mexico working in the Organization of American States and Latin America, lamented the heavy international focus on issues of sexuality rather than difficult situations faced by many around the globe.

“Sadly in these organizations, where they should be talking about the problems that exist in the world, like poverty, lack of access to health care in general, lack of education, etc., – problems that will affect the development of nations – discussion has focused solely on the (question of) what is life, to try to legalize abortion in all circumstances.”

“They also work very hard on the homosexual agenda,” added the attorney who also does advocacy work for Alliance Defending Freedom, “as if they were the problems the world is experiencing – completely ignoring other problems that exist and affect the entire world and truly help development.”

Coleman cited three different groups at the United Nations advancing the language and goals of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

The “primary drivers” are the “activist organizations,” followed by “liberal, predominantly western countries,” and then “the institutions themselves at the UN: people that work for the UN itself.”

When the three are aligned, Coleman warned, the results are powerful.

“That is why terms like 'gender identity' were completely unknown ten years ago and now they're being pushed on many different levels today even though there isn't a single UN treaty that mentions the terms 'sexual orientation' or 'gender identity,'” he explained.

Those who advocate for SOGI work “day and night” in order to “convince delegates or representatives of countries participating in these organizations that this is what people want,” said Casillas.

The result is that many countries “change their laws.”

Coleman noted that such a process is often very complex, since it involves the reinterpretation of international treaties.

“Where international treaties say, for example, that people have the right to health, that's being interpreted as saying 'well, health includes reproductive health, reproductive health includes abortion – therefore, there is a right to abortion.’”

“Or, for example,” he continued, “where a treaty says that everyone has the right to marry: the treaties actually say men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry. And that's being re-interpreted as saying, well, although it says 'men and women,' we should really interpret it in modern-day circumstances, so it should 'men and men' and 'women and women.'”

Treaties are not only reinterpreted, said Coleman, but sometimes ignored completely.

“Instead of these treaties which have been signed by nations, which have been approved at the very highest level, we find that lots of other documents are drafted and approved with very little scrutiny, with very little input from outside parties – and certainly not from citizens of countries.”

Many of these documents “are not strictly binding on countries,” yet “they have the air of being official and they are used as a tool to kind of force nations to change their laws,” explained Coleman.

Although nations may refuse, many “want to appear as if they are keeping up with their 'human rights obligations' – they don't want to be constantly harassed by the United Nations or the European Union.”

The influence of Western countries, he said, can be very commanding.

The British attorney noted that “the United Kingdom has said that it will withhold aid to third world countries if those countries do not change their laws on homosexuality.”

He added, “we see in America President Obama saying that it is a foreign policy priority to promote homosexuality across the world. These are powerful countries with huge international aid budgets, and they're helping to push this issue around the globe.”

“If (nations) are told constantly, 'you need to change your laws on abortion. You need to change your laws on homosexuality,' then that pressure can lead to change at a domestic level.”

Moreover, such ideas have very practical import, or “knock-on effect,” Coleman said, citing Facebook's recent decision to include 50 different gender options for profiles instead of male or female, as well as something like the winter Olympic games.

“They are defined as the men's competitions and the women's competitions. Well, what do you do if you have someone who wants to compete in the women's competitions who isn't a woman?”

“On a deeper level, on another level, it can have a huge impact on religious freedom,” he added, citing a case in the U.K. in which a diocese was sued for 50,000 British pounds because the bishop declined to hire a practicing homosexual man for a youth minister position.

People who believe that humanity is male and female, and who want to act on those beliefs, will face “a conflict within the law,” noted Coleman.

“We're going to see more religious liberty cases where people are being sued, being threatened legally because they're clinging to the belief that there is male and female.”


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