UN expert speaks on challenges faced by LGBTQ+ community


Avery Bleichfeld

Borloz spoke to the Northeastern community Monday.

Avery Bleichfeld, news staff

United Nations Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz spoke about modern violence and discrimination toward LGBTQ+ people and the intersectionality of identity at a talk Monday, hosted by the Northeastern University School of Law. 

Madrigal-Borloz was appointed as the U.N. Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender in late 2017. The mandate for his position was created in 2016. 

During his talk, Madrigal-Borloz frequently returned to the concept of intersectionality in his approach to addressing violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

“The fabric of a lived experience gets woven by the threats of race, ethnicity, religion or belief, health, status [and] age,” Madrigal-Borloz said.

Madrigal-Borloz said conflicts involving people in the LGBTQ+ community often stem from intersecting parameters that create “continued violence and a dynamic of disempowerment.” He gave the example of aging members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Ours are the first generations to face dilemmas with large numbers of aging [LGBTQ+] persons who have forged free and equal lives throughout their lives but now are retiring to environments that remain hostile, ill-equipped to actually care to their needs,” Madrigal-Borloz said.

He also said the current older LGBTQ+ populations may be the first to experience the effects of long-term use of antiretrovirals, a type of medicine to treat HIV/AIDS, or hormones.

Worldwide, the concept of an LGBTQ+ community formed under that acronym is also less encompassing, said Madrigal-Borloz, who prefers the terms “sexual diversity” and “gender diversity” to include identities that don’t fall under the five letters.

“You have so many existences that have existed beyond the binary historically and have nothing to do with the acronym itself,” he said.

He gave examples that included the Muxe in Mexico, Travesti in Brazil and Argentina and Hijra in India, all gender identities that culturally occupy a space between male and female, without root in the LGBTQ+ acronym. 

Madrigal-Borloz said that he is wary of what language can and can’t do. 

“I always have a disclaimer at the beginning of all my reports acknowledging the limitations of language,” he said.

 Martha Davis, a professor at Northeastern’s School of Law and one of the event’s organizers, said she thought the examples Madrigal-Borloz gave during his talk were impactful.

“The [U.N.] special experts get so much information about what’s happening around the world, so I think it was probably sobering for everyone to hear about some of the political situations that people are facing in some of the countries he mentioned,” Davis said. “That was definitely interesting in a way that I think is galvanizing.”

Martha Carol, a first-year law student who attended the event, said she was impressed by the examples Madrigal-Borloz described. She also said that conversations like this one, in university settings, are important to keep academic discussions up to date.

“It’s always good for academia to be in conversation with people who are out practicing in the world,” Carol said. “I think it helps our conversations stay more relevant and also [keeps] what people here are producing in our academic environment [relevant].”

As a law student, speakers like Madrigal-Borloz give Carol a chance to explore more options for what sort of career she might want to pursue. But Davis said that much of the talk’s content was impactful to a general audience as well and that many of the issues Madrigal-Borloz raised are not law-specific.

“Lawyers might have a particular way of thinking about how to deal with them, but lawyers certainly couldn’t deal with those issues in isolation either, so it’s something that I think is a message for a broad audience,” Davis said.

Though he described instances of violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community worldwide, Madrigal-Borloz said he thinks it’s important to remain optimistic and that roles like his allow for that outlook.

“I believe that the creation of my mandate is one of the reasons we have the ability to be optimistic,” Madrigal-Borloz said. “Part of my mandate is being able to see a relation to systemic change. I think it’s one of the great achievements of civil society in the past few years.”