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Diversity in Adversity: stories from SOGI rights defenders

Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity

People who work to end violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) face multiple forms of risk. They can be targeted for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and for being human rights defenders (HRDs).

“Diversity in Adversity: stories from SOGI rights defenders” is a new video campaign by UN experts* Victor Madrigal-Borloz and Mary Lawlor. It features human rights defenders peacefully fighting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in different parts of the world. They will share their success stories and the risks they face.

Read a statement from Victor Madrigal-Borloz and Mary Lawlor on the situation of SOGI rights defenders.

Each week, an interview with a SOGI rights defender will be released, for 9 weeks from the end of March to early June.


Wisdom Kwame Bebli, Ghana

Wisdom Bebli worked as the executive director of Solace Initiative, an advocacy and community-based organization focused on the LGBTIQ+ community in Ghana. The organization’s main objectives are overcoming the stigmatization and vilification of LGBTIQ+ persons, advocating for public policy changes, and implementing Ghana’s international human rights obligations.
Recently, he was involved in the campaign to release the Ho 21, a group of Ghanaian human rights defenders who were arrested during a training workshop on LBQTI-related issues. He has also participated in mobilising the local and international community against Ghana's Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Bill, 2021 a law under Parliament’s discussion that would introduce wide-ranging restrictions on advocacy and rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Read the communication GHA 2/2021 on the Ho 21 case and the government's response.

Read the communication GHA 3/2021 about the Ghanian Family Values Bill (no response given by the government).

Zhanar Sekerbayeva and Gulzada Serzhan, Kazakhstan

Zhanar Sekerbayeva and Gulzada Serzhan are women human rights defenders, LGBTQI+ activists and the co-founders of Kazakhstan Feminist Initiative “Feminita”. They have been trying to register the organization as a legal entity in Kazakhstan since December 2017. In 2020, they appealed to the country’s Supreme Court against the Justice Ministry’s refusal to register Feminita, but have not yet been successful in their claim. Zhanar has a PhD in Social sciences and Gulzada has a Master’s degree in Economic Theory. They have been advocating on local and international levels, linking the academic and civic realms. In 2021, they were attacked while holding a public event in Shymkent about gender equality and women’s rights. Unknown male individuals were reported to verbally and physically attack them, effectively halting planned activities. Following the attack, police officers intervened but proceeded to harass Zhanar and Gulzada, and later arrested and detained them.

Read communication KAZ 4/2021 and the reply from the Kazakh government to find out more.

Malak Al-Kashif, Egypt

Malak Al-Kashif is a transgender woman human rights defender who advocates for the rights of trans people and promotes social and economic rights in Egypt. Ms. Al-Kashif began her human rights work by publicly documenting her transitioning experience, and sharing what she learned to help other trans women in the country. In March 2019, she was arrested and placed in pre-trial detention for four months, after peacefully calling for justice for the families of those killed in a train accident in Cairo that year. She spent much of those four months in solitary confinement in Tora Men’s prison. In recent years, Ms. Al-Kashif has been working with non-governmental organisation Transat, promoting the rights of transgender people in Egypt and combatting discrimination against them.

Read communication EGY 4/2019 to find out more.

Franco Fuica, Chile

Franco Fuica is a trans activist from Chile with a degree in Education. He began his activism in 2005 when he became the first trans leader of his university's Student Federation and created CUDSO (Coordinadora Universitaria de la Diversidad Sexual de Osorno). His work has focused on influencing law and public policy in Chile: he was actively involved in the establishment of the country’s Gender Identity Law. He states that trans organizations have been feeling pushback from certain sectors of society after recent achievements, including from State authorities. He is a part of several international civil society networks and is currently the leader of OTD Chile - Organizing Trans Diversidades Chile, his grassroots community.

Nayyab Ali, Pakistan

Nayyab Ali is a transgender woman human rights defender from Pakistan and Co-Chair of the Pakistan Alliance for Ending Violence Against Women and Girls. She also manages the Khawaja Sira Community Centre in Okara which provides vocational training, life skills education and driving classes for the transgender community. She has been leading advocacy for the approval of Pakistan's National Transgender Rights Protection Policy and has been a vocal critique of physical attacks on transgender persons and rights defenders in the country.

Read communication PAK 1/2021 to find out more.

Karla Avelar, El Salvador

Karla Avelar is a trans woman  and human rights defender from El Salvador who has been working since the 1990s to defend the rights of LGBTI persons, people with HIV and other marginalized groups. After being subjected to two and a half years in prison, where she was tortured, sexual assaulted and denied access to medical treatment, she began to work more intensely for the rights of LGBTI persons. She began by calling for appropriate provision of HIV medications and greater access to justice within El Salvador. In 2008 she founded COMCAVIS trans, El Salvador’s first organisation for trans women with HIV. In 2013, she was the first trans woman to appear before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. After multiple threats to her own life and that of her mother, she applied for asylum in Switzerland in 2017, where she now lives and continues her work.

Read communication SLV 2/2019 and the reply from the Salvadoran government to find out more.

Rhadem Musawah, The Philippines

Rhadem Musawah is an indigenous Muslim human rights defender and documentary filmmaker from Mindanao in the Philippines, whose work focuses on encouraging understanding, tolerance and peace between Muslim and LGBT communities. As part of his work, he has assisted in the organisation of the first LGBT Pride in Mindanao as well as diversity-themed film festivals around the country. Rhadem has been the target of hate, verbal harassment and death threats disseminated on social media on account of his human rights work and identity as a gay Muslim, advocating that religion should be inclusive and affirmative of sexuality.

Read communication PHL 6/2019 to find out more.

Sandrine Julien, Mauritius

Sandrine Julien is a woman human rights defender and LGBT activist who works as a consultant for the Collective for Human Rights in Mauritius.

As part of her work, she accompanies LGBT people in vulnerable situations and advocates for decriminalisation of same-sex relationships. In 2018 she was physically assaulted by family members of a woman who had requested help moving to a safe space. She has also worked extensively to ensure the safe passage of Pride events in Mauritius, which have often come under violent attack. Read more about Sandrine's case in a communication sent to the Government of Mauritius in May 2019.

Read communication MUS 2/2019 and the reply from the Mauritius Government to find out more.

Bart Staszewski, Poland

Bart Staszewski grew up in Lublin, in East Poland. He is a Polish SOGI rights activist and documentary film director. In 2017, he produced a documentary film – Article 18 about the struggle for LGBT equality in Poland.

Staszewski is one of the co-founders of the Equality March in Lublin, which has often been met with riots and protests from anti-rights groups. One of his most important projects is a photo series called “Zones” in which he briefly hung and photographed signs outside Polish towns that had passed symbolic resolutions declaring themselves to be “free from LGBT ideology”. Since then, he has been battling multiple court cases and smears from public officials.

Read communications: POL 1/2020, POL 6/2021 to find out more