When one thinks of Valentine’s Day, admittedly, lawyers do not figure prominently in the picture. It’s a day for verse not legalese, for love not litigation. And yet, love, in particular equality in love and sexual rights, has been a growing focus for the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) work, with some important recent wins for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it seems an opportune time to highlight these successes and the strategies that are yielding them.
In line with the ABA House of Delegates Resolution 114B, which condemns all anti-LGBT discriminatory laws and practices and urges bar associations and lawyers to defend the victims of such practices, our critical strategy in this work has been to build a cadre of lawyers and community-based advocates able and willing to take discrimination and hate-crime cases on behalf of the LGBT community. Thus, in recent years, we have worked in several countries to build such legal networks, train lawyers on substantive issues and on effective litigation and advocacy strategies, and connect them to communities in need. Over the past year, this work has yielded several groundbreaking lawsuits, including one country’s first-ever LGBT employment discrimination case, break-through marriage equality litigation, and educational and censorship cases relating to LGBT rights. Additionally, ABA ROLI, together with Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, supports one of the first programs in Africa to provide paralegal training and mediation services specifically dedicated to and managed by LGBT organizations.
The most effective strategies tackle discrimination on multiple fronts at once. Thus, for example, in Moldova, where we have seen a worrying increase in hate crimes targeting LGBT people, we support lawyers and advocates to strengthen legal protections through legislative advocacy and impact litigation. These efforts are paired with educational programs that sensitize law enforcement officials and judges to the issues affecting the LGBT community so justice—not re-victimization—is the likely outcome for those hate-crime victims who report the crimes. Finally, we and our partner organization, GENDERDOC-M, educate and empower LGBTI persons to assert their rights through legal empowerment trainings and targeted awareness raising efforts. GENDERDOC-M also provides emergency hotline and shelter support to LGBTI persons in need. Collectively, these programs have led to important legislative reform and hate crime convictions.
Our programs make a tangible difference in the security and well-being of LGBT people. During a November 2015 focus group in Chisinau, Moldova, we asked the LGBT participants to evaluate our program. One young woman summed up the impact of our efforts on her life saying, “My mom worries less about me now.” Many others echoed her sentiment, describing how our educational programs helped them feel more empowered, and how following our trainings, protection for LGBT community members has increased while re-victimization by the justice system actors has decreased.
In addition to promoting the human rights of LGBT people, we ensure that all our staff receives proper training and guidance on diversity and the importance of respecting gender equality and sexual rights both in the workplace and through truly inclusive and integrated programs.
How gratifying to think that ABA ROLI can help reduce discrimination and make the world safer for people in such a tangible way. Because, after all, love is love. Happy Valentine’s Day!