Ten Years of International Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Laws: Lessons Learned

Mar 27, 2017 by

by Daniel Moody, Public Discourse:

When the state insists on governing us only in terms of who we think we are, surely the proper interpretation of such an insistence is that the state has reneged on the very reason for its existence: to govern us-as-us; to govern us as male and female.

In early November 2006, a group of international legal experts descended on Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. There, over the course of four days, they drafted and developed a set of statements aimed at building a bridge between the timeless concept of human rights and the recent notions of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI). On March 26, 2007, the fruit of their labors was revealed at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva: The Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

The bulk of the document consisted of twenty-nine principles, covering everything from equality to education, rights to religion, and health to housing. In addition, sixteen recommendations were put forward, the first being that the principles should be endorsed and promoted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (Among the text’s twenty-nine signatories, coming from twenty-five countries, were no less than eight UN Special Rapporteurs.)

Since their launch ten years ago, the Yogyakarta Principles have gained a near-mythical status. They have throbbed away in the background, shaping the terms of legal debate more by association and insinuation than by formal adoption, with the ideas therein gradually becoming the loudest voice in the conversation. At the public policy level, there are many, many good reasons to be against SOGI-related laws, but this essay looks at the concepts themselves: how do law and SOGI relate to one another? To this end, let us first separate the SO from the GI.

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