The Embassy of Iceland rolled out the red carpet last month for Costa Rican jurist Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations’ independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, during his official Aug. 16-29 visit to the United States.
David Logi Sigurdsson, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission, welcomed Madrigal-Borloz on behalf of Ambassador Bergdís Ellertsdóttir, who was away on official duty.
“Human rights are a key priority in Iceland’s foreign policy, and LGBTQ+ rights are a particular focus at home where, as a society, we ensure that all of our people are accepted and enjoy full rights,” Ellertsdóttir said in an email.
“The language of diplomacy is one of the ways in which states continue to show their support. I am thankful that Iceland convened members of the coalitions of states and civil society to reiterate that,” Madrigal-Borloz said. “This mandate was created by member states of the United Nations as an answer to the demands of human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations all over the world,”
Diplomats from the European Union, Germany, Ireland and the United States also attended the event at the ambassador’s official residence in Washington’s Foxhall neighborhood.
“Ireland fully supports and values the mandate of the independent expert and it was great to see so many people at the event,” said Orla Keane, deputy chief of mission at the Irish Embassy.
The UN Human Rights Council mandates country visits in order to gain an in-depth understanding of member states’ issues on human rights. In January 2018, the council appointed Madrigal-Borloz to the job, which involves examining violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
As part of his research, he recently spent 10 days not only in Washington but also Miami, Florida; San Diego, California; and Birmingham, Alabama.
“This visit was held under rather extraordinary circumstances. Not only does COVID-19 continue to have a disproportionate impact on LGBT communities and the organizations that provide services to them, but we also know there’s a public health emergency declared by the World Health Organization” concerning monkeypox, Madrigal-Borloz said.
The fact that 98% of cases of monkeypox worldwide are among men who have sex with men increases the likelihood of stigmatization and discrimination against gay men. Madrigal-Borloz also said the ratio of lesbians, bisexual and queer women incarcerated in US prisons is 10 times higher than the general population.
“This gives you an idea of all the work that indeed needs to be continued in relation to social exclusion and inclusion in the United States,” said Madrigal-Borloz met with over 70 local, state and federal government officials, and over 100 representatives of civil society organizations. He also he talked to officers at the Otay Mesa Detention Center and the Port of Entry at San Ysidro, Calif., where asylum seekers are detained for questioning.
In his preliminary findings, Madrigal-Borloz flagged, “…a concerted series of actions at state level, both legislative and administrative, that tend to be based on stigma to attack and to roll back the rights of LGBT persons.” He also criticized efforts to limit access to gender-affirming treatments, comprehensive sexual and gender education, sports and same-sex spaces.
While the Biden administration is dismantling systems of “social exclusion,” he said, such efforts would not overcome the “riptide” created by government at the local level.
Madrigal-Borloz intends to include his findings in an upcoming report to the US government as well as the UN Human Rights Council.