Representatives of the international organization Human Rights Watch ( HRW ) met with community members, advocates and elected officials June 3 to speak about their work on LGBT issues around the world.
The organization, which is based in New York City, has five full-time employees working on LGBT issues, said Graeme Reid, who heads up the LGBT division. He emphasized that HRW often frames pertinent LGBT work in the broader scope of other concerns in other countries.
"So often the LGBT issues are a ruse and distraction from the real [human rights] issues," he noted, describing how governments in many nations stoked prejudices against gays, lesbians and transgender persons in order to divert attention from state oppression or poverty, for example.
The organization has advocated for LGBT persons in nations as diverse as Russia, Cameroon, Jamaica and Malaysia, where they've investigated and documented abuses, then issued recommendations for change.
HRW Senior Researcher Neela Ghosal added, "We're lucky that there is a burgeoning LGBT movement in nearly every part of the world right now."
Being able to reach out to local networks and cultivating allies is vital to HRW's work, according to Reid, and determines the scope of the organization's work. When HRW investigated police abuses against LGBT persons in Kuwait, for example, they found little sympathy for gays in that country. But they found numerous activists who were working on police brutality issues and were able to make inroads there.
Ghosal also discussed inroads that have been made in the name of transgender rights. While transgender citizens of many countries still face discrimination and/or violence, others are making headway.
"Ten years ago I don't think I knew a single person [in this work] who was transgender," she said. "The concepts weren't even accessible. That has changed significantly. We find that more officials are willing to accept transgender rights. There is a little more openness to the idea that [gender identity] is biological."
Rachel Denber, deputy director of HRW's Europe and Central Asia division, spoke briefly about the organization's work in Russia, where she is based. The Russian government has taken numerous steps to try to expel the group and is still ramping up anti-gay propaganda.
"It's a pretty grotesquely distorted, rising ideology," Denber added. "But [the current time] is inspiring because there are groups on the ground who are there to stay."
The gathering was held at the home of Mickey and Judy Gaynor.