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Defending LGBTIQ Rights: 2011-2016

MADRE organizes with women’s and LGBTIQ rights activist to create safe spaces in dangerous places. We share strategies, launch campaigns and build power together. Here is a snapshot of the last five years.


2011: Demanding Justice

Karen Atala Riffo is a Chilean judge and lesbian mother. In 2005, she was denied custody of her children because of her sexual orientation.

In 2011, MADRE joined the battle to appeal this decision before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Drawing on international law, we asserted that LGBTIQ people must be protected from discrimination.

2012: Victory

In a landmark ruling on March 20, 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Karen Atala.

What's more, it affirmed for the first time in its history that, according to international law, people of any sexual orientation and gender identity must be protected.

"The Court's ruling is a milestone victory for human rights advocates the world over. It sets a precedent in international law that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a human rights violation–one that we hope will help defend the rights of LGBTIQ persons wherever these rights are under attack."

Lisa Davis, MADRE Human Rights Advocacy Director


Supporting Haiti’s Earthquake Survivors

Haiti can be a dangerous place for LGBTIQ people. In 2010, it became even more dangerous when LGBTIQ people were scapegoated for the massive earthquake.

We launched a campaign to confront worsening violence. We brought together hundreds of people, including grassroots rights activists, doctors, judges, lawyers, and members of the Haitian government. In a series of workshops, we came up with strategies to support survivors by connecting them to health and legal services. 

Protecting Women and LGBTIQ People in Iraq

LGBTIQ people in Iraq are in danger of torture and murder because of who they are. We joined with our local partners, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), and with OutRight Action International to confront this crisis.

We began by providing care, counseling and other emergency aid for LGBTIQ Iraqis. We trained our partners to document human rights abuses against LGBTIQ people for future prosecution. And we launched a campaign to counter anti-LGBTIQ stigma through community radio and public events.


Women’s Rights and LGBTIQ Activists Exchange Knowledge at UN Conference

At the UN Commission on the Status of Women, MADRE brought together women’s rights and LGBTIQ activists from Nicaragua, Haiti, Japan and Malaysia. Speakers shared their experiences and built alliances to work collaboratively and across movements to succeed.

A New Space for Dialogue on LGBTIQ Rights in Iraq

Iraqi activists who step up for women’s and LGBTIQ rights are risking their lives. We help them stand stronger together. Through ongoing human rights trainings over more than three years, we created an open and safe space for activists to exchange strategies and build their skills to create social change.

A Win for LGBTIQ Rights in Colombia

For too long, the voices of women, LGBTIQ people, people with disabilities and conflict survivors had been ignored in Colombia. That’s why we joined with 14 international and Colombian organizations to capture their voices in a human rights report we presented to a UN Committee on women's rights called CEDAW. 

As a result, the CEDAW Committee called on the Colombian government to respect the rights of same sex couples. This helped keep up the pressure, and in April 2016, Colombia finally legalized gay marriage.

Ending Violence and Discrimination Against LGBTIQ People in Haiti

Through human rights workshops, we put the tools of international advocacy right into the hands of grassroots Haitian LGBTIQ groups. These workshops helped people:

  • know their rights
  • learn how to document human rights abuses
  • build strategies to confront stigma

These workshops strengthened a network of local activists, ready to gather evidence of human rights violations and bring their demands to the international arena.

Rapid Response to Reveal Abuses Against LGBTIQ People in Haiti

MADRE and our partners kept tracking homophobic and transphobic violence. When anti-LGBTIQ demonstrations erupted in Haiti in the summer of 2013, our partners mobilized immediately to document the abuses. We shared that evidence with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Not only did the IACHR speak out publicly against the attacks, the Haitian government followed suit to do the same


Making International Law Work for Haitian Women and LGBTIQ People

We brought the list of human rights demands from our workshops — for real protections and an end to discrimination — to the international arena. Together with our partners, we presented a report to the UN Human Rights Committee on the abuses they face.

We specifically called for the passage of pending legislation to protect women and LGBTIQ people from violence and discrimination. In response, the Committee directed the Haitian government to document violations and to pass the law.

After ISIS Invasion, Standing Up for Women and LGBTIQ Iraqis

When ISIS invaded Iraq, they immediately put a target on women and LGBTIQ people, singling them out for torture and killing. Our partners were the first line of defense. With MADRE member support, we mobilized an emergency response to help provide urgent aid and escape routes.

Sharing the Stories of Iraq’s LGBTIQ Community

Each of us has a story, but we don’t all get the chance to tell it. Many LGBTIQ Iraqis have had their stories silenced by violence and discrimination. We gave a group of them a chance to be heard.

Together with OutRight Action International and our partners OWFI, we produced a memoir to spotlight the stories of Iraq’s LGBTIQ community. 

Stepping Up for Iraqis in Danger

Our next report presented clear demands to policymakers on how to protect the lives of LGBTIQ people in Iraq. We pushed policymakers to take action like gather official data on human rights abuses and set up anti-discrimination training for police.


Room for All

In 2015, we partnered with OWFI to launch Room for All, an event series.

Room for All is a safe space for people to come together in dialogues guided by OWFI. These discussions spotlight harmful stereotypes against LGBTIQ Iraqis and promote acceptance. These gatherings are joyful occasions, featuring theater, poetry and music, attracting even more people to join this growing community of rights supporters.

Violence Against LGBTIQ Persons in Iraq is Torture

With our support, our local partners held the Iraqi government's ineffective LGBT Committee accountable. 

We submitted the report “Living With Fear” to the UN Committee against Torture. We showed that LGBTIQ people in Iraq face violations severe enough to constitute torture. The Committee responded. They issued a call directly to the Iraqi government’s LGBT Committee, instructing them to take action. 

The First-Ever UN Security Council Briefing on Violence Against LGBTIQ People

The UN Security Council is one of the most powerful decision-making bodies in the world, and it had never held a session specifically on rights violations against LGBTIQ people -- until last year.

With OutRight Action International, we helped to call the first-ever UN Security Council briefing on violence against LGBTIQ people. 

We put forward concrete recommendations for action, including for them to fund activist initiatives and to support immediate needs, like for safe houses and counseling.


Building Strategies to Confront ISIS

We gathered in Iraq with activists confronting ISIS and exchanged ideas about how to run secret escape routes, how to communicate safely, how to provide care and counseling to survivors, and more. And they came up with a concrete list of demands to present to policymakers.

Together, we then traveled to New York City, where we opened doors for our activist partners to present their recommendations and demand action from governments.

With your support, our work in partnership with women and LGBTIQ activists in Haiti, Colombia, Iraq and beyond continues. To learn more and get involved, click below.