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Phyll: Can you tell us a little bit about how you have approached your role as UN Independent Expert on SOGI?

Victor: It was a huge responsibility to take on the mandate, especially at a time when it was so recent. I think it was 1,327 organisations that came together and lobbied for the creation of the mandate. It was a decade in the making, as an advocacy target for many organisations around the world, organisations that live and work under enormous constraints and that prioritised creating an Independent Expert.

I have approached the role with the understanding of that responsibility, I knew it had come from a decade as the advocacy target of so many organisations and states that were persuaded and believed in those targets and had invested real political capital. I have an understanding that there’s great responsibility in making sure that one doesn’t break a vehicle that is so precious to so many persons, and that means of course prudence in the way one carries out the work. But it really means also asking for advice constantly. It means understanding that the strength lies in having very heavily participative processes because one thing that this mandate has is that so many people want you to succeed.

And the other thing that I promised myself was that I would do my very best to make this a feminist mandate. And I always knew from day one that there’s a lot more to it than saying, oh, I want a mandate to be feminist, tick in the box.

Over the six years I have benefitted from the expertise and advice of so many women from around the world who have demonstrated the importance of intersectional approaches, the way of understanding connections with bodily autonomy and with comprehensive sexual education, and the alliances made with my colleague the Special Rapporteur on Women and Health and the Working Group on Women and Girls. Our work together is something that at least makes me satisfied that I think I’ve gone part of the way and I’ve now become convinced that the very way in which we carry out the work will not be complete until we tie up our aspirations with social justice.

I’ve become intimately convinced that the mandate needs also to be an anti-racist mandate. And I know I’m being unfair, because I’m going to say that and leave it to my successor to figure out what that means! But I am convinced that the power of this mandate is that it’s leading the way in bringing intersectional frameworks and approaches into the reality going from the principal and policy statement of intersectionality into the methodological and ethical perspective.

Phyll: We know that there’s such an increase of hate and a rise of anti-LGBTI sentiment, what do you think we can do, as civil society, as businesses, as governments, as actors in this arena, to meaningfully and intentionally combat these challenges?

Victor: The key question that I like to ask myself when I do anything, and I’m not pretending that I’ve given a perfect answer very time to it, but I like to ask myself that question: who is not in the room who should be in the room? And I think a lot could be gained if that question was a methodological and ethical imperative in the work that we carry out because you begin to discover how the absences are meaningful as well.

I’m keen on ensuring that we identify the absences and that can be extrapolated to many dimensions one of them is the absence of data. I have insisted since my third report the fact that what is made visible by simply, for example, cross-referencing data on sexual orientation and gender identity with data on ethnic background immediately shows you how within our communities and populations there are significant asymmetries in access to power and privilege. I think if we all make the case of the ethical imperative of asking that question over and over again a great deal of good can be done in eliminating social injustice.

Phyll: I’m conscious that your mandate’s coming to an end soon [Victor’s term as Independent Expert will finish at the end of 2023] and we’re very sad that you’re leaving but I wanted to ask, what advice would you give to your successor?

Victor: I would say you need to realise that there are so many people around the world that are wishing for you to succeed. Because I think when you come into this position, I mean first you are happy because you got appointed, and then you say, um, I didn’t really think that through! And I’m horrified at what’s coming and I think that this is a heavy responsibility.

The political realities are such that my successor will come into the job within eighteen months until the next renewal of the mandate is discussed. And that’s going to be a lot of pressure because there is going to be a debate. It’s known, it’s clear, there is going to be controversy and so I think my successor needs to know that there is a whole world of persons, communities, organisations that are ready to just come the second that they are asked.

I always say to people: I have no shame. I’m going to pick up the phone and say to people: can you please have a look at this thing that I’m writing and by the way you need to give it back to me with your observations in less than 22 hours? And people say, yes, of course, I’ll do that. And, you know I’m going to miss that! But that’s the type of community we have around this mandate. It’s truly extraordinary how much people believe in what the mandate is trying to do.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz’ tenure as UN Independent Expert will finish at the end of 2023. You can find out more about the role of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity here.