Queering the International: QMUNITY and the UNITED NATIONS
September 7, 2016
In Quito, Ecuador in October of this year, international delegates from all over the world will meet at the UN Habitat 3 conference to discuss cities, sustainability, rapid urbanization and the new urban agenda. I was invited to several consultation meetings on the matter.
What does this mean, you ask, and how is it relevant to a youth worker at BC’s queer resource centre?
At first, I had no idea either. The concept felt huge and overwhelming – what on earth could I contribute to an international discussion on urban populations? It had always been a secret dream of mine to work for the United Nations, and was part of the reason that I studied Russian language for 10 years and was the president of the Intercultural Alliance at UBC. So, I decided to take the opportunity to explore how I could contribute to the UN Habitat 3 meeting.
The first consultation meeting was organized by Ellen Woodsworth, a former city councilor and a current organizer, writer and consultant on urban issues in Vancouver. We met at PeerNet BC with Romi Chandra-Herbert (a former QMUNITY staff member!) and Vanessa Bui who were in the midst of working on their incredible Social Justice Bus Tour, set to happen on September 10th.
Ellen introduced us to the concept: for the first time in history, more than half of humanity lives in a city, and by 2050 that number will include 70% of humanity; more than the current world population in total. That’s a lot of people affected by urbanization and urban issues.
In 1976, the first UN consultation on human settlements was held right here in Vancouver, so for Ellen, this is a poignant full circle. The proposed New Urban Agenda for 2016 is a twenty-three page document about improving the lives of people who live in cities, however, there is absolutely no language that includes LGBTQ folks nor Indigenous communities. This means that in October of 2016, delegates from countries all over the world will gather to talk about creating sustainable, safe and clean cities while simultaneously ignoring the issues faced by LGBTQ and Indigenous people and those living at the intersection of both identities.
Together, Romi, Vanessa, Ellen and I planned a meeting to engage the larger community for consultation on this issue. We planned to invite as many diverse communities as we could and draw upon the experiences and opinions of different individuals.
In the meantime, I was invited by the United Nations Association of Canada to participate in a separate consultation on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their relation to urban youth. Most people of my generation grew up learning about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in school – I remember being able to recite them for geography class. In 2015, the UN met their 15 year deadline for these goals. This Guardian article demonstrates their success in factors like reducing infant mortality, improving access to education and increasing the number of women in parliament. In 2016, the SDGs took the place of the MDGs with a deadline of 2030.
Together with other “young leaders” from around Vancouver, such as representatives from the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC, the UBC Centre for Community Engaged Learning, the BC Council for International Cooperation and the Progressive Housing Society, I spent several hours giving feedback on how the UN Habitat could better engage youth.
I went in with my role as a QMUNITY youth worker as well as a member of Black Lives Matter, Vancouver. As a youth worker for LGBTQ/2S folks, I made sure to give input on how these policies could do a better job at supporting queer, trans, and two-spirit youth. For example, we spoke with a representative from UN Women about how much of the language around gender within the UN focused only on women’s health; something that excludes those who are trans or gender non-conforming. The UN does not provide space to include conversations about youth mental health, sexuality, relationships and well-being and so I was excited to be part of a group that pushed for this inclusion. This is really important given the following statistics from the Canada Human Rights Trust:
- LGBTQ/2S youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers
- 49% of trans students and 33% of lesbian students have experienced sexual harassment in school within the past year
- A study in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario revealed that 28% of transgender and Two Spirit people had attempted suicide at least once
On July 18th, I gathered at Britannia Community Centre with Ellen Woodsworth and around 20 other community members with a passion for LGBTQ/2S rights advocacy and we spent 4 hours workshopping the UN declaration. The result? An incredible and comprehensive Queer Declaration!
We, the LGBTI2S (1) community members (2) involved and consulted in the Habitat III process, gathered with the main objective to explore ways of incorporating an intersectional lens that demonstrates the importance of including the LGBTI2S people and their communities in the design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and wording of the New Urban Agenda that will be adopted in Quito, Ecuador in October, 2016.
After the preamble we listed numerous recommendations for the United Nations to consider that included things like recognizing the frequency of displacement of LGBTQ/2S youth, ending violence against and creating safe spaces for LGBTQ/2S communities and increasing political participation of LGBTQ/2S folks.
We’re really proud of the document but it can’t make a difference without your support! Several organizations and individuals have already endorsed it and given their support but we need people to continue signing our petition in order to get recognition from the Canadian delegates who will be attending the conference in Quito next month.
— Cicely-Belle Blain, Youth Worker