LGBTQ human rights in the hemisphere

A photo from the September 2017 annual diversity march in Montevideo, Uruguay. 

By Meredith Camel

A photo from the September 2017 annual diversity march in Montevideo, Uruguay. 

LGBTQ human rights in the hemisphere

By Meredith Camel
The University of Miami will host the first symposium to explore LGBTQ human rights across the Americas, which will be held Sunday and Monday.

When Gisela Vega began working more than a year ago to bring a first-of-its-kind LGBTQ human rights symposium to the University of Miami, she had no idea she would be participating in the event as the new director of the University’s LGBTQ Student Center. 

“Now that I’m here,” said Vega, who is in her fourth week as a ’Cane, “I want to find ways to engage our UM community even more because obviously this is a place where change can happen—and where there’s a pre-set audience for conversations about these human rights issues.” 

On Sunday and Monday at the Newman Alumni Center, the 4Ward Americas: LGBTI Human Rights Symposium will tackle topics such as environmental sustainability, health care, immigration, and sports—all as they intersect with the varying degrees of safety, equity, and freedom across the Americas that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people experience. Keynote speakers include Fabrice Houdart, human rights officer at the United Nations, and Sean Strub, mayor of Milford, Pennsylvania, HIV activist, and author.   

“This is something that’s really never happened here in South Florida," Vega said of 4Ward Americas. “It’s an opportunity to bring leaders, community members, faculty, staff, and students together to learn about the human rights issues and the plight of LGBTQ folks in the Pan-American region.  

Vega will be moderating “LBT Women Organizing for LBT Women,” a panel that includes a former navy sergeant and afro-trans activist from Brazil, as well as other leaders of women’s groups from Bolivia, Costa Rica, and the United States. Vega says the panel will explore “what we need to do to bring our sisters together” and learn about the most pressing issues women face.   

Jessica Osborne, LGBTQ Student Center assistant and chair of the graduate student organization GradOUT, will be moderating a session with representatives from the Miami Dolphins on the unifying power of sports.  

Candelario Saldana, a UM law student and president of the student group OUTLaw, will share his experience on an immigration panel as a dreamer. Once an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, he earned a college degree in Utah through a privately funded scholarship and a state law that reduced tuition for undocumented students. Later, he attained Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, allowing him to work legally and begin his path to law school. Saldana, who graduates in May and has a job waiting at the prestigious North Carolina law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, unites his passion for immigrant rights with a calling to increase representation of LGBTQ individuals in the legal profession. 

“We’re not the only country that deals with immigration,” Saldana said. “Hearing about solutions and the ways other countries address the issue will allow people like me to have conversations with politicians who have the power to create change.”

4Ward Americas is a partnership between the University of Miami and 4Ward Miami, a nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy organization co-founded by UM alumnus Damian Pardo that also runs Miami’s annual Gay8 Festival. This is the first in an annual symposium series at the University that will focus on different parts of the world each year. Chaired by journalist and activist Lynare Robbins and funded by grants and sponsorships from global human rights groups, the symposium is free to all registrants. Register at: https://4wardamericaslgbt.org/