im hhere for you . i llove you ,. we will hhave an nice Day togehter and get throuhg this
Being a cat is easy, or so they say in the papers. Being a human rights defender, the proper legal term for the sort of work I do in advocating for LGBTI people’s rights, is also easy, or so they say in the papers.
Neither of these is true, but there are wonderful parts to each. Bilbo gets the adoration and gifts of tens of thousands of friends online, and I get to see the world change for the better in small ways each year.
This book is about being a cat, and about being a human rights defender. And about how to dip your toe into this work for the first time. It’s about love, joy and kindness, and about how these are at the core of what we both do, and our work together as people who make folks a little happier and more comforted over the internet. Due to the limitations of science in the 2020s I will not be covering how to become a cat.
With the ever-growing sense of impending doom in the world, we now need more of both groups – cat friends and human rights defenders – to be out there, to feel able to do what they do best, and to make tomorrow easier for everyone.
Being a good bboy
I’m a trans woman, and unless you frequent certain parts of the internet
you’re probably thinking “how does she know anything about being a good
bboy!?”. Well, I have two things on my side which grant me the expertise
for a book like this: I have the quintessential model of a good bboy living
with me every day and showing me his love and affection, and I won Boy of
the Year in primary school in 2004, so I have the qualifications.
Let’s get started.
The main way our rights as human beings are formally protected throughout the world is through human rights law, especially at the international level. The right to life, to speak your mind, to have an identity that’s true to yourself and countless others are protected by a plethora of human rights law, developed through the 20th Century into a large and complicated nest of rights. All of us have human rights, and they can only be limited where there is good cause, like limiting the freedom of business owners to rightly protect their workers, or limiting the rights of parents to protect their children.
Some of this framework is provided via the United Nations, others via more regional bodies like in Europe. Human rights law is then implemented in some form by most countries around the world into their own law, and is promoted, progressed and enforced through different ways from state to state.
Human rights law is just one tool at our disposal when advocating for people’s rights, and it’s far from a perfect one. It has major flaws, often making assumptions that originated in western countries, making it less suitable elsewhere. It’s a product of its time, and older law today can reflect badly on the era in which it was written. It can be used for bad as well as for good – hasn’t every class of bigot cried “but freedom of speech” at some point or other? The law also moves slowly, and the type of work I do is more likely to have meaningful benefits for people next year as opposed to next week, meaning other work is crucial to support marginalised and persecuted people today. Direct action, mutual support, protest, strikes and other public-facing rights defences should always be on the table, and people like me should support those who organise them.
After all, human rights law shouldn’t be the be all and end all of advocacy and human rights defence – it’s there to back up our other work, which for most activists is not reading court paperwork.
I’ve been working to protect and promote LGBTI people’s human rights since 2013, and have been neck-deep in it for five years at the time of writing. My experience has brought me to tables as diverse as local policing accountability boards to national healthcare regulators to the United Nations Human Rights Council. This range of experiences has been a massive privilege and a benefit for my knowledge in some ways – I know how not to focus too hard on one thing – but also means my knowledge in any given area isn’t going to be as strong as someone who’s devoted their life to reforming a single law or resolving a single injustice. Both these approaches are good and needed, but don’t just take my word on anything I say here – let this be an introduction to the subject, not the final say. Treat it perhaps like the dictionary – a useful guidebook on how language can be used, but not the final authority on how English is used.
If you’re new to this sort of thing, I hope you can come away from this book having learned a substantial amount about human rights, about law and about what justice and equality can mean. I hope you can use this to defend your own rights or in supporting others to do the same through allyship.
Remember that nobody falls from the sky with this knowledge or experience. Most of us get into this work through hardship or lived experiences that prompt our interests, and develop our work incrementally until we’re genuinely good at something. Imposter syndrome is incredibly common, and I continue to experience it today, including right now as I’m writing this. Who trusted me to write a book? Not me, that’s for sure.
It’s good to know what you’re talking about, but it’s not something you ever definitively arrive at one day. Use what you learn when you can, and be responsible by fact-checking your work and stepping away when it’s appropriate, but putting your head out there when it’s safe to do so is one of the best ways to build on what you already know.
If you’re not new to this sort of thing, I hope you can learn about some different approaches and new things to consider when doing your important work. I’ve talked to a lot of fellow rights defenders to put this book together.
While we’re at it, human rights defender is very silly language altogether to my ears. I’ve been calling myself that for years, because it’s the correct term in international law, but it still doesn’t feel quite right to me. When I talk about human rights defenders, you should take this to mean activists, advocates, campaigners, protesters, professionals, academics. Anyone who devotes part of their day to making the world better for people by changing society.
This book will use a wide range of language based in human rights law and policy, but I’ll explain these in what I hope is an accessible way throughout. There’s also a handy reference guide in the back should you forget anything or need a quick glance.