By Kristina Wertz, Director of Policy and Programs
This month I was lucky enough to spend three days in Copenhagen, Denmark learning, sharing, thinking creatively and being inspired at a seminar hosted by our partners, the Open Society Foundation (OSF). The seminar, called “Lawyering on the Margins” brought together 25 lawyers from 15 countries across 5 continents. All of us work with marginalized communities, specifically in this case LGBT people, sex workers and people who use drugs.
The folks at OSF wanted to celebrate and connect lawyers who are working for the rights of marginalized groups across the globe. They brought us together to share our strategies, successes and challenges in working for social justice. I met activists from Kenya who are representing street sex workers and building a movement prioritizing personal autonomy and choice. I toured a government funded supervised heroin injection facility in Copenhagen with deep roots in harm reduction and respect for human dignity. I met a Ugandan activist who puts his life on the line every day by providing legal services to LGBT people. I met the lawyer who represented the Malawian couple (a transgender woman and a non-transgender man) who were sentenced to 14 years in jail for having a “same-sex” marriage ceremony (they were pardoned after international human rights advocates intervened). And I met a lawyer from Canada who recently won a historic Canadian Supreme Court preserving a safe drug injection sight. And those are just a few of the absolutely amazing and inspiring people I had the privilege to get to know.
In addition to learning from some of the most dedicated advocates you can imagine, I also had a chance to share our work with the entire group. Just about everyone at the meeting had clients who over lap all 3 categories (LGBT, sex workers and drug users). Many of them were searching for ways to better support their trans clients and I had some really productive conversations. I also had a chance to strategize with folks doing trans advocacy in Russia, Ukraine, Indonesia, Malawi, South Africa and India. It was fascinating to learn more about how countries with have human rights frameworks are able to argue for self determination in government recognition of gender and in access to health care. It was very helpful to me to learn from these folks and think outside of our often confining civil rights box.
Even though I was far away, the trip made me feel even more connected to my stellar colleagues who are literally changing the world every day. I felt proud to talk about our legal services, our innovative programs, our policy advocacy and our movement building work. I left with a sense that there really is a global movement for social justice and that the Transgender Law Center is playing an important role it. By building bridges with other folks fighting for personal autonomy and justice, we are all moving forward together.
Plus, I’m a real sucker for Danish design and I’ll tell you, I saw some gorgeous chairs!