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The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with UNC's Andrew Reynolds short-listed for top UN position for LGBTQ rights


UNC Political Science Professor Andrew Reynolds has been shortlisted to be the United Nation’s  Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.   Photo courtesy of Andrew Reynolds.

Andrew Reynolds, a UNC professor and founder of the UNC LGBTQ Representation and Rights Research Initiative, has been short-listed for the United Nations position of Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Reynolds also has an upcoming book, "The Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World" (Oxford University Press)

Staff writer Jessica Snouwaert interviewed Reynolds about the importance of the UN position for LGBTQ+ rights and representation and the motivations behind his upcoming book. 

The Daily Tar Heel: What was your reaction when you found out you had been short-listed for the top United Nations position on LGBTQ+ rights?

Andrew Reynolds: I was excited. Especially considering the company I am keeping. The short list includes some remarkable people. But I think I am most pleased with the acknowledgement for UNC. It reinforces Carolina’s global reputation for taking the lead on human rights and our groundbreaking work on LGBTQ equality issues. It’s not just my center  — but the great work being done in public health, the medical school, law school, arts and social sciences. Carolina faculty are renown for addressing HIV-AIDS, transgender and gender variant health, legal quality and more. That makes me very proud. 

DTH: You founded the UNC LGBTQ Representation and Rights Research Initiative. If chosen, how do you think your research and work at UNC could provide you with a unique approach to the UN position of Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity? 

AR: My center focuses on the question of how knowing someone who is LGBTQ alters the way you think. You begin to see a person in three dimensions — a father, a daughter, colleague, and friend - and that makes you far less likely to fear them, hate them or strip them of their human rights and dignity. As the Independent Expert, I would try to help LGBTQ around the world be seen in those three dimensions. Even in some of the most dangerous and homophobic places — Russia, Uganda, Egypt  — contact with local LGBTQ people lessens the prejudices of leaders. 

DTH: Why does the position of Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity matter in the UN? This is a relatively new position in the UN. How do you think the mission of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity could be furthered? 

AR: It’s a crucial position. The Independent Expert is the UN’s, and thus the world’s, lead advocate for the rights of LGBTQ people. The person has to use every tool at their disposal to try and improve the treatment of LGBTQ people and stop immediate violence. The position was controversial even when established at the Human Rights Council in Geneva - that means the mandate holder has to work hard to bring to the table many governments in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. 

DTH: You authored the forthcoming book, "The Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World." There are many topics you could have explored within the LGBTQ+ experience. Why did you choose to focus on LGBTQ+ politicians? 

AR: The visibility and impact of LGBTQ people on television and movies, in music and the arts and in everyday life, has dramatically changed social views but our elected officials are able to something more. They can help make laws better and change the way their straight colleagues see LGBTQ people. They are role models for millions of young people and that makes each generation less homophobic and transphobic than the generation before. 

DTH: Why do you think "The Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World" is important for people to read? 

AR: The book tells the stories of LGBTQ politicians but bigger question is: how does social change happen? The progress in LGBTQ rights in the west (and parts of the global south) has been remarkable. I think the book is compelling because my character’s stories are dramatic, sad, frightening, hopeful and ultimately inspiring. 

DTH: Why are LGBTQ representation and rights important? 

AR: Being mean to a person because of how they are born and who they love is perhaps the saddest most counter-productive human trait. Everyone would be in a happier place if we remove such idiocy from law and social mores. 

DTH: How have you seen LGBTQ representation and rights change at UNC? 

AR: The University has a long and proud history of being at the frontline of civil rights. The faculty at UNC takes very seriously our responsibility of defending each and every student and the community in which we live. As bigotry encroaches, I think Carolina faculty have powerfully stood up for what is moral and just.


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