The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), a 22-year-old organization dedicated to strengthening lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights worldwide, have announced the appointment of Jessica Stern as executive director. Stern, who previously served as IGLHRC’s acting executive director and director of programs, is an emerging and innovative leader in the international human rights movement.
“Jessica’s proven expertise advancing human rights internationally and strong grasp of global rights mechanisms are ideally aligned with the needs of LGBT movements today,” said Todd Larson, co-chair of the IGLHRC Board of Directors. “Jessica brings depth of vision, intelligence, and forward-thinking to the role of executive director. We are thrilled to have her at the helm of our efforts to improve LGBT lives worldwide.”
Over the past several years, there have been seismic advances in LGBT rights at local, regional and international levels, and Stern’s collaborations with human rights defenders worldwide while representing IGLHRC have helped bring about these historic advances.
Stern led the final, successful year of IGLHRC’s application for official accreditation at the U.N. Since receiving this status, Stern has supervised IGLHRC’s U.N. engagements, which have included co-authoring, editing and supporting shadow reports documenting LGBT rights violations from 18 countries that have in each instance generated rebuke for the government under review. Similarly, under Stern’s lead, IGLHRC partnered with activists internationally to promote the retention of “sexual orientation” in a resolution condemning extrajudicial executions – in one of the most successful votes on LGBT rights in U.N. history – and the passage of the first-ever U.N. resolution condemning rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Stern co-authored an amicus brief in the case of Karen Atala and Daughters against the State of Chile which presented an argument subsequently used by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in its historic ruling that established that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes under the American Convention on Human Rights.
Stern’s work demonstrates that coordinated regional and international action bolsters domestic change. When a couple was arrested in December 2009 in Malawi for what was perceived as a same-sex commitment ceremony, Stern began a succession of partnered multi-year interventions, including joint advocacy with Malawian human rights defenders at the U.N. and before the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. The couple, which had been sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, was pardoned, and in April 2012, current President Joyce Banda announced her intention to decriminalize sodomy.
“I am honored and humbled by this appointment,” Stern said. “My vision for IGLHRC is that wherever power is – government, business, or the family – LGBT people must be there, too, demanding that our rights are protected, that we can live safely, and that the world recognizes our dignity.”
“As Executive Director, Jessica will not only continue the work she has been doing but escalate it,” said Dorothy Sander, co-chair of the IGLHRC Board. “She is a leader in motion.”
Stern began her career as a community organizer in underserved Northern Philadelphia with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and as a campaigner for electoral reform at the Center for Constitutional Rights following the 2000 U.S. Presidential election. In 1999, Stern became a founding collective member and co-director of Bluestockings, then New York’s only women’s bookstore, which sought to help birth a generation of writers, artists and activists at the forefront of work around gender and sexuality. She has held leadership roles with various U.S.-based organizations, notably serving for nearly a decade as a member of the board of directors of Queers for Economic Justice, an organization rooted in the New York City shelter system that works at the intersections of sexuality and economics. On September 19, she appeared at the launch of A New Queer Agenda, a journal published by the Barnard Center for Research on Women, to which she contributed, “This is What Pride Looks Like: Miss Major and the Violence, Poverty, and Incarceration of Low-Income Transgender Women.”
At the international level, Stern began her work with the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, a Rutgers University institute that founded the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.” From there, she relocated to Montevideo, Uruguay, to work for Control Ciudadano, a global coalition that sought to hold governments accountable to their commitments under the Fourth World Conference on Women and the World Summit for Social Development. At Amnesty International, she researched and helped develop the seminal report, “Stonewalled,” documenting police brutality against LGBT people in the U.S. She went on to become the first researcher for LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch, where she authored reports documenting anti-LBT violence in Kyrgyzstan and discrimination against binational same-sex couples in the U.S. She joined IGLHRC in 2010, first as director of programs and later as acting executive director.
Stern was educated in the United States, Mexico, and England. She received her masters in human rights from the London School of Economics where her dissertation was awarded a distinction.