As I leave the UN system, reflecting on 19 years of public service for LGBTI equality

Today was my last day in the United Nations system after 19 years in public service, I got to reflect about my time at the World Bank and the United Nations Human Rights Office and how I went from economic development to working on global LGBTI equality which is my passion.

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I began my career at the World Bank in January 2001 at 23 years old as a consultant in the Africa Region after completing my MBA at American University. Previously I had studied economics at Paris IX Dauphine University. My career in public service spans 18 years in international organizations with 14 years at the World Bank in Washington, DC and 4 years at the United Nations in New York.

After I became President of the World Bank LGBTI association, GLOBE, in 2010, I started championing for LGBTI equality at the Bank. In addition to my full-time work on my core responsibilities as Senior Country Officer in Central Asia and then Maghreb, I devoted personal time to fight for our benefits first, then D&I and eventually the rights of sexual minorities. I was the President of GLOBE, for nearly five years and took it from a staff club to a leader on gay rights issues. During the Bank’s spring meetings in April 2015, I chaired a major meeting with delegates from several continents, representatives of NGOs concerned with the issue of sexual minorities, U.S. Representative Barney Frank, and the Bank’s President Kim which led to the creation of a department devoted to these issues in 2016.

Intervention on the cost of homophobia at the World Bank in 2013

As part of my work on the issue of sexual minorities and development, I applied for and obtained a $250,000 grant from the Nordic Trust Fund — which I had to lead as no task team leader wanted to touch it even with a ten-foot pole — to work on the interconnection between the work of the Bank and sexual orientation and gender identity (“SOGI”). Bank management, initially very resistant, would eventually praise me for this “groundbreaking work” and for getting the issue “onto the development agenda in a responsible way” (yep they wrote that). The research led to the first estimate of the cost of homophobia and the first socio-economic study of LGBTI people using India as a case study.

In 2016, I moved to the office of the UN’ High Commissioner on Human Rights, where, among other activities, I led an initiative to enroll over 272 of the World’s largest companies in supporting the human rights of LGBTI people.

At Gay Pride my first year in NYC with my sons

My engagement on LGBTI issues led me to take service positions on 7 non-profit boards which are closely linked to these issues: the Institute of Current World Affairs, a DC-based organization founded by Charles R. Crane and Walter S. Rogers; Outright Action International, the leading international LGBT human rights organization; Housing Works, a non-profit fighting the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness in NYC; the NYC Gay Men’s chorus, Alturi — a direct-funding LGBTI NGO, KinRED Pride and Witness to Mass Incarceration which focuses on empowering formerly incarcerated people. This is one of my greatest pride.

I look forward to announcing tomorrow morning my career move which is the logical next step to my contribution to our fight in a time of severe backlash against human rights but for today I am grateful for this professional journey.

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