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Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center Launches Global LGBTQI+ Human Rights Program

The Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center launched a program on global human rights for LGBTQ+ individuals.
The Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center launched a program on global human rights for LGBTQ+ individuals. By Santiago A. Saldivar
By William C. Mao and Dhruv T. Patel, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights launched the Global LGBTQI+ Human Rights Program on May 1 to research and address issues affecting LGBTQ+ individuals around the globe.

The initiative will host two training sessions each year, study countries with lower acceptance of queer individuals, conduct research into myths surrounding queer individuals, and develop policy suggestions to address LGBTQ+ issues. The program is led by Carr Center faculty director Mathias Risse, faculty program chair Timothy Patrick McCarthy, and program director Diego Garcia Blum, who served as the president of the Kennedy School Student Government during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Garcia Blum said in an interview that the program hopes to support LGBTQ+ people around the globe — especially those living outside of the U.S. — who he believes face some of the most severe discrimination for their sexual identities.

“People live in that hell all their lives, not being able to be who they are,” Garcia Blum said. “That is, for me, a forgotten crisis in the world.”

“The program is trying to establish a nexus of what LGBTQ rights in the human rights domain should be,” he said.

The first of two training programs — called the International LGBTQI+ Activism Summit — will be a three-day, in-person summit hosted at the Kennedy School for 20 participants that focuses on regions that are less accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals.

“We’re talking in places where being LGBTQ is very dangerous, where social acceptance is really low,” Garcia Blum said.

McCarthy, the first openly queer faculty member at HKS, added that the participants will be “activists and organizers on the ground in some of the most difficult places in the world when it comes to the struggle for LGBTQI+ rights and lives.”

“This is a program that is really focused on using the convening power of the Carr Center and the Kennedy School,” McCarthy said.

The second training program will be a nine-month virtual program from September to May that aims to engage 200 participants. Garcia Blum said the second virtual conference will make research and teachings available to “LGBTQ activists around the world for free” — not just Harvard affiliates.

“We are opening up a lot of the education that is at the Kennedy School and Harvard in general,” he said.

In particular, McCarthy said the program aims to expand access to Kennedy School research by producing an online database that synthesizes existing research on LGBTQ+ issues.

“So often the case with research is that, you know, it’s scattershot,” McCarthy said, adding that he hopes the database will serve as “a kind of living lit review or living syllabus for people to access in a way that really helps them make use of the research themselves.”

Garcia Blum said that while the program is in its early stages, it has already begun working with HKS Economics professor Desmond Ang to study “how myth busting on LGBTQ issues moves people’s beliefs.”

Risse praised the program in a statement, writing it was unique to both the Kennedy School and higher education.

“There’s really nothing like it in the world, and we are absolutely thrilled that we have been able to pull this off,” he wrote.

“We expect that it will make major contributions to LGBTQI+ human rights causes around the world,” Risse added.

The program developed from a pilot version of the International LGBTQI+ Activism Summit for 10 participants that McCarthy and Garcia Blum ran in April 2023 alongside the Carr Center and the Center for Public Leadership. Two weeks after the application for the summit was disseminated, more than 1,000 applications came in from at least 110 countries.

The collaboration between McCarthy and Garcia Blum stemmed from Garcia Blum’s days as a student, when he studied under McCarthy. The two also now co-teach the Kennedy School’s only course on LGBTQ+ politics and history titled “Queer Nation: LGBTQ Protest, Politics, and Policy in the United States,” which Garcia Blum took himself as a student.

Garcia Blum said his focus on LGBTQ+ issues — especially at an international scale — that led to the founding of the program arose from his background as an immigrant from Colombia.

“When I was coming out, being gay in Colombia was extremely difficult,” Garcia Blum said. “I always realized how lucky I was that I was able to do this here, and how other people all over the world can’t.”

McCarthy said that the founding of the program is indicative of the Kennedy School’s progress on studying LGBTQ+ issues.

“I think there’s incredible potential and possibility for this program,” he said. “And I’m so excited that we’re at a point in the history of the Kennedy School, of the Carr Center, of Harvard where this is possible.”

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at Follow him on X @williamcmao.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at Follow him on X @dhruvtkpatel.

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