Mauricio Coitiño (@mauricio_uy) is a specialist in public policy and communications from a human rights perspective. He holds a master’s degree in Public Policy from the Catholic University of Uruguay with a specialization in Methods and Analysis. As a consultant, he has completed projects involving the research and design of public policy, trained officials on human rights and discrimination issues, and evaluated international social organizations. Between 2010 and 2011, he coordinated a project titled “Hacia un Plan Nacional contra el Racismo y la Discriminación” (“Towards a National Plan against Racism and Discrimination”) to develop public policy for the Uruguayan government, with support from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. From 2017 to 2020, he served as Coordinator of Advocacy and Multilateral Organizations for Amnesty International Uruguay.
Mr. Coitiño is an activist and expert in LGBTI rights. From 2005 to 2017, he worked on the active incorporation of Colectivo Ovejas Negras (“Black Sheep Collective”), the leading LGBTI-focused organization in Uruguay, of which he was responsible for work on International Relations. He has published research papers about media discourse and public opinion on cannabis regulation in Uruguay. Mr. Coitiño has been a frequent partner of the Auschwitz Institute, developing and instructing AIPG courses including “Strategies against discrimination from a mass atrocity prevention perspective: LGBTI persons,” “LGBTI Rights from a Prevention Perspective,” and “Atrocity prevention in the context of the current migration crisis in Colombia.”
How did you begin your work as a human rights activist? Who and/or what inspires you to continue this work?
I became an activist at the beginning of 2005 when I learned about Colectivo Ovejas Negras and decided to join the group. Since then, I have been intensely dedicated to activism for LGBTI rights This work has also connected me to the feminism movement and the broader human rights agenda, to which I have remained committed to this day. In 2017, I started working professionally in human rights at Amnesty International’s office in Uruguay. Since 2020, I have been an independent consultant for public agencies and social organizations.
The people who inspire me to continue with my work are the ones who have faced severe violations of their human rights and turn the tremendous pain and hardship they have suffered into a source of motivation to collectively build a better society for future generations.
Could you tell us more about Colectivo Ovejas Negras?
Colectivo Ovejas Negras is an Uruguayan social organization that fights against all forms of discrimination — especially discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — from a feminist and human rights perspective. The Colectivo was founded at the end of 2004 by former members of other LGBTI organizations and independent activists, who were looking into a new approach to what the movement had been in Uruguay until that point.
The organization has played a fundamental role in energizing social mobilization around sexual diversity (for example, the annual Marches for Diversity held in Montevideo grew from 500 participants to more than 50,000 between 2005 and 2015) and in the creation of reforms that led to the achievement of legal equality for LGBTI people in the country in 2013 and a comprehensive guarantee of the rights of trans people in 2018. A distinctive feature of Ovejas Negras is that we have been working transversally, that is to say, “crossing agendas” with other social movements in the country and actively participating in their struggles.
How important do you think education is in human rights and intersectionality?
Education is of great importance: human rights cannot be fully exercised without education in human rights and for human rights. Through education, all people — but particularly children and adolescents — can learn about their rights, recognize how those rights may be violated, identify which institutions and individuals are responsible in those situations, and determine how to use the mechanisms available to demand the protection of their rights. Human rights education also promotes respect for the rights of others, and it brings attention to the different violations experienced by people that take place at the intersection of discriminated identities or conditions.
I would add that we must not think of what we understand as “formal and informal education” to be exhaustive of the educational dimension of human rights. That is to say that institutional communications, government officials with public-facing roles, the press, artistic expressions, and any person playing a mediation role can also provide education on human rights.
In your opinion, what is the best strategy to address the rights of LGBTI people from a prevention perspective?
Like any human rights issue, guaranteeing the rights of LGBTI people is complex and requires the use of several strategies at once. From a prevention perspective, securing the rights of LGBTI people first requires ensuring that the State itself does not discriminate against people based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, or sexual characteristics. Any discriminatory traits must be identified and eliminated from laws and norms, within the provision of public services (health, education, justice, etc.), and from the public communications of its institutions and senior officials. This facilitates the second phase of the strategy, where the State has the vital responsibility: promoting a social attitude of respect and appreciation for sexual, gender, and body diversity. This can be accomplished, for example, by making the experiences and contributions of LGBTI people visible in official communications and by promoting their ability to freely express themselves.
What actions, projects, or public policies have successfully responded to the challenges faced by the LGBTI community?
Undoubtedly, all legislative reform projects that eliminate discriminatory provisions, lift barriers to inclusion, or establish affirmative actions for the most vulnerable segments of the LGBTI population have been successful to some extent, as they have improved living conditions. At the same time, these projects have sent anti-discriminatory messages to the rest of the population, indirectly impacting LGBTI people. In Uruguay, social acceptance of LGBTI people has been growing as the country has moved towards legal equality.
In terms of the right to healthcare for the LGBTI population, a policy that I know has worked in Uruguay and other countries in the region facilitates training and sensitization measures for medical staff on sexual and gender diversity through courses, workshops, guides, and care protocols. Healthcare facilities and providers that have implemented this policy became a “reference” center for LGBTI people through word-of-mouth. This policy also produces a “contagion effect,” which extends to other institutions in the communities where these healthcare facilities are located and also to other health centers where trained personnel also work.
For more information, you can visit Ovejas Negras on YouTube, Instagram, and the organization’s page on mapeosociedadcivil.uy.
Photo: Mariana Greif – Ladiaria