How far does religious freedom stretch and where do LGBT rights get the upper hand?


Central Europe

Tineke van der Waal

Victor Madrigal-Borloz. Photo Wikimedia, Alexandre Leal de Freitas

Victor Madrigal-Borloz's (53) term as the UN's LGBT rights watchdog is over. He recently submitted his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council. In it, the Costa Rican lawyer clashes with the fundamental rights of freedom of conscience and religion.

For four and a half years, Victor Madrigal-Borloz has been writing reports, attending digital meetings and travelling the world to stand up for LGBT rights. The ideas of the independent UN expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) are clear. Chief among them: gender matters more than sex. Gender is a spectrum. A child of three can know his gender identity.

His latest SOGI report is dedicated to the relationship between LGBT rights and freedom of religion. He presented the document to the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva at the end of June 2023. Madrigal-Borloz does not hide his intention. The Costa Rican seeks "a new normative space" for LGBT norms in religions. If a religion teaches that homosexual behaviour is a sin or that gender is an immutable biological reality, it violates human rights law, according to the report.

In his role, the special rapporteur presents two reports annually - one to the UN General Assembly in New York and one to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Upon taking office in early 2018, Madrigal-Borloz declares that his focus as an independent LGBT watchdog at the UN will be on repealing discriminatory laws and banning so-called conversion therapy. He succeeds the first expert on the issue, Thai Vitit Muntarbhorn, who retired in 2017 for health reasons. The Costa Rican works from America as a resident at Harvard Law School, where he is a part-time visiting researcher. The work that students in the Human Rights Programme do for him here helps him in his position at the UN.


The concept of gender identity is at the heart of Madrigal-Borloz's work and thinking. He is a declared adherent of gender theory. According to this thinking, gender determines one's true identity, and biological sex is a social fabrication (construct) which people have held out to each other for centuries.

In 2017, before he gets the job at the UN, Madrigal-Borloz is one of the signatories of the Yogyakarta Principles. This LGBT document is notorious for its 31st principle, which advises all states to adopt gender self-identification. "States should (...) end the registration of a person's gender in identity documents such as birth certificates, identity cards, passports and driving licences, and as part of their legal personality." When Madrigal-Borloz begins his SOGI mandate at the UN in early 2018, he will be in a position where he can actively promote gender self-identification globally.

Gender is not a significant personal characteristic for Madrigal-Borloz. In a report on data and management, he presented last year, the word does not appear at all. His aim is to erase biological sex as a legal category and dismantle the binary structure of male and female. He wants a new understanding of law based on gender identity.


Through reports, meetings and meetings worldwide, he promotes this legislation that replaces sex with gender, redefining it.

Sometimes he finds it necessary to take purposeful action. For instance, he twice comes to the aid of Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon in her fight for the Transgender Bill - which will eventually end her premiership. In late April 2023, he makes another 10-day visit to the UK, where residents are becoming increasingly gender-sceptical. In Edinburgh, he addresses Parliament to underline his support for the Scottish Transgender Act. The law was passed by the Scottish Parliament but blocked by the UK Parliament.

According to Madrigal-Borloz, conversion therapy is the second barrier to gender identity. The reason why, in addition to transgender laws, he is also fighting for legislation that criminalises non-affirmation of gender identity. Specifically, a ban on conversion therapy means that parents cannot question their child's gender identity, and therapists cannot question their client's. Last year, two Dutch coalition parties tabled the 'homogenisation' initiative bill, which seeks to punish the performance of conversion therapy with up to one year in prison or a fine of up to €22,500.


Critical voices point out that the Costa Rican lawyer acts as a so-called independent expert -his position is unpaid- but is less independent than his mandate would have you believe. He is funded by LGBT-friendly NGOs. For instance, Madrigal-Borloz gets $300,000 (a mere €269,000) from the Arcus Foundation deposited into his account.

This foundation has been called the advertising arm of founder Jon Stryker. In fact, the US gender activist owns a medical company that sells surgical equipment for sex surgery. Through his Arcus Foundation, he puts large sums of money into spreading gender identity ideology. Clearly, Stryker and Madrigal-Borloz recognise each other in the LGBT rainbow.


There are more concerns. The US organisation Family Watch International (FWI) accuses Madrigal of "grossly exceeding his mandate" by enforcing an unscientific ideology. Because the SOGI expert "used his high position to try to unilaterally rewrite human rights law", FWI even launched an international petition.

Dutch director Henk Jan van Schothorst of Christian Council International (CCI) endorses the objection. He accuses Madrigal-Borloz of normalising homosexuality and gender identity, calling him "radical, fanatical and determined" in this. "The independent expert should actually operate at the service of member states, but the post has become a political implementing body of Western secularism." Van Schothorst pointed out that a mandate normally comes by consensus, but in this case, a number of amendments were tabled, and a vote was required - with 84 votes in favour, 77 against and 16 abstentions.


Globally, also women's organisations that vehemently oppose Madrigal-Borloz's commitment to protecting gender identity. For example, Spain's Alianza Contra el Borrado de las Mujeres (Alliance against the erasure of women) accuses Madrigal-Borloz of "manipulation" and "betrayal" and of "endangering the dignity of all women and children".

In an extensive complaint, LGB Alliance, a British alliance working for the interests of gay and bisexual people, is also addressing the president of the UN Human Rights Council in January 2023. Madrigal-Borloz is failing, is the message. The accusation is that he promotes gender ideology but fails when it comes to protecting the rights of homosexuals. "From everything Victor Madrigal-Borloz says and does, it appears that he considers us worthy of attention only if we utter the mantras: 'Trans women are women, trans men are men, non-binary identities are valid.'"

Combining the two groups in the SOGI mandate is an impossibility, explains LGB Alliance UK's Bev Jackson. "Having an advocate for sexual orientation and gender identity is a bit like having one for veganism and chicken farming. It doesn't work."

Last report of UN rapporteur Madrigal-Borloz

Special SOGI rapporteur Victor Madrigal-Borloz presented his report on religious freedom and the rights of LGBT people to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva at the end of June 2023. The majority of the council praised the document, but others said it represented an attack on religious freedom.

Presenting his latest report, Madrigal-Borloz said that violence, discrimination and exclusion can have serious and negative effects on the personality, dignity and spirituality of LGBT individuals. "They are often marginalised, stigmatised and excluded from religious communities just because of who they are," he said. Madrigal-Borloz pointed out that religious freedom cannot be an adequate legal protection for states or institutions that use "faith to deny the human rights of LGBT persons".

Madrigal-Borloz's latest report as a SOGI expert aims to lead the way in the tension between religious freedom and lhbti rights. His solution is for states to properly enshrine LGBT rights in legislation and mobilise LGBT-friendly voices in religion to change it from within. Although the report has no binding legal effect on member states, the Council of Europe may adopt the document as a directive.

In reaction to it, several organisations and observers express great concern. Almost every line in Madrigal-Borloz's report is "disturbing", says Arielle Del Turco, director of the US Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council. She sees "a huge elevation for LGBT rights" at the heart of the report and reads the piece as a "bold demand" for religion to be secondary to LGBT ideology. "If you only have the freedom to adhere to certain religious beliefs and practices that LGBT approve of, then you don't have religious freedom at all," she said.

With this report, Del Turco says the UN appears to be acting as a theological or ideological authority for world religions. "Essentially, this UN expert is telling religious groups that we misinterpret our own religions and that our religions probably do affirm some of these LGBT behaviours and gender ideologies. That is exceptionally radical." Del Turco is concerned that the document lays the groundwork for more religious interference by the UN.

The World Evangelical Alliance and the European Evangelical Alliance also fear a threat to religious freedom and warn of "a call for state interference in the doctrinal autonomy of religions, particularly around the concept of sin." The organisations are "deeply concerned about some of the findings."

This article was translated by CNE.news and published by the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on July 21, 2023



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.