Pride Alumni profile - Jawying Honey Lyster
I hope to facilitate dialogue between civil society, governments, policymakers, human rights advocates, and activists, to promote justice for LGBTI persons who are often excluded from their wider communities and legal systems. In doing so, I hope that we can broaden the diversity of voices in policy debates by strengthening LGBTI civil society organisations and bringing the voices of marginalized groups to the forefront.
(Comparative Literature BA, 2014)
Why did you choose to study Comparative Literature at Queen Mary?
I chose to study Comparative Literature at Queen Mary because of the interdisciplinary nature of the course, which enabled me to explore a broad range of intersectional subject areas. Whilst studying at Queen Mary, I was able to select classes in science, law, ethics, languages, English, philosophy and more. The freedom to choose from such a large array of academic fields enabled me to find my niche and academic interest in a way that no other degree would have allowed. At the time of completing my degree, Queen Mary was also one of the few institutes in the UK offering Comparative Literature (a relatively new academic area) as a course.
What did you enjoy most about studying at Queen Mary and how did the experience help prepare you for your career?
I was incredibly privileged to be surrounded by excellent professors who offered me tremendous mentorship, guidance and most importantly, kindness, throughout my time at Queen Mary University. The infectious nature of their passion for their respective fields inspired me to take my undergraduate issues forward at the post-graduate level and then eventually at the United Nations. The course was provocative, and the professors were never afraid to push boundaries. This forced me out of my comfort zone and to address the kind of theoretical ideas and sensitive areas that I hadn’t dared to explore before.
My experience at Queen Mary has influenced every part of my academic and professional career. For instance, my undergraduate thesis informed my post-graduate thesis, and I have since used this as the basis of some of my most important contributions, including my work on equitable access to health care for LGBTI persons and other vulnerable groups.
Can you describe your career path to date and how you landed your current role?
After leaving Queen Mary, I completed a Master of Science in Medical Humanities at King’s College London, and in early 2017, joined the United Nations Development Programme at the Bangkok Regional Hub (covering the Asia-Pacific Region). I began working on issues related to health, LGBTI rights, HIV, and development finance. I applied through the UNDP job portal and have had numerous roles to reach my current position (Programme Manager a.i. Being LGBTI in Asia and the Pacific). My roles varied from an unpaid internship to multiple consultancies in programme coordination, monitoring and evaluation, civil society engagement, programme management and even workshop assistant. I lived by the mantra that no role or task was too small or difficult, and my drive and commitment to working on these issues, especially in such a complex political climate like Asia and the Pacific, ultimately helped me reach my position today.
I have also had the privilege of access to extraordinary mentors at the UN, who really believed in me, and who I credit for helping me navigate my career since joining as a very young professional at 23. I would encourage others to reach out for help wherever possible and find their very own role models - I’m always an email away! I’m very proud to say that the young professionals I have personally mentored have gone on to have incredible careers, become real change-makers and are making a tremendous impact across the world.
I would like to encourage young persons and especially minorities of all backgrounds to apply for roles that may seem beyond their reach because you really might have the kind of skills they’re looking for. Working for somewhere like the UN never even seemed like a possibility for me due to my background, but I’ve found so many different pathways to get to where I am today.
What does Pride Month mean to you and why do you think it is important that we acknowledge the contributions of LGBTQ+ people throughout history and in present times?
If I’m honest, Pride Month is every month for me! Every day I strive to ensure that I am championing the contributions of LGBTI persons and Young Key Populations (YKP) as an ally, and that I highlight that they are the ones leading the change and developing solutions for their communities. This pride month, it is not only important to raise awareness of the violence, stigma and discrimination faced by the LGBTI community, but also to celebrate the significant impact the community has had across the Asia- Pacific region- fighting for policy change and equal rights. LGBTI activists work tirelessly, and many times at their personal risk, to lobby and campaign for equal rights and protective laws and policies. LGBTI-led organisations and activists are creating lasting impact on the ground, fostering LGBTI leadership and reaching the kinds of diverse communities who have so long been left behind. In the Asia- Pacific region, there has been significant positive progress when it comes to supportive laws and policies, with examples coming from Nepal and their 2015 Constitution, which included protections for sexual minorities, including third gender recognition. And in India, the 2018 landmark judgement of the Supreme Court of India decriminalizing homosexuality and the introduction of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 and Rules 2020- reflecting a significant paradigm shift in attitudes within the region.
My hope for the LGBTI community going forwards is that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, has the right to lead a life free of stigma, discrimination, and violence.
What are some of the unique issues being faced by the LGBTQ+ communities that you serve through your work?
LGBTI people are regularly discriminated against in all aspects of life including employment, education, and healthcare settings. COVID-19 only served to amplify these existing societal fissures and pushed minorities and other vulnerable groups including LGBTI people to the margins of society (https://www.undp.org/thailand/blog/covid-19-amplifying-inequalities-transgender-people). Very few countries in the region provide protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics, and consensual homosexual sex is criminalized in at least 19 countries in Asia and the Pacific. In many countries, transgender people are not able to change their gender on official identity documents. Moreover, ignorance about and invisibility of intersex people limits their inclusion in society.
What are the biggest motivations for you when it comes to the work that you do?
My biggest motivation is my commitment to the community I serve and amplifying the voices of the community to ensure that vulnerable communities are not left behind. As part of my role as co-chair of the Interagency Task Team on Young Key Populations (2020-2022), I have worked to foster, mentor, and promote solutions developed by young people and young LGBTI persons, and supported the launch of the Innovations Marketplace for Gender Equality, with my brilliant colleagues at UNDP India. This is an interactive platform for youth LGBTI persons to develop and launch their innovative solutions for issues encountered by their communities. I hope to empower young LGBTI and Young Key Populations to develop solutions for their communities and provide mentorship along the way. We plan to launch a regional version of this initiative in the upcoming months.
What are your hopes for the LGBTQ+ community going forwards?
My hope for the LGBTI community going forwards is that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, has the right to lead a life free of stigma, discrimination, and violence. I hope to facilitate dialogue between civil society, governments, policymakers, human rights advocates, and activists, to promote justice for LGBTI persons who are often excluded from their wider communities and legal systems. In doing so, I hope that we can broaden the diversity of voices in policy debates by strengthening LGBTI civil society organisations and bringing the voices of marginalized groups to the forefront. Ultimately, I hope that we can one day say that we really have left no one behind.
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This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Nathalie Grey. If you would like to get in touch with Jawying or engage her in your work, please contact Nathalie at firstname.lastname@example.org.