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New York, February 18, 2013—Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law announced today that Dr. Carla Sutherland has joined the Engaging Tradition Project as an associate research scholar. During the six-month fellowship, Sutherland will analyze the deployment of tradition and traditional values in global human rights debates on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

Sutherland is a leading global expert on sexual orientation and gender identity issues in the global policy sphere. She will work with Engaging Tradition Project director Urvashi Vaid, to explore the role tradition plays as a barrier to the advancement of sexual rights, and to develop resources that can be used by LGBT activists to counter arguments based in tradition. The project is urgent and timely as a global debate is underway at the United Nations Human Rights Council on the relationship between traditional understandings of gender and sexuality and the inclusion of sexual orientation, and gender identity in human rights frameworks.

“Carla Sutherland is a brilliant critical thinker who has designed innovative funding strategies and advocacy programs to advance the human rights of LGBT people, said Vaid, a community organizer, writer, and attorney who has been a leader in the LGBT and social justice movements for nearly three decades. “The Columbia University community will be enriched by her deep knowledge and experience in these issues.”

Launched in 2011, the Engaging Tradition Project studies how the idea of tradition can be both a resource and an obstacle to gender and sexuality-based social justice projects. A critical goal of the project is to better enable advocates working for sexual, gender, racial, and economic justice to more effectively engage tradition-based resistance—whether derived from religion, custom, history, gender role stereotyping, forms of family, or identity and nationalism.

“With Carla joining us, we can expect our work to move in exciting new directions,” said Katherine Franke, the director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law. “She is exactly the right person to do the hard thinking about how to combat arguments based in tradition that are used to undermine sexual rights and human rights across a range of global settings.”

Sutherland comes to the Center from the Arcus Foundation, where she was responsible for leading international program on sexual orientation and gender identity. While at the Arcus Foundation, she instituted an extensive grass roots small grants program in over 20 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia.


Before joining Arcus, Sutherland led the Ford Foundation’s education and sexuality program in Eastern Africa. Among her most significant achievements are facilitating greater integration of the region’s LGBT movement within the better-established human rights and women’s movements; establishing a distance teacher education program for women in educationally disadvantaged regions of Kenya; fostering a partnership among global and regional funders to establish a new human rights fund focused on support for sexual minorities in East Africa; and helping to create a partnership of nongovernmental organizations to begin addressing sexual rights.

Sutherland, who started her fellowship on Feb. 11, began her professional career as a policy researcher at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, working for then-vice-chancellor Dr. Mamphela Ramphele. She worked on a number of projects, including establishing the African Gender Institute and the South African chapter of the Forum for African Women Educationalists.

She holds a Ph.D. in social policy from the London School of Economics and a master’s in political studies and anthropology from the University of Cape Town.

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