Monday, May 21, 2012
Marking International Day against Homophobia last week, senior United Nations officials drew attention to laws around the world that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and called for equality and the repeal of such laws. “When I raise these issues, some complain that I’m pushing for ‘new rights’ or ‘special rights’ for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. But there is nothing new or special about the right to life and security of person, the right to freedom from discrimination,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in a statement. “These and other rights are universal… enshrined in international law but denied to many of our fellow human beings simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” she added.
Although it is not an officially observed UN day, the International Day against Homophobia (informally known as IDAHO), observed on May 17th, has become an important day for millions of people around the world to pause and remember the victims of homophobic violence and discrimination, and to make the case for genuine equality for LGBT people. According to the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), close to 80 countries, territories and areas still have laws that criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults.
In connection with the Day, a UN spokesperson said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on States to tackle violence against LGBT people, decriminalize consensual same-sex relationships, ban discrimination and educate the public – and he “supports the High Commissioner’s message: ‘We are all human and we all deserve the same rights.’” The spokesperson said Mr. Ban is distressed by the fact that LGBT people are discriminated against in the job market, in schools, and in healthcare, and are even abused and disowned by their own families. “He is outraged that they are singled out for physical attack, even murder,” the spokesperson said. “And he has called for a repeal of laws, now on the books in 76 countries, that criminalize loving relationships between people of the same sex.”
In March, Mr. Ban told the United Nations Human Rights Council that he had not grown up talking about these issues, but had learned to speak up “because lives are at stake.” In 2010, he lauded the “courageous” decision by President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi to pardon a gay couple who had been sentenced to 14 years in prison, and, more recently, he stressed the need to ensure the rights of LGBT people during a visit to Zambia.
The head of UNAIDS, the lead United Nations agency dealing with the global HIV/AIDS response, said the laws are serious barriers to an effective AIDS response and are driving LGBT people underground where they cannot access life-saving services.
“A society’s value should not be based on money or power. It must be measured by the way it values people, regardless of their sexual orientation or social status. A prosperous society is one that ensures inclusiveness and respects all people,” said UNAIDS’ Executive Director, Michel Sidibé. “To our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender friends, UNAIDS stands with you.”
(mew) (adapted from a UN Press Release)