LGBT Rights are Human Rights

March 6, 2013|By Brooke Loughrin, U.S. Youth Observer

geneva-300One of the highlights of my experience at the United Nations in Geneva has been the opportunity to meet with human rights defenders from a variety of countries to discuss their courageous efforts to advance the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Currently, 76 countries criminalize private, consensual same-sex relationships, and LGBT individuals around the world continue to face violence and persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Over the past two years, there have been a number of significant developments at the UN in response to human rights violations against LGBT individuals. Many of these initiatives have been the direct result of strong leadership at the UN by the U.S. and other countries, such as South Africa. For its part, the U.S. has declared it will use its full range of diplomatic and development tools to press for the elimination of violence and discrimination against LGBT people worldwide, particularly those forced to flee their homes or countries.

In June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a landmark resolution aimed at spotlighting violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The measure, which passed by a vote of 23-19 and received support from countries in all of the Council’s regional groups, was the first resolution focused exclusively on the human rights of LGBT individuals to be passed by a UN body. As a member of the UNHRC, the U.S. strongly supported the resolution, with President Obama calling it “a significant milestone in the long struggle for equality, and the beginning of a universal recognition that LGBT persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights, and entitled to the same protections, as all human beings.”

In addition to highlighting anti-LGBT violence and discrimination, the resolution also required the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to establish its first-ever study examining the challenges faced by LGBT persons around the world. On December 15, 2011, the OHCHR issued its final report, documenting “a pattern of human rights violations” against members of the LGBT community “that demands a response.” The report called upon UN Member States to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality, abolish the death penalty for consensual same-sex relations, and enact comprehensive anti-discrimination laws.

The June 2011 UNHRC resolution, coupled with the November 2011 report released by the OHCHR, were important and unprecedented steps for LGBT human rights. Nevertheless, much remains to be done to ensure baseline protections for LGBT individuals, especially from violence and brutalization.

On December 6, 2011, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a historic speech at the UN in Geneva declaring that LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights. "It should never be a crime to be gay," Secretary Clinton said, adding that a country's cultural or religious traditions were not an excuse for violence and discrimination.

In March 2012, the UNHRC held the UN’s first-ever formal discussion on the rights of LGBT people in Geneva. While getting this issue onto the agenda was an important step for the LGBT rights movement, a number of countries (primarily in the Middle East and Africa) rejected outright a discussion of LGBT rights at the UNHRC and staged a walk-out.  

On Wednesday, I met with a group of young activists from the International Youth Human Rights Movement and the Russian – LGBT Network to discuss the current challenges facing LGBT rights defenders in Russia. At the meeting, I learned that 10 Russian regions have laws in force that prohibit the “propaganda of homosexuality” among minors under claims that the availability of information about homosexuality is damaging to minors and society at large. These laws are vague and do not clearly define “propaganda”, making LGBT rights activists vulnerable to arbitrary detention. A similar law is being considered on the national level by Russia’s parliament, where it has passed the first of three readings. This type of legislation, limiting freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, coupled with ongoing judicial harassment and intimidation of human rights activists, has severely undermined the work of human rights defenders and has led to a general climate of repression in Russia.

Throughout my week in Geneva, I have also had the chance to learn more about the extraordinary work of Dr. Bronwen Robertson, one of the 2013 Internet Freedom Fellows, on behalf of Iran’s LGBT communities. As I mentioned in my last post, Dr. Robertson is the Director of Operations for a London based non-profit called Small Media, which works to counter Iran’s efforts to block websites and censor information. In Iran, she spearheaded a research project and report entitled, “LGBT Republic of Iran: An Online Reality," which reveals how Iran’s LGBT communities use global communications technology in their everyday lives. The report concludes that despite state repression and social ostracism, many Iranian LGBTs are able to forge a sense of community and solidarity by networking over the internet.


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