Editor's Note: Guest blogger Ricardo Hernandez is a Communications and Research Intern at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). Ricardo is studying Political Science and Journalism at SUNY New Paltz and is a student in the SUNY Global Engagement Program.
Words spoken by Jessica Stern, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, reverberate in my mind as I reflect on a unique meeting held in late September:
"It is not a fight for a comma or the mere mention of LGBT people in a UN resolution. It is for many, a fight for our lives."
In a chamber on a high floor of the United Nations Secretariat Building in New York, ten United Nations member states (members of the LGBT Core Group), the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) declared their commitment to eliminating LGBT human rights violations.
This unprecedented ministerial meeting at the United Nations marked a step toward the inclusion of LGBT international norms, so that all people can live without fear of discrimination and violence based on their sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Two NGOs that helped arrange the meeting, Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), also weighed in to advance the discussion of LGBT human rights.
Stern noted that while the meeting brings attention to the advancements and resources some states have enacted to protect LGBT people, the fight for global equality is not an easy battle.
"It is not a fight for a comma or the mere mention of LGBT people in a UN resolution. It is, for many, a fight for our lives," Stern said. "It is, fundamentally, a fight about privilege. Privilege based on gender and sexuality, but inextricably linked to race, bodily autonomy, class, health status, and every other movement for universal rights."
According to a study by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 76 countries still criminalize adult same-sex consensual relationships. The study shows that LGBT people are discriminated against in the workplace, face barriers in accessing education and health care, as well as hate-motivated violence, including physical assaults, sexual violence and targeted killings.
Although the study reveals a grim picture for the global LGBT community, the growing commitment of states and high-level representatives of the UN to discussing these issues is an advance toward fuller inclusion. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon shared his stance at an event commemorating International Human Rights Day last year, entitled "Leadership in the Fight Against Homophobia," at the UN.
"Let me say this loud and clear: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else," Ban said. "They, too, are born free and equal. I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their struggle for human rights."
Cross-national commitments to fighting discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity were expressed during the ministerial meeting, where representatives shared the advancements in LGBT human rights in their states. Notably, Vesna Pusic, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, also said that the LGBT rights cause is the poster child for universal human rights.
"I think that the rights of the LGBT people are probably the flag bearers at the moment in fighting for human rights in general, because if there's discrimination that is relatively tolerated in most societies, it's this one," Pusic said.
"We are not talking about new rights," Pascal Canfin, the French Minister for Development Cooperation said. "We are not asking for specific rights for specific persons for a specific category of our society. We are asking for the respect of the basic human rights of all individuals, independently of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
According to Canfin, the international community's newest challenge is to gain a majority of states that will recognize that LGBT rights are also human rights and serve as a majority that will enact a resolution for human rights abuses on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Other high-level state representatives who declared their commitment to end discrimination and violence towards LGBT persons included United States Secretary of State John Kerry, and senior officials from Japan, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Norway.
On December 10, 2013, the United Nations LGBT Core Group with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Human Rights Watch, will convene a panel in celebration of the Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The panel, entitled "Sports Comes Out Against Homophobia and Transphobia," will be the fifth such event, recognizing the need for inclusion and respect for persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities by United Nations member states.
For more information about the event, contact Brian Tofte-Schumacher at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.iglhrc.org.