Leading the United Nations family's push to help build a world rooted in tolerance where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons live free from discrimination, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia with a strong plea for action: “Equality begins with you.”
“Human rights are for everyone, no matter who you are or whom you love,” the UN chief declared in a special LinkedIn blogpost on the International Day. His message was echoed by other senior officials who called not only for changes in discriminatory attitudes but also to laws on the books in many countries so all LGBT people could live with dignity.
Such changes are vital, said Mr. Ban, noting that in all parts of the world, LGBT people experience discrimination in every aspect of daily life. As children, too many are bullied by their peers, rejected by their own families, driven to drop out of school. As adults, too many suffer stigma, unfair treatment, even violence.
Fearing prejudice or persecution, many LGBT and intersex people are reluctant to discuss the simplest aspects of their personal lives with colleagues at work or in social settings.
“In 76 countries, having a partner of the same sex is even a prosecutable crime. People are arrested, imprisoned, and in some cases executed, just because they are in a loving relationship,” said the Secretary-General adding further that LGBT people also face deeply-ingrained hostility in the place where many of us spend most of our waking hours – at work.
“We must ask ourselves: Do we want to live in a world where love is targeted or where it is celebrated; where people live in fear or in dignity?,” declared the UN chief.
Noting that millions of people around the world observe the International Day, he said that the UN human rights office (OHCHR) has released a short video as part of its Free & Equal campaign called The Power of Sharing.
“The video focuses on the impact that each of us can have by sharing our own stories and by showing our support for our LGBT colleagues, friends and family members. I encourage you all to watch the video and share it to help spread the word,” said Mr. Ban.
Changing people's attitudes takes time, effort and perseverance. “It takes us all to speak up and speak out against homophobia, even when it's presented as harmless fun or as an accepted cultural trait. It's not. It's discrimination. And it's our responsibility to fight it and to strive for a world that is truly free and equal,” the Secretary-General declared.
“Speaking up empowers us, it always has... And when enough people listen it can change the world,” affirms the OHCHR video, which underscores that individuals can effect positive change by sharing personal stories and by showing support for LGBT and intersex friends, colleagues and family.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay spoke earlier at the Fifth European Transgender Council about raising awareness of the discrimination and violence LGBT people face on a routine basis.
“As High Commissioner for Human Rights, I have always spoken out against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And I have yet to come across a Government that says it supports violence and discrimination against LGBT people. Yet very few take action to protect people against such violations,” Ms. Pillay said.
For the first time, UN independent human rights experts and Special Rapporteurs have produced a joint statement for the Day.
It pinpoints, “States must build a climate of tolerance and respect in which all people, including LGBT … can express their thoughts and opinions without fear of being attacked, criminalized or stigmatized for doing so.”
Quoting late South African President Nelson Mandela, Michel Sidibé, Executive Director The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said: 'To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.'
With that in mind, the UNAIDS chief underscored that criminalization of LGBT people puts entire communities at risk. It keeps those in need of prevention and treatment services out of reach of life-saving interventions.
“It is outrageous that in 2014, when we have everything we need to defeat AIDS, we are still fighting prejudice, stigma, active discrimination and homophobic laws in 78 countries around the world,” he said, warning that stigma and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity drive new HIV infections.
“We can only be free when we respect the freedom of our LGBT brothers and sisters.
Let us walk the road to freedom together, he said.
Echoing those concerns, Helen Clark, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said that in the past year, harmful anti-LGBT laws have been passed under the guise of protecting children and families. “Punitive laws such as these have the potential to stir up homophobia and transphobia, and can have very toxic effects on people's lives,” she said.
Such laws scapegoat LGBT people and distract from the real social and development challenges which countries face. She stressed that anti-LGBT laws are based on the incorrect assumption that homosexuality poses a danger to a country's social fabric.
“The evidence does not demonstrate this – where nations have decriminalized same sex sexual conduct, no threat to the institution of marriage nor to the well-being of children has been witnessed,” said Ms Clark, explaining that, instead, decriminalization has been a key step in providing an opportunity for historically oppressed LGBT people to flourish and fully participate as respected members of society.