Demonstrating #GlobalLeadership through the United Nations and International Organizations to Advance LGBTI Rights

Posted by Wesley Reisser
May 17, 2016
An American flag and a rainbow colored flag flies in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, April 27, 2015.

Over the past seven years, the United States has engaged robustly at the United Nations (UN) and various other international organizations to ensure that the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons are protected as part of our broader work to promote human rights in these fora. Today, as we join the international community in commemorating the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, it’s fitting that we pause to reflect on progress made during this period and look at the road ahead.

The UN plays an increasingly important role in combatting widespread violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons. These efforts can be seen in every region of the world. The United States is proud to work with the UN and many nations from around the globe to ensure that international human rights obligations and commitments apply equally to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. 

We do this by working closely with partner countries to pass UN resolutions on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2011, for example, we were proud to partner with South Africa to ensure passage of the first-ever UN resolution on LGBTI rights, adopted by the UN Human Rights Council. The United States also worked closely with Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay on the passage of a second resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in 2014.

Another way we aim to ensure international human rights obligations and commitments are met is by sponsoring events at the UN as well as at many other UN fora to highlight LGBTI issues. In 2015, the United States and Chile hosted the first UN Security Council event on LGBTI issues, highlighting the Islamic State’s brutal campaign against gay men in Iraq and Syria. The United States has also co-hosted multiple events with Brazil at the Human Rights Council on bias-motivated violence against LGBTI individuals, featuring police and other practitioners on the front lines addressing these problems in communities. Over the last seven years, we were also proud to work with a large core group of countries to present many events at the UN headquarters in New York featuring speakers as varied as Ricky Martin, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Secretary of State John Kerry. It is no coincidence that we also chose the UN Palais de Nations in Geneva as the site for former-Secretary Hillary Clinton’s landmark speech in which she proclaimed “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

Its clear that the UN is proving to be an important partner to raise LGBTI issues in a manner that persons from various cultures around the world can relate to. We see this through initiatives such as it’s Free & Equal campaign, which is spreading a message of tolerance around the globe. We also see this through our close collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as they continue to spearhead the conversation on LGBTI issues wherever the UN is present.

While the United Nations has been a important forum for advancing global LGBTI rights around the world, we know that much work remains. Unfortunately, the UN has also become a place where we have had to fight against retrograde actions to try and take away protections from LGBTI persons. Last year, we were proud that UN SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon chose to extend partner benefits to the married same-sex spouses of UN staff. Some countries wanted to rescind this fair policy and the United States led the successful effort to ensure that the UN would continue to lead by example.

We will continue to do so going forward. Our efforts at the UN are helping build a growing international consensus that LGBTI persons deserve the same dignity and respect as all people do. While a UN resolution or media campaign may seem abstract to many Americans, these actions bring great comfort to LGBTI persons experiencing discrimination. These actions also help build a framework in which people can stand up for their rights in the streets or in the courts. In many places, they even bring comfort to someone and reaffirm that they are not alone, there are many other people around the world just like them, and people and nations from all corners of globe stand with them as they seek equality and dignity.

About the Author: Wesley J. Reisser, Ph.D. is a Senior Foreign Affairs Officer in Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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