For the first time in history, a majority of the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council have voted to adopt a resolution aimed at combating discrimination and violence against LGBT people around the world.
"Across the globe, we still continue to witness acts of intimidation and persecution against LGBT persons simply because of who they are and who they love," said Ambassador Samantha Power, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, in a statement to the media following last week's vote.
Indeed, Power noted that more than 75 countries have laws that specifically discriminate against LGBT citizens and residents.
The resolution, adopted Friday, requires an investigation and subsequent report to the world body about the status of human rights for LGBT people globally. It also asks U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (of Jordan) to update a 2011 report titled Discriminatory Laws and Practices and Acts of Violence Against Individuals Based on their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
With 25 member nations of the U.N. Human Rights Council voting for the resolution, 14 against, and seven abstaining, the measure expressed "grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity."
According to a statement from the council, the resolution is intended to establish and enforce a set of worldwide "best practices to overcome violence and discrimination" against gender and sexual minorities.
"The passage of the resolution is a significant step forward in the realization of universal dignity and human rights for LGBT persons," Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel at Human Rights First, tells The Advocate. "We welcome the support of the 25 countries who voted in favor of the resolution and hope that the seven countries who abstained and the 14 that opposed will ultimately choose to honor the commitment to global human rights standards that they have made as members of the United Nations."
No matter how historic the vote and resolution, global human rights advocates are only cautiously optimistic about the potential impact, since past resolutions did little to improve lives of those living under the oppression of homophobic regimes around the world.
While acknowledging the undoubtedly noble intentions of most of those at the United Nations, we have chronicled five previous efforts by the world body to chip away at homophobia. Many of those attempts were passionate but practically ineffectual in creating lasting improvements in the quality of life for LGBT people around the world.
Here's hoping the members of the U.N. can learn from past disappointments and put some teeth in this latest resolution's enforcement.
1976: Though it doesn't specifically mention sexual orientation or gender identity, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in March of 1976, is often cited by human rights advocates and academics as the precursor to later LGBT-inclusive world body resolutions.
Specifically, the last three words in the first paragraph of Article Two of the Covenant constitute the substance for those who claim the that the 38-year-old document applies to LGBT people:
"Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."
1996: According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights includes homosexuality as a protected characteristic in a resolution on the human rights of persons living with HIV and AIDS.
"The resolution issued by the CHR addresses the forms of discrimination suffered by people living with HIV and AIDS, and it calls for U.N. agencies and member states to counter discrimination and ensure the full human rights and freedoms of people affected by HIV/AIDS," wrote an IGLHRC representative, who added, "the resolution states in part that 'persons suffering from disadvantaged socioeconomic or legal status' are especially 'vulnerable to the risk of HIV infection ... and that they suffer disproportionately from the economic and social consequences of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.' The resolution twice mentions 'men who are homosexual' among those who are disproportionately affected by the epidemic."
2003: The U.N. first considered definitively declaring a right to be free of anti-LGBT discrimination through a resolution introduced by Brazil.
Alas, as British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told The Guardian at the time, "The vote has been derailed and delayed by Islamic fundamentalist states where gay people are either jailed, flogged or beheaded."
But the unsuccessful attempt to enshrine LGBT human rights into U.N. doctrine was not seen universally as a total failure. "Overall, the launching of the resolution was viewed not as a defeat, but as a historical turning point," wrote one blogger at the time. "The sexual orientation genie is now out of the bottle at the U.N., and no one can put it back in."
2004: Although somewhat buried in a resolution on "The Right to Development," the strongly pro-LGBT comments of a member of the U.N. Permanent Assembly For Human Rights made it into the final draft of that year's resolution.
According to a U.N. readout of the discussion surrounding the resolution, Pedro Paradiso Sottile of Argentina told his fellow U.N. delegates, "Many nations equated the rights of homosexual persons with those of all citizens, yet in some countries, homosexuals continued to be the target of discrimination and violations of human rights, including of rights to housing and work. The recognition of homosexual rights was a question of time, as there were no religions or State doctrines or policies that could justify considering some people unequally on the basis of their sexual orientation. In Argentina, the President supported protecting the rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Those attending the Commission had the power to change the situation in which homosexuals continued to be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. Behind the struggle of gay, lesbian and transsexual groups lay the need for respect of the rights of all peoples."
2011: The U.N. Human Rights Council approved for the first time a resolution condemning discrimination and violence against LGBT people.
In language almost identical to last week's resolution, the 2011 version — which passed without support from a majority of members of the council due to abstentions and absences — declared, "Grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
As will be the case with the most recent vote, the 2011 resolution came with a study of discrimination and violence of LGBT people worldwide. The 2011 resolution was introduced by South Africa.