Karine Jean-Pierre
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U.N. Ambassador Makes Passionate Plea for LGBT Rights

Samantha Power

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, delivered an impassioned argument for LGBT rights on Monday, noting the Pulse nightclub massacre in voting against a move to stop the work of the U.N.’s monitor on anti-LGBT discrimination. 

By a narrow margin, the U.N. General Assembly rejected the motion to suspend the independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, with 84 countries voting against it, 77 for it, and 16 abstaining, the Washington Blade reports.

Several African countries had sought to have the position suspended pending an examination of the legal basis for its creation. The U.N. Human Rights Council established the post this past summer, and Vitit Muntarbhorn, an international law professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, was hired to fill it in the fall.

“The proponents of the amendment argue in their explanatory note that their reason for seeking a delay was that ‘there is no international agreement on the definition of the concept of sexual orientation and gender identity.’ That is patently false,” Power said in announcing her vote against the measure. “The issue of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is well established and well understood.”

“In reality, this amendment has little to do with questions around the definition of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Power continued. “Instead, this amendment is rooted in a real disagreement over whether people of a certain sexual orientation and gender identity are, in fact, entitled to equal rights. And it is being driven by a group of U.N. member states that believe it is acceptable to treat people differently because of who they are or who they love.”

Fighting for LGBT rights, she said, “is not an issue of the North trying to impose its values on the South; it is an issue of respecting the dignity and human rights of all people, everywhere.” The U.S. has far to go in assuring the rights of all, she noted, as “people in the United States can still be fired from a job because of their sexual orientation, and an estimated four in every 10 transgender people in America attempt suicide — approximately 30 times the national average.”

And June 12 at Pulse, she pointed out, 49 people died, having been “targeted simply because they were LGBT.” Among the victims, she mentioned, was Christopher Leinonen, who had been the only openly gay student at his high school and “endured taunts, harassments, and even threats for telling people who he was and for founding his school’s first gay-straight alliance.”

“Tell me, why would any member state stand in the way of trying to prevent violence like the attack at that Orlando nightclub?” she added.

Power’s speech is but one example of the Obama administration’s support for LGBT rights both domestically and globally. With a new president, the U.S. will have a new ambassador to the U.N. — President-elect Donald Trump has nominated South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for the post. Haley, a Republican, is conservative but is not known for being radically anti-LGBT. She somewhat reluctantly accepted marriage equality (after having, for some time, defended her state’s ban on same-sex marriage) and said there was no need for a law proposed by one South Carolina legislator to restrict which public restrooms transgender people can use. She is not known as a strong ally either, though, and she’s not likely to be an advocate for LGBT rights on the level of Power.

A transcript of Power’s full speech is here.

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