Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general who died Saturday at age 80, was a champion of the rights of LGBTQ people, among many others.
Annan died after a short illness, surrounded by members of his family, said a statement posted on his official Twitter account. The Ghanian diplomat was a “global statesman and deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer and more peaceful world,” the statement said.
Annan served as U.N. secretary-general from 1997 to 2006 and was the first black African to hold that post. He received the Nobel Peace Prize with the U.N. in 2001.
In 2003 he participated in an event at U.N. headquarters in New York City focusing on the rights of gays and lesbians around the world, the U.K.’s Pink News notes.
“We should be much more tolerant and compassionate,” he said in an impromptu speech at the event. “And I think what is important is that we should stress those positive aspects in our society, the things that bring us together, and move away from discrimination and persecution.”
He did not speak out for marriage equality because, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard later explained, there was a diversity of opinion among member states on the issue, but Eckhard did suggest he privately supported equal marriage rights.
“On the issue of same sex marriage, [Annan’s] personal view … is ‘that individuals should be allowed to make their own choices and that we should be careful not to draw conclusions, or adopt prejudicial attitudes, towards people for their choices and preferences,’” Eckhard said, quoting Annan’s statement at a press conference.
Annan also stood up for the inclusion of gay men in efforts to address the AIDS crisis, even though there were forces that wanted to ignore them, even as late at 2006. Pink News reports.
“We need to be realistic,” he said that year. “We will not succeed by putting our heads in the sand and pretending these people do not exist or do not need help. … We must work closely and constructively with those who have so often been marginalized, sex workers, injecting drug users, and men who have sex with men.”
In 2001 the U.N. began offering health care and other benefits to employees’ same-sex partners and unmarried opposite-sex partners. Annan supported the move despite opposition from Islamic nations.
He continued to speak out for LGBTQ rights after leaving the U.N. and heading the Kofi Annan Foundation, which works for global human rights. In 2010 he denounced the detainment of a Malawian same-sex couple as “very regressive.”