November 20, 2014 — Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we remember brave transgender individuals around the world who have been killed because of who they are or how they appear in the world. It therefore seems fitting, on a day like today, to reflect on a draft resolution adopted yesterday by the United Nations that recognizes the sad reality that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals are too often targeted and killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The UN resolution, which condemns “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions” committed by both government and non-governmental agents, recognizes that certain vulnerable groups of persons – generally those who face broader social exclusion and discrimination – are at particular risk of targeted killing. And when they are attacked, governments are far less likely to investigate the cases or prosecute the perpetrators. Perhaps no such group is at greater risk than transgender individuals – those who dare to live authentic lives in defiance of gender expectations or stereotypes.
Public health groups estimate that the life expectancy of a transgender woman in Latin America is between 30 and 35 years, and possibly lower in parts of Central America. And for regions where transgender homicides are completely ignored and statistics purposefully obscured, the measure of a transgender life may be even lower. Extreme violence goes a long way in explaining these shocking disparities.
In the context of this somber day of remembrance, it is comforting to recognize that the struggle for global equality is gaining ground, even in the culture wars of the United Nations. An effort yesterday by Saudi Arabia to strip the reference to vulnerable groups in the resolution on extrajudicial killings, which was clearly understood as an attempt to strip the sexual orientation and gender identity language from the text, was roundly defeated, with eighty-two governments across all regions voting to name the violence against LGBT individuals and keep the reference to vulnerable groups in the text. Only fifty-three governments supported the Saudi deceit, which represents a growing consensus around LGBT rights as human rights.
The final text was adopted in committee yesterday with only one vote in opposition, and it will now go to the full UN General Assembly for a vote in December. The United States, which in the past has supported the spirit of the text but abstained on technical legal grounds, joined the growing majority in voting for the resolution this year. That represents an additionally important victory for human rights.
The vote at the United Nations yesterday, on the heels of the adoption of another, stand-alone resolution on “human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity” at the United Nations last month, represents a turning point in the way the United Nations responds to human rights violations targeting LGBT individuals. And while its impact may not yet be measured in lives saved or years lived, it represents concerted advocacy and increasing political will within the United Nations. And that growing consensus will eventually be measured in human development – in both the quantity and the quality of the years lived by transgender youth of tomorrow.