December 15, 2011–The United Nations today released a groundbreaking report, titled simply “Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity,” by the UN’s leading human rights commissioner. Recognizing that “governments and inter-governmental bodies have often overlooked violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, “ the report was requested by the UN’s Human Rights Council in its first-ever resolution last June condemning acts of violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals. The resolution was introduced by South Africa, with strong support from the United States and a cross-regional coalition of countries.
Today’s UN report is a groundbreaking new compendium of international law. It makes clear that criminalizing individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is in fact a fundamental denial of their human rights and human dignity. So, too, are acts of violence and discrimination. The report emphasizes that “in all regions, people experience violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In many cases, even the perception of homosexuality or transgender identity puts people at risk. Violations include – but are not limited to – killings, rape and physical attacks, torture, arbitrary detention, the denial of rights to assembly, expression and information, and discrimination in employment, health and education.”
Based on the standards articulated in this new UN text, all countries, including our own, still have more to do to fully recognize the human rights of their LGBT citizens. Indeed, the report calls on all countries to “enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that includes discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity among prohibited grounds and recognizes intersecting forms of discrimination.” We know that our own U.S. Congress has important work to do to entrench just that sort of comprehensive non-discrimination protection in federal law in the United States.
The report will be debated at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in March, and with South Africa leading the discussion, the March presentation will ensure that this report guides the work of the UN’s human rights experts worldwide. The Council for Global Equality welcomes this important contribution to international human rights law.