The year-long effort, which the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights unveiled during a press conference in Cape Town, South Africa, seeks to raise awareness of anti-LGBT violence and discrimination and encourage what it describes as “greater respect for the rights of LGBT people.”
The “Free & Equal” campaign will stress what a press release described as the “need for both legal reforms and public education to counter homophobia and transphobia.” The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights will also produce a number of videos that are similar to the one it released in May to mark the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and gay South African Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron, who lives with HIV, joined U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the Cape Town press conference.
“Changing attitudes is never easy. But it has happened on other issues and it is happening already in many parts of the world on this one,” Pillay said. “It begins with often difficult conversations. And that is what we want to do with this campaign. ‘Free & Equal’ will inspire millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.”
The U.N. in 2011 adopted a resolution in support of LGBT rights.
South Africa is among the 11 countries in which gays and lesbians can legally marry, but more than 70 countries continue to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts.
An increasing number of LGBT rights advocates have called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and Russian vodka in response to recently enacted laws that ban so-called gay propaganda and same-sex couples from other countries from adopting Russian children. Four Dutch LGBT advocates returned to the Netherlands earlier this week after authorities in the Russian city of Murmansk arrested them under the country’s anti-gay propaganda law after they interviewed a teenager for a documentary on gay life in Russia.
The reported murder of a cross-dressing teenager near the Jamaican resort city of Montego Bay earlier this week sparked outrage among LGBT rights advocates in the Caribbean nation. The U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch are among the groups that condemned the killing of prominent Cameroonian LGBT rights advocate Eric Ohena Lembembe who was found dead inside his home in the country’s capital on July 15.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe earlier this month sparked controversy when he said during a campaign rally ahead of his country’s July 31 elections that authorities should arrest gays and lesbians who don’t conceive children.
“The [U.N.'s] Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights — no exceptions, no one left behind,” Pillay said. “Yet it’s still a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and discrimination on a daily basis.”
Singers Ricky Martin and Daniela Mercury and Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly are among those who have pledged to support the campaign.