September 27, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT issues discussed at first-of-its-kind U.N. meeting

Rajiv Shah, USAID, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is among those who attended a meeting of global LGBT funders on September 24 during the U.N. General Assembly in New York. (Photo courtesy of USAID.)

Global LGBT advocacy efforts were among the issues discussed during the U.N. General Assembly this week in New York.

USAID, the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA,) the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and the Ford Foundation on Tuesday hosted a meeting of funders of global LGBT advocacy efforts.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, SIDA Director General Charlotte Petri Gornitzka and former Planet Out CEO Megan Smith, who is now vice president of Google[x], attended the gathering alongside high level officials from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Swedish, the United Kingdom, the U.N. Development Program, the State Department and the World Bank.

Representatives from the American Jewish World Service, the Arcus Foundation, the Fund for Global Rights, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, the Dutch foundation Mama Cash, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Open Society Foundation and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights are among the other groups that took part in the meeting. Organizers said it drew 85 percent of groups around that contribute to global LGBT efforts.

“It was a seminal moment in history because it is the first global meeting where public and private donors for LGBT equality came together to discuss priorities, programs and potential collaboration for ways forward,” senior USAID advisor Claire Lucas told the Washington Blade on Friday.

USAID in April announced the LGBT Global Development Partnership with the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, (SIDA) and other groups will contribute $11 million over the next four years to advocacy groups in Honduras and other developing countries. The initiative’s first two trainings took place in the Colombian cities of Cartagena and Bogotá late last month and in the spring respectively.

Denis Dison of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute added his organization remains “proud” to “partner in this work” with USAID and Astraea as he discussed Tuesday’s meeting with the Blade.

“This meeting was an important step in recognizing the truly global effort to advance LGBT human rights, and the leadership role now being played by the U.S. is a remarkable turnaround from just a few years ago,” he said.

Funders of global LGBT initiatives met in New York two days before Secretary of State John Kerry and representatives from 10 countries issued a declaration that calls for an end to anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.

Members of the LGBT Core Group at U.N. that includes the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and ministers from Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway declared their “strong and determined commitment to eliminating violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“We reaffirm our conviction that human rights are the birthright of every human being,” the statement reads. “Those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) must enjoy the same human rights as everyone else.”

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Affairs Dean Pittman told the Blade during an interview from New York on Friday the meeting and the declaration underscores the U.N. and the U.S. are committed to “pursuing and advancing LGBT rights around the world.”

“Everybody’s reinforced the idea that everyone deserves human rights,” Pittman said. “It shouldn’t be a decision of who you are, who you love, what your gender is.”

Pittman further categorized the statement as “really strong, powerful.”

“This really has a ripple effect that sort of goes out through LGBT communities around the world who see this as sort of a vote of confidence,” he told the Blade. “[It] sort of gives them the ability to go into their own communities with the backing of a global organization like the U.N. to pursue some of these human rights issues in their own countries.”

The meeting took place two months after the U.N. officially launched a public campaign that seeks to increase support for LGBT rights around the world. It’s been endorsed by singer Ricky Martin and others.

More than 70 countries around the world continue to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts in spite of a 2011 resolution in support of LGBT rights the U.N. Human Rights Council passed. Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Friday said in his speech during the U.N. General Assembly that homosexuality is among the three “biggest threats to human existence” as the Associated Press reported.

85 countries have also backed a U.N. General Assembly declaration in support of LGBT rights.

President Obama earlier this month met with two Russian LGBT rights advocates during the G-20 summit. Both he and Kerry have also criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin over his country’s LGBT rights record, which includes a law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

Pittman declined to say whether Kerry discussed Russia’s LGBT rights record during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday during the U.N. General Assembly. He said Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, briefed Kerry and other ministers on the country’s gay propaganda law before they issued their declaration.

“This is an issue we’ve raised with the Russians at many levels and repeatedly,” Pittman told the Blade. “It’s obviously unacceptable.

Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley welcomed the meeting and the resolution.

“One would expect Syria and Iran to be on the agenda, but not necessarily human rights for LGBT people,” he told the Blade, referring to the U.N. General Assembly. “For a group of committed foreign ministers to come together during this time, including Sec. Kerry, to pledge collective action to respond to human rights abuses directed at LGBT communities worldwide is unprecedented.”

Chris Johnson contributed to this article.

John Kerry, United States Department of State, LGBT, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participates in an LGBT ministerial event in New York on Thursday during the U.N. General Assembly. (Photo courtesy of the State Department.)

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

1 Comment
  • Very good, though it isn’t unprecedented (the UNHRC held an intergovernmental conference on LGBT rights in 2012 to follow up on the LGBT rights resolution the Human Rights Council passed in 2011).

    Anyway, the UN (and by implication a majority of the world) is firmly pro equal rights now. :)

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