UNITED NATIONS—LGBT activists this week used the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the U.N. to highlight efforts to combat homophobia and transphobia in sports.
Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts on Dec. 10 moderated a U.N. panel at the U.N. on which retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, South African activist Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, intersex advocate Huda Viloria, Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network and U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic sat. Singer Melissa Etheridge and Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, were among those who also attended the event.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a video that Navratilova, who came out in 1981, “inspired” him. He added the retired tennis champion “paved the way for” Collins and other LGBT athletes to publicly declare their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
“They understand an abuse against any of us is an affront to all,” said Ban. “Human rights can only be visible when we stand in solidarity as one.”
Smirnova said the attention the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record has received ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February has allowed her organization to “shed light on the most ugly developments happening in the country.” She added the Olympics and other international sporting events can be “a great celebration of excellence and diversity.”
“As a celebration of diversity, it has great potential to show common universal commitment to humanity, to show dignity, to show international solidarity with those who are experiencing hardships,” said Smirnova.
Mkhuma paid tribute to former South African President Nelson Mandela during the panel, noting he unified his country through sports. The anti-Apartheid champion presented the 1995 Rugby World Cup championship trophy to Francois Pienaar, a white South African who was the then-captain of the Springboks, while wearing the team jersey with his number.
Mkhuma said her stepfather, who is a pastor, kicked her out of her home when she was 16 because she is a lesbian. South African authorities have yet to arrest the person who beat and raped her in 2009.
Mkhuma said the lesbian soccer team she joined has become her family and “my community.”
“As a survivor of rape, it is still hard for me to live in South Africa,” she said as her voice quivered and Navratilova comforted her. “It is all our responsibility to end hate and to end violence.”
The U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948, ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The U.N. in 2011 adopted a resolution in support of LGBT rights.
“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,” said U.N. High Commission for Human Rights Navi Pillay in July during a Cape Town, South Africa, press conference at which the U.N. launched a campaign in support of global LGBT rights. “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.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power on Tuesday described the Russian law that bans gay propaganda to minors as “outrageous” and “dangerous” during a meeting with nearly 30 LGBT rights advocates at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in New York that IGLHRC organized. Turkish Parliamentarian Melda Onur, Maria Fontenelle of the St. Lucian LGBT advocacy group United and Strong, Thilaga Sulathireh of the Malaysian organization Justice for Sisters and Family Equality Council Executive Director Gabriel Blau are among those who attended the roundtable.
LGBT rights advocates from Namibia, Malawi, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and other African countries also took part in an IGLHRC briefing in lower Manhattan on Dec. 9.
“To deny gays and lesbians the right to live freely and to threaten them with discrimination and even death is not a form of moral or religious Puritanism,” said Power. “It’s in fact barbarism.”
Etheridge joined “Milk” producer Bruce Cohen and Smirnova on Dec. 9 for the formal launch of the “Uprising of Love” campaign that seeks to support LGBT Russians. Collins is among those who attended a Manhattan fundraiser for United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment the following day.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy on Dec. 5 held a reception at her Tokyo residence to commemorate the ratification of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Gay Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims is among those who spoke.
“Today, we recognize that human rights include women’s rights, reproductive rights, racial and ethnic justice, the rights of the ill and infirmed, the rights of the differently abled, and the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities,” said Sims in his speech.