By KAREN MULHAUSER
As we celebrate our own gains in the movement for equality, we must not forget the pervasive challenges for LGBTI rights that persist every day on a global scale.
The facts can be sobering. Today, about 80 countries criminalize same-sex relationships. In some of these places, legislation has emerged targeting LGBTI rights groups and activists simply for advancing the cause of equality. This means that something like an equality march or rainbow flag could result in arrest, or worse.
What global ally will stand with LBGTI individuals? The answer, increasingly, is the United Nations. And, as a member of the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA), I am proud to be part of an organization that supports this policy.
The U.N. has emerged as a key and vocal advocate for LGBTI rights, in addition to its usual roles of promoting peace and justice throughout the world. In June 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council took the unprecedented move of passing a resolution affirming LGBTI rights. Later, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights compiled an in-depth report detailing the global scope of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The U.N. has also taken steps to educate and raise awareness among the public on LGBTI rights. Launched in 2013, its Free and Equal Campaign works to promote greater respect for the rights of LGBTI people everywhere. The campaign centers on the language of the first Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which plainly declares: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Prominent U.N. figures — including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself—have been photographed proudly carrying “Free and Equal” placards. The secretary-general has also declared, “Ending homophobia is a matter of personal security, dignity and even survival for countless individuals. It is also a long-term endeavor — one that I believe is critical to the mission of the United Nations.” As a part of that endeavor, the Secretary-General moved to extend recognition of same-sex marriages to more than 40,000 U.N. staff members around the world irrespective of the policy of the employee’s home country.
Whether we choose to advance the cause of equality in the United States, or challenge discriminatory laws abroad, we here in Washington, D.C., and across the country can readily identify with the U.N. declaration that we are all “born free and equal.” I am proud to live in a city like D.C. that recognizes that human rights must apply to all humans. I am also proud to be a member of UNA-USA, which embodies the same values.
As we move forward with our movement, the U.N. stands ready as one of our most active allies. We should draw on its support as a key partner.
Karen Mulhauser is chair of the Steering Committee of the United Nations Association of the USA.