“I staunchly oppose the criminalization of homosexuality,” said Ban during an event in the Indian capital of New Delhi that marked the 70th anniversary of the U.N.’s founding. “I speak out because laws criminalizing consensual, adult same-sex relationships violate basic rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination.”
Ban during his speech stressed anti-sodomy laws “breed intolerance,” even if they are not enforced. He also said he is “proud to stand for the equality of all people — including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”
“We have to fight for the equality of all members of our human family regardless of any difference, including sexual orientation,” said Ban.
India is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain illegal.
The India Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling that reinstated the country’s colonial-era sodomy law sparked widespread outrage among LGBT rights advocates in the South Asian country and around the world. The tribunal last April accepted a motion to reconsider the controversial decision.
“India is grappling with the legacy of an archaic British colonial-era law that treats gay people not as equals deserving of respect but as criminals deserving of contempt,” Charles Radcliffe, a senior human rights adviser for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “It’s a monstrous law and every day it remains on the books it only reinforces stigma, shame and discrimination experienced by millions of Indians who happen to be gay.”
Ban’s speech coincided with Goa Sports Minister Ramesh Tawadkar reported comments that he plans to open centers to make gays “normal.”
India Today reported that Tawadkar, who is a member of Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s Baharitaya Janata Party, said reporters misquoted him.
“I was not talking about the LGBT (youths) but about drug addicted and sexually abused youths,” Tawadkar told an Indian news agency as India Today reported. “Youth policy speaks about drug addicted youths and sexually abused youths as a focused group. There are provisions in the central government sponsored Social Justice scheme for such youths which can be implemented in Goa.”
Radcliffe told the Blade on Tuesday that support for LGBT rights in India continues to increase.
Voters in Raigarh in the state of Chhattisgarh earlier this month elected a transgender woman, Madhu Kinnar, as their next mayor. The India Supreme Court last April issued a landmark ruling that recognizes trans people as a “third gender.”
“Things are changing,” said Radcliffe. “As the secretary-general said, India has more young people than any other country on earth. The LGBT community in India is more visible now than ever and you have more and more prominent allies are speaking out — including popular Bollywood celebrities. The fact there’s now more public debate is something to be welcomed, not feared.”
James Robertson, executive director of the India HIV/AIDS Alliance, welcomed Ban’s comments.
“His statement is welcomed and keeps this issue of LGBT rights in the spotlight,” Robertson told the Blade. “He is part of a growing chorus of international leaders raising this concern, and his advocacy may provide additional pressure to support the ongoing efforts within India working to decriminalize homosexuality.”