Blog of Rights

U.N. Human Rights Council: LGBT Rights Are Human Rights

By Devon Chaffee, Legislative Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 5:56pm

On Friday, the U.N.'s Human Rights Council took a critical step forward for human rights by recognizing that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people around the world struggle against violence and discrimination every day and deserve protection from such abuses. On the closing day of the Council meeting in Geneva, members adopted, for the first time ever, a resolution condemning violence and discrimination against those who are LGBT. It is the first U.N. resolution to focus solely on LGBT persons.

The U.S. cosponsored the resolution, which was introduced by South Africa, and worked to secure its passage by the Human Rights Council. The Obama administration deserves credit for once again demonstrating its commitment to the understanding that protections for those who are LGBT are human rights. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton released the following statement in response to passage of the resolution:

Today's landmark resolution affirms that human rights are universal. People cannot be excluded from protection simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The United States will continue to stand up for human rights wherever there is inequality and we will seek more commitments from countries to join this important resolution.

In addition to condemning human rights abuses against those who are LGBT, the resolution will also commission the first-ever U.N. report on the challenges that LGBT people face around the world. Indeed, the challenges are daunting. Homosexuality remains "criminal" in dozens of countries around the world, and LGBT people are vulnerable to serious human rights abuses, including state-sanctioned executions. Twenty-three of the 42 countries voting on the U.N. resolution opposed the measure, including Nigeria, Uganda, Saudi Arabia and other countries in which homophobia is widespread and LGBT persons are subject to endemic persecution.

The recent efforts by some elected officials in Uganda, where homosexuality is already criminalized, to pass a bill that included the possibility of death sentences for people based on their sexual orientation brought renewed attention to the horrific human rights abuses that LGBT people are subjected to around the world. While Ugandan lawmakers have dropped the death penalty provision for now, they continue to push to expand draconian laws targeting LGBT persons, including by criminalizing the promotion of homosexuality.

While the picture in the U.S. is certainly not as stark as in other countries around the world, LGBT people across the country face a range of discriminatory barriers based solely upon their actual or perceived sexual orientation/gender identity. For example, because there is no federal law prohibiting it, it remains perfectly legal in much of the country in the year 2011 to fire or refuse to hire someone solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And LGBT youth remain a uniquely vulnerable population in our schools, yet there is no federal law that explicitly prohibits discrimination, including harassment, in public schools on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, according to the most recent hate crimes statistics from the FBI, members of the LGBT community continue to face high levels of serious bias-motivated crimes because of their sexual orientation.

Friday's vote by the U.N. Human Rights Council was a great first step. We certainly hope it is the start of a trend toward a greater global recognition that LGBT rights are really core human rights. That is the position that the ACLU will certainly be working to advance here at home.

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