U.N. (But Not the U.S.) Comes Out Big for Gay Rights
The United Nations General Assembly in New York is poised to take a historic step for LGBT rights today with its first-ever statement affirming that sexual orientation and gender identity are included in human rights protections.
It was signed by representatives of 60 countries from all geographic regions - not including the United States.
The non-binding statement builds on established international human rights law and condemns violence, harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It is expected to be webcast here at a time dependent on the schedule of business in the General Assembly.
During a panel Wednesday evening at the LGBT Center in the West Village, LGBT rights activists from eight countries hailed the importance of the symbolic statement.
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"For us in the former Soviet Union, I feel often that LGBT people are invisible and don't have a voice," said Anna Kirey from Kyrgyzstan. "The experience here was really amazing for me because I actually had a voice, and the post-Soviet government had to respond to me and had to talk to me because it's a setting where they are accountable."
Activists hope the endorsement in the General Assembly, the chief UN organ, can improve a landscape scarred by hundreds of killings in Brazil each year, potential legislation to criminalize homosexuality in Burundi, and the religious incitement of anti-gay violence in Nigeria.
More than 80 countries still criminalize homosexuality. Over half derive the prohibition from a British colonial era law that viewed conquered cultures' sexual mores with suspicion, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.
"Of course, there are many things to do beyond," said Louis-Georges Tin of France, an instrumental backer of the statement. "Today and tomorrow are a symbolic day, but only a step in a long-term process, and we all know that it's going to take a lot of time."
As evidence of the long haul ahead, the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference is expected to present a counter statement on Thursday. The countries, led by Egypt, view the pro-gay statement as promising dubious new rights not grounded in fact. The Vatican also opposes the document.
However, LGBT rights activists also hold their own faith in a prevailing natural order.
"To be honest, I believe in contamination," said Tin. "Homosexuality is supposed to be a disease, and perhaps homophobia as well, so we have to choose the good one."
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