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 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.
“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.”