On Tuesday, the United Nations restored an LGBT provision to a resolution that opposes the unjustified killing of various minority groups, after it had been removed last month at the request of several African and Arab countries.
Human rights advocacy groups were shocked at the removal of the provision of sexual orientation in the U.N. resolution, which seeks protection to vulnerable groups from extrajudicial and arbitrary executions. The resolution originally included language in 2008 that explicitly protected LGBT people, but which was taken out this year when Morocco and Mali introduced an amendment to replace it with “discriminatory reasons on any basis.” That amendment passed in November by a 79-70 vote, upsetting many nations and organizations such as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice was credited with introducing a measure to restore the language. “We are going to fight to restore the reference to sexual orientation. We’re going to stand firm on this basic principle,” she vowed on December 10. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon agreed, saying “When there is tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, universal human rights must carry the day.” The U.S. was able to recruit the votes of several member states, including Albania, Rwanda, South Africa, and Colombia, and the vote this time was 93-55, with 27 abstentions. The new resolution was then approved by the General Assembly with 122 in favor, 0 votes against, and 59 nations abstaining. After the vote, Rice commented, “The United Nations General Assembly has sent a clear and resounding message that justice and human rights apply to all individuals regardless of their sexual orientation.”
The message comes at a pivotal time, as LGBT people are persecuted in numerous countries across the world. National Public Radio reports, for example, that many gays and lesbians are increasingly attacked or targeted for punishment in Uganda. A bill has been proposed there that would make “serial offenders” of same-sex acts subject to the death penalty, and one newspaper has published names and addresses of the country’s “top homosexuals,” urging citizens to hang them. Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, saw his own photograph in that paper. Although he was not physically attacked, he said it shook him up. “Homophobia has always existed in Uganda,” he explained. “But I would say it’s greatly increased over the past two years, ever since American evangelicals came to Uganda.”
Although the Associated Press called the debate over LGBT inclusion a struggle to balance different religious and cultural beliefs, the Rev. Pat Bumgardner said, “All faith traditions support human rights but many faith leaders get cold feet when it comes to LGBT human rights. It is time for faith leaders to step up and support human rights for all people.”
GLAAD continues to work with progressive religious figures on this issue, and helped craft a press release for a resolution written by leaders of the UN Faith Coalition for LGBT Human Rights, comprised of forty groups from across the nation. The full resolution from last week’s meeting appears on the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office web site. The Rev. Dr. Cindi Love said, “Laws that criminalize people for sexual orientation and gender identity do not just violate human rights, they hinder social cohesion, economic development and public health. These laws diminish the trust and cooperation among nations, among communities, among families and co-workers that is fundamental to progress in all human endeavors.” In addition to organizing, GLAAD garnered media attention for these advocates.
In an e-mail announcement, Bruce Knotts, Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, praised members of the coalition for their grassroots efforts to create social pressure to support Rice’s amendment. “On December 13th, 2010, the UU-UNO, working together with GLAAD, the Metropolitan Community Church, Integrity, and Union Theological Seminary formed a coalition … We all went out to our constituencies … and it made a difference,” he wrote.
GLAAD is proud to have played a part in this development, and will continue to mobilize the voices of LGBT-inclusive Americans of faith on similar concerns.