Can The United Nations Stop Homophobia?

5.14.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

And should it start in its own backyard?

The United Nations has spent 60 years taking down tyrants the world over, from El Salvador to Libya, from Iraq to Serbia. Their 1979 Convention on Women's Rights helped raise awareness of and combat discrimination against women everywhere. And the United Nation threw its weight behind taking down apartheid in South Africa. And it returned again once to help the ruling African National Congress craft the Rainbow Nation's new constitution, the world's first to include LGBT rights.

That said, and considering that gay people come in every shape and color and size and nationality, it's only natural the United Nations would take a more leading role in combating international homophobia. To that end, they've just released "The Riddle," a video reminder that same-sex love is still illegal in 76 countries and that 7 countries will kill people just for being gay. But the PSA, which stars Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and a slew of photogenic LGBT people, isn't all dreary statistics. It delivers an unequivocal message from the UN to LGBT people, "You are not alone." And it ends with a vow, "We will build a world that is free and equal."

Secretary-General Ban has been increasingly vocal on the issue of gay rights as of late. Last month he said the world's government have a "legal duty" to extend LGBT rights. "We must institutionalize our efforts to address a discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity," he said at the Oslo Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. "Some will oppose change. They may invoke culture, tradition or religion to defend the status quo. Such arguments have been used to try to justify slavery, child marriage, rape in marriage and female genital mutilation. I respect culture, tradition and religion – but they can never justify the denial of basic rights."

He went on, "My promise to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the human family is this: I am with you."

Many readers will immediately think this message is directed at places like Iran and Jamaica, places known for their homophobic cultures, but let's not forget one of the UN's very own, one of the permanent members of the its Security Council, is violating LGBT rights, Russia.

Russia's currently the epicenter for an increasingly heated tug-of-war between conservatives and equality. Just today officials in Moscow, Russia's capital city, refused yet again to let LGBT activists hold a pride parade. That's because the city council last year passed a 100 year ban on such displays of self-pride, displays that are also banned in St. Petersburg, where lawmakers have banned anything even remotely gay, including the rainbow flag. Surely this environment had something to do with the fatal anti-gay attack on 23-year old Vladislav Tornovoi in the southern city of Volgograd last weekend. And what of LGBT discrimination here in the States, where it's still perfectly legal in some states for employers to sack someone for being gay, lesbian, bi or transgender? Can the UN wave a magic wand or sprinkle fairy dust to make that ugly, wicked reality into something more charming? Not overnight, and not with anything remotely enchanted, but if the Ban and the UN really want to send a message, they'll make sure to send one to their most trusted allies first.

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