With a result that “reverberated around the world”, Nicholas Toonen’s complaint against Australia in 1994 heralded the first recognition of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender) equality by the Human Rights Committee.
Speaking in 2011, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated, “Since 1994, more than 30 countries have taken steps to abolish the offence of homosexuality…and in many parts of the world we have witnessed a remarkable shift in public attitudes in favour of greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people.”1
Much of western society has progressed since the 1969 Stonewall Riots and the criminalisation of Alan Turing. But stories still appear of suicides, violent acts of homophobia and of moronic politicians condemning gay persons who are apparently able to wield meteorological disaster in the midst of copulation. And for thousands every day, bullying is a common phenomena in homes, schools and workplaces.
In other parts of the world, similar tales are made worse by state-sanctioned homophobia. Whilst Ugandans can breathe a small sigh of relief as President Museveni refuses to jail homosexuals for life or nail them to a crucifix, Indians are subject to a ban on homosexual acts and Russians, well, just turn on the telly.
But unless you follow #lgbtrights or Peter Tatchell on Twitter, you probably haven’t heard of the UN’s new campaign tackling global homophobia and transphobia. This latest movement by the Human Rights Office is determined to end social prejudice and barbarism towards those who know themselves to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Free & Equal, launched on 26 July 2013, is “a global campaign designed to raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination and to help stop millions of LGBT people being abused for being who they are.”2 The campaign, scheduled to last one year, was introduced by Pillay and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. “A campaign like this”, said Pillay, “is critical right now because of the enormous human rights violations suffered by LGBT people.” Archbishop Tutu was open about his religious views on this matter, saying he “could not worship a homophobic God.”3
Although everyone who supports LGBT rights should be thrilled with this campaign, there are a couple of problems. First, without state freedom and equality, this message won’t be heard or felt by those who need it, or need to be challenge by it, most. Of course, this is the most difficult obstacle as the UN can only urge states to action with no hard-power at all. Second, even if one may live in a “free and equal” state, the message will be filtered through religion, politics and prejudice before being misconstrued, forgotten or flung into the Equality Wheelie-Bin with race and gender. Thus, the road to anti-homophobia will be slower than it has to be.
The responsibility, then, is the individual’s. It’s our decision whether we insist on fighting homophobia or choose to live with it. It’s true the UN can’t enforce such social norms on this multicultural, small blue dot, so it is up to us to stop the guilt, suicidal thoughts, self-loathing and bullying of LGBT people. Even if we’re not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, there are people suffering that are – so we shouldn’t, we can’t, let this campaign pass us by.
If you’re interested in keeping updated with LGBT news, see the links below.
1 UN HUMANRIGHTS, 2011. How gay rights debate began at the UN. [video online] Available at: [Accessed 25 January 2014]
2 UN HUMANRIGHTS, 2013. A History of LGBT rights at the UN. [video online] Available at: <youtube.com/watch?v=XvpHn_zdkTY#t=32> [Accessed 24 January 2014]
3 MaximsNewsPEOPLE, 2013. WorldLeadersTV: “FREE & EQUAL” U.N. CAMPAIGN for LGBT EQUALITY: NAVI PILLAY, DESMOND TUTU. [video online] Available at: <youtube.com/watch?v=IurGhTFrxRI> [Accessed 24 January 2014]
- Guardian Gay Rights News
- Pink News
- Peter Tatchell’s Site
- Amnesty International’s LGBT Network