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The World’s Most Prominent LGBT Rights Advocate Just Gave a Speech in Sochi.

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Ban Ki Moon is in Sochi for the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Today, he addressed the International Olympic Committee, which was the first time for a UN Secretary General. Just four minutes into a thirty minute keynote, the UN chief dropped his first reference to LGBT equality. Then came this:

Sports can help advance human rights.

Last year, the United Nations marked the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by focusing on the power of sport.  We are all aware of the need to combat ugly and hurtful racist displays at sporting matches.

And this past December, the theme of Human Rights Day was “Sport comes out against homophobia.”

Many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice.

We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.

I know that Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter enshrines the IOC’s opposition to any form of discrimination.  The United Nations stands strongly behind our own “Free and Equal” campaign, and I look forward to working with the IOC, Governments and other partners around the world to build societies of equality and tolerance.

So there you have it. Ban Ki Moon traveled to the belly of the beast and in a speech about sports and peace,  and inserted powerful references to LGBT equality. Why did he take a stand?

As I wrote earlier in the week, LGBT equality has been one of Ban Ki Moon’s signature issues at the United Nations. Prior to his tenure, the only branches of the UN you saw consistently advocating for LGBT equality were those dealing with HIV/AIDS. But it was under the leadership of Ban Ki Moon that addressing LGBT discrimination shifted from a priority for health advocates to a mainstream issue throughout the entire United Nations.

Ban Ki Moon regularly speaks out on LGBT issues. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has compiled a list of no fewer than 25 speeches and statements on the issue since the 2010 launch of the UN’s “Free and Equal” campaign to end discrimination  based on sexual preference and gender identity.

For this advocacy, he has earned the respect and praise of mainstream LGBT rights organizations. One of them, All Out, created this video remix of Ban Ki Moon’s address to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012, which was the first time that UN member states discussed LGBT issues in a formal setting under UN auspices. Some member states from conservative countries staged a walkout prior to his remarks. But as All Out says, Ban Ki Moon had the last word.

Ban’s remarks in Sochi did not directly blast Vladimir Putin for Russia’s abominable human rights record. That’s just not his style. (He’s a diplomat, after all.) But the fact that such a powerful advocate for LGBT rights raised this issue in such a prominent setting on the eve of the Olympics sends just the right message.


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