On May 17, United Nations agencies commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. May 17 was the date back in 1990 that “homosexuality” was removed as a mental disorder from the World Health Organization’s master list of diseases. Since then, it’s been a day of commemoration for many international NGOs, and more recently the United Nations itself.
The administrator of the United Nations Development Program just released this statement which I think a pretty powerful explanation of why equality is not just important for its own sake, but can catalyze important health and development goals as well.
Last month, my country, New Zealand, became the thirteenth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, and the first in the Asia-Pacific region. When the results were announced, lawmakers and onlookers to the historic vote in Parliament began singing a Maori love song in celebration.
In the United States, a majority of the population now believes that same-sex marriage should be legal, and we see a number of states moving in that direction.
Today as we mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, it is tempting to focus on these victories. But so much remains to be done in securing rights for gay, lesbian, and transgendered people, and ensuring they can live lives free from violence, intimidation, and secrecy.
The United Nations agency I head, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is on the ground in over 170 countries and territories, implementing programming which focuses on the rights of all people to access important services and live lives of dignity. Many of the people we work with are excluded from development opportunities specifically because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, contributing to the staggering levels of inequality around the world. Such inequalities impede development progress for society as a whole.
For example, 78 countries criminalize same-sex sexual activity, according to the UNDP-led Global Commission on HIV and the Law. Penalties range from jail sentences to execution. In those Caribbean countries where homosexuality is criminalized, almost one in four men who have sex with men is HIV-positive, compared to one in fifteen in countries where it is not illegal.
Transgendered people often face extreme levels of prejudice and violence, with many countries refusing to acknowledge them as legal persons, by law or by practice. Many are denied the accurate identification documents they need to access basic rights and services including employment, health care, travel, and participation in democratic processes. In some countries, a transgendered person’s very expression of self is a punishable offence, and police may refuse to stop acts of violence against this population.
Through its work in human rights, access to justice, and HIV law reform, UNDP is partnering with government, civil society and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people themselves in many countries to tackle these gross inequities.
In India, UNDP worked with the government to ensure that state safety nets like welfare and pension schemes include transgender people. Thanks in part to a UNDP-supported nationwide campaign against stigma and discrimination in the Philippines, the City Council of Cebu unanimously outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status.
Going forward, UNDP is supporting greater attention to LGBT rights as the international community prepares a post-2015 development agenda. Increasingly, the international community is recognizing that LGBT people, just like the rest of humanity, are entitled to live their lives free from fear, violence, discrimination, persecution, and pervasive inequality.
And finally, here’s a video from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Take a moment out of your day to do something positive for equality! You can find a list of actions here.