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Religious Tolerance logo

Re: lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons & transsexuals

2011: UN Human Rights Council support of LGBTs

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We use the acronym "SSM" throughout this section to represent "same-sex marriage"
We use the acronym "LGBT" to refer to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals.

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For decades, the topic of equal rights and protections for LGBT persons has been the 900 pound gorilla in the corridors of the United Nations (UN). It was always present, rarely acknowledged, seldom discussed, and infrequently dealt with publicly.

When the UN General Assembly passed resolution  217 A (III) and thus adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR) over six decades ago on 1948-DEC-10,1,2 it supported many fundamental human rights. For example:

  • Article 1: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

  • Article 2: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. ..."

  • Article 12: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

  • Article 16.1: "Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution."

  • Article 29: "In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society."

Note that while race "colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status" are specifically mentioned in the UDHR, sexual orientation and gender identity are not.

At the time that the UDHR was adopted, most psychiatrists and psychologists viewed same-sex attraction as a disordered state -- a form of mental illness. They had reached this conclusion by including in their studies only lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGBs) who had mental health problems and/or were incarcerated in prison. Understanding of transgender gender identity was in a similar primitive state. It was only during the 1950's that Evelyn Hooker started to study random selections of LGBs. She determined that homosexual and bisexual orientations were not mental illnesses, but were normal and natural sexual expressions for a minority of adults. Two decades later, the American Psychiatric Association dropped homosexual orientation as a type of mental illness. Another two decades later, significant numbers of North American adults fully accepted lesbians, gays, and bisexuals as deserving of equal human rights. Today, transgender persons and transsexuals are also gradually being fully accepted, and a strong majority of adults in the U.S. and Canada support the right of loving, committed same-sex couples to marry.

However, the status of LGBT persons elsewhere in the world can be precarious. Loving, committed same-sex couples are marrying in Canada, in the District of Columbia, in a few states in the U.S., and in a few other countries, surrounded by the love and joy of their friends and family, However, in six predominately Muslim countries shown below in red, LGBT persons are being arrested, tried and executed simply for having the wrong sexual orientation or gender identity, and acting upon it. According to Amnesty International, consensual same-gender sexual activity is a criminal act in 76 countries worldwise. Harassment and discrimination are common in many more locations. Acting on one's sexual orientation or sexual identity is simply not regarded as a human right in many areas of the world.

Worldwide LGBT rights

Map created by the Congressional Quarterly Global Researcher

Brazil had proposed a resolution supporting human rights for LGBT persons in 2003. However, it did not proceed.

In mid-2011, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations finally had the collective will to address LGBT discrimination and oppression. On 2011-JUN-17, the Council passed a declaration that -- for the first time at the UN -- expressed "... grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity."

The resolution calls for a panel discussion during 2012-Spring "... to have constructive, informed and transparent dialogue on the issue of discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against" LGBT persons. 3

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About the Human Rights Council pro-LGBT resolution:

South Africa introduced the declaration. Countries co-sponsoriong the resolution were: Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania,  Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, and Uruguay. Many of these countries, including Canada, did not hold seats on the Human Rights Council at the time of the vote.

The Vatican holds a seat at the UN. However it apparently decided against co-sponsoring this human rights resolution, even though it is a serious moral and ethical concern. Their teaching is that a homosexual orientation, bisexual orientation, and transgender gender identity are disordered states, They have gone on record as stating that some forms of discrimination against lesbians, gays and bisexuals are moral and important to enforce.

The resolution passed by a vote of 23 to 19.

Those countries voting in favor were Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Hungary, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, Thailand, UK, USA, and Uruguay.
Those opposing the resolution were almost entirely either predominately Muslim or African countries: Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Jordan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Moldova, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Uganda.
Those abstaining were: Burkina Faso, China, and Zambia.

Absent countries were Kyrgyzstan and Libya. Libya's membership on the council was suspended prior to the vote.

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Reactions to the passage of the resolution:

The vote was hailed as historic by the U.S. and other sponsors. It was decried by African and predominately Muslim nations. The vote mirrored the reality of LGBT life around the world; marriages of loving, committed LGBT couples are celebrated in North America, South Africa, and some countries in Europe. Same-gender sexual behavior can bring arrest, trial and the death sentence in six predominately Muslim countries.

Pakistan, speaking for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said that the resolution had "nothing to do with fundamental human rights." Nigeria said that the resolution went against the wishes of most Africans.

U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton said:

"This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom the love." 3

Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, a Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs of the U.S. State Department said in a teleconference with members of the media:

"It is the first internationally recognized form of protection for lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual people, and it is based on a very simple and elegant idea that all individuals deserve universal rights. ... we spend all of our time at the Council protecting the universality of human rights, and this is the first time we’ve been able to explicitly extend that protection to LGBT people and with the support of the international community."

"... it includes an expression of grave concern about acts of violence and discrimination that are committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. ...From our vantage point, that was an essential element because there are horrific acts of violence and discrimination that are committed against LGBT people around the world in many places, and sexual orientation is even criminalized in many places. So the extent of support we got for expressing this idea that people deserve to be protected regardless of who they are and who they love and how they want to live their lives was really essential."

"... the operational provision of the resolution instructs the high commissioner for human rights to document discriminatory laws and practices that take place around the world, and the acts of violence that have taken place against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And we’ve asked her to come back and report to the Council, and we hope this is just the beginning of a movement within the international community, within the UN, and at the Human Rights Council where we can work together to further promote and protect the human rights of LGBT people." 4

Later, she said:

"I want to make one preliminary comment about the practical impact in the Human Rights Council and in conversations in the international community, which is simply that it is now on the map as a legitimate topic for those concerned about human rights to be raising and reaffirming internationally. And we think this is a game changer in terms of changing the culture in the – at least at the Human Rights Council, on the topic of protections for LGBT people."

"Prior to today, it was almost a taboo topic. It was so volatile, there was so much animosity around this topic, and frankly, we -– very recently, ... didn’t expect that we would be able to see this kind of a result. And yet because of some leadership from partners around the world and widespread support from Latin American countries in particular and European countries and then particularly the South Africans coming together and taking a risk, the conversation has been changed. ... I think this is a first step in changing the culture, at least the international and diplomatic culture, on this topic as something that is essential to our work. It’s part of our responsibilities. ..."

"... it’s not binding except to the extent it is the beginning of the establishment of a norm. ... it extends the existing principle of universality specifically to LGBT people. So it’s based on something that is widely accepted, it is the core premise of the human rights community and the human rights foundation within the UN, which is that universal – human rights are universal. ... all individuals are endowed with fundamental human rights. We have now simply extended the concept of that universality to include LGBT people. And so it’s more that it is a reinforcement that this norm is, in fact, truly universal, and that in people’s consciousness and in government practice, it must be applied to LGBT people along with everyone else. And so in that sense, it’s – it has a lot of force because it affirms the extension of the existing, widely accepted universality to the group of people, LGBT people.

Suzanne Nossel, a Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs of the U.S. State Department said:

"This is really a paradigmatic example of using the UN system to advance one of President Obama’s top policy priorities. We’ve been able to deliver on broad international support behind an agenda that we have set as a key goal for this Administration."

"This resolution, I think, will be a lifeline to those struggling for their rights around the world who now know that they have the weight of the United Nations behind them, that they’re not alone, that they can turn to the international system for protection. When they’re abused, when they’re subject to violence, they can reach out and the Human Rights Council and the high commissioner for human rights are there to support them."

"... it expands the frontier of human rights protection in a new direction, and it’s a direction that not all accept. ... it was a hotly fought resolution; you could see that from the voted result. But I think getting a majority on -– particularly on the South African-led resolution -- really is a crucial step that will be irreversible. Gay rights have taken their place under the global human rights agenda. Gay rights have arrived at the United Nations as of today."

Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch said:"This Human Rights Council has taken a first bold step into territory previously considered off limits." John Fisher of the LGBT advocacy group ABC International said: "Today's resolution breaks the silence that has been maintained for far too long. It's clear that the resolution will serve as an entry point for further debate at the United Nations.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
  1. The text of the Universal Declaration is at:
  2. The text is available in other languages at:
  3. "In first at UN, human rights body passes resolution against gay discrimination," Associated Press, 2011-JUN-17, at:
  4. "Briefing on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Resolution at UN Human Rights Council," U.S. Department of State teleconference, 2011-JUN-17, at:
  5. Image of the Human Rights Council voting board is at:

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Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-JUN-18
Author: B.A. Robinson
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