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Author Picture By - Sep 29, 2016

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*This post is co-authored by the UN Foundation’s Ryan Kaminski.

 Last week, the United Nations held its highest-level meeting ever on LGBT human rights as thousands of global luminaries, grassroots advocates, and business leaders crossed an eye-catching new rainbow pathway leading into UN Headquarters, embodying the diversity and resilience of the global LGBT community.

At the UN for the start of the UN General Assembly, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addressed a packed chamber as part of a prominent international panel including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Chilean President Michele Bachelet, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, the Netherlands’ Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, and celebrated Belizean LGBT advocate Caleb Orozco.

 Four key themes emerged during the meeting:

The UN as an invaluable voice on LGBT human rights

Vice President Biden congratulated the Secretary-General, noting that the UN has been a “clarion voice” for action on LGBT human rights. “You began a conversation and legitimized a discussion in a way very few other leaders in the world would be able to do leading this body,” the Vice President said to the outgoing Secretary-General.

Recent groundbreaking efforts on LGBT human rights, including the first UN Security Council action on sexual orientation as well as the creation of a new UN independent expert role on sexual orientation and gender identity by the UN Human Rights Council, were spotlighted.  The Secretary-General also praised the impact of the UN Free and Equal campaign, a global public information campaign of the UN Human Rights Office on LGBT equality.

LGBT rights are human rights and universal

The UN Secretary-General pointedly and directly dismissed attempts to use culture and religion to deny LGBT rights asking, “Is you religion or culture so weak that you need to deprive others of their fundamental human rights?” Vice President Biden reiterated that LGBT rights are about respecting the inherent dignity of everyone. “No one should be killed or targeted by violence because of who they love, it’s a simple as that,” he said. President Bachelet also declared, “Fighting for LGBT rights is fighting for human rights.”

The need to soberly address the devastating social impact of LGBT discrimination

 Speakers also repeatedly addressed specific examples of LGBT discrimination impacting millions worldwide such as the bullying of youth, anti-transgender violence, and the spread of state-sponsored harassment and violence against LGBT persons. Foreign Minister Koenders discussed the impacts of such discrimination, including heighted risks of youth suicide. Vice President Biden also noted shortcomings in the United States where in 30 states someone can be legally fired for being gay. Caleb Orozco also provided a striking, real-world window to backlash – ranging from anti-gay bashing to death threats – stemming from his successful campaign to overturn Belize’s anti-sodomy law.

The need to join together on a path to equality

Vice President Biden reiterated “the road ahead is long,” and called on different actors within the international community to “do what you are already doing with an even greater sense of urgency” in support of LGBT rights and equality. Prime Minister Erna Solberg emphasized that that a central plank of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the principle of leaving no one behind, and this should include the LGBT community. President Bachelet summarized this point, noting, “The central message of equality in the UN Free and Equal campaign…must prevail for all human beings and permanently inspire the work of this organization.”

To learn more about the UN Free & Equal campaign, visit https://www.unfe.org/.

[Photo: UN Free & Equal campaign]

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