Jul 26 2013 (IPS) - Although the 193-member U.N. General Assembly remains sharply divided over gay and lesbian rights, the U.N. human rights office Friday launched an unprecedented global public education campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.
“Free & Equal,” a year-long project that will aim to raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, is the first campaign of its kind launched by the United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay announced.
The situation regarding LGBT rights remains uneven in various countries, Pillay noted. “In more than a third of the world’s countries, consensual, same-sex conduct remains a criminal offence—exposing people to the risk of arrest and imprisonment, hard labour, even, in five countries, the death penalty just because of who they are and whom they love,” Pillay explained.
Homosexuality, though broadly accepted in North America, the European Union and much of Latin America, has been rejected in many Muslim countries, in Africa as well as parts of Asia and Russia, according to a survey of 39 countries by the Pew Research Center.
This international divide is echoed by the U.N. General Assembly’s dismissal of creating an international day to promote LGBT rights, though it has declared over 100 commemorative days dedicated to various human rights and social issues.
Despite the lack of support from the General Assembly, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has steadily raised awareness for the LGBT community.
In May, OHCHR and the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) hosted a press conference to commemorate International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO),, but without the blessings of the General Assembly.
The campaign also follows an OHCHR report published in December 2011, which was the first official U.N. report that documented violence and discrimination against LGBT people.
Pillay stressed that the “Free & Equal” campaign is critical because the widespread discrimination against people who are LGBT is a violation of universal human rights. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights – no exceptions, no-one left behind,” Pillay said.
“Yet it’s a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and widespread discrimination on a daily basis.”
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who joined Pillay in Cape Town to launch the campaign, noted that he could not worship “a homophobic God,” expressing his support of the campaign.
The recent brutal killings of lesbians in South Africa, despite strong laws in the country when it comes to protecting the rights of LGBT people, have shown that “people are literally paying for their love with their lives,” Pillay noted.
The U.N. campaign will point to the need for legal reforms as well as public education to counter homophobia and transphobia over the next year.