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LGBTQ Issues Focus of Attention at UN Human Rights Council

Earlier today, Vitit Muntarbhorn, the newly appointed United Nations Independent Expert for the protection of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), delivered his first report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Occurring during National LGBTQ Pride Month, the delivery of this report marks another momentous occasion for LGBTQ people around the world. It signifies the increased international recognition of the rights of LGBTQ people to be protected from violence and discrimination, and to be treated with dignity and respect. It follows other Human Rights Council actions — the 2011 first resolution on SOGI issues, the 2014 report on violence and the 2016 vote on the creation of the position of the Independent Expert. Each of those moments have been accompanied by significant pushback by anti-LGBTQ forces, yet each time the arguments in favor of equality have prevailed.

“The delivery of this report is another indication that the international momentum for LGBTQ rights is unstoppable,” said Ty Cobb, director of HRC Global. “Time and again we have succeeded in stopping efforts to roll back the hard earned rights we have fought for in recent years,” he added. “No matter what setbacks we may encounter in the United States and around the world, there is clearly a growing consensus, buttressed by international law, that LGBTQ people deserve to live free from violence and discrimination.”

In his report, Muntarbhorn highlighted the key points of his mandate, which include raising awareness of the situation of LGBTQ people worldwide, assessing how to use international human rights instruments to improve the situation, and consulting and working with states and stakeholders to address and mitigate violence towards all sectors of the community, especially those most at risk. During his mandate, Muntarbhorn will address six main areas:  decriminalization, anti-discrimination measures, legal recognition of gender identity, destigmatization, education and empathy, and inclusion.

The report was delivered during a robust question and answer session with member states, with more than 20 countries making statements for and against human rights protections for LGBTQ people. A member of the U.S. mission to the council welcomed the report, saying, “We should all be able to agree that every person should deserve to live their lives as their authentic self and to do so without fear of violence or discrimination.”

Also today, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, delivered a much anticipated speech where she called for reforms of the Human Rights Council. Some observers had feared that the U.S.would call for a withdrawal from the Council, and there had been a major effort to prevent that from happening. HRC presented testimony to Congress on the harm that such withdrawal would do to LGBTQ people worldwide and also issued a statement ahead of her speech. While reiterating U.S. commitment to protecting human rights worldwide as a matter of peace and security, and commenting that there is “no room for cultural relativism” when it comes to the issue of women’s rights, Hayley did not mention LGBTQ people in her remarks.