June 27, 2023
By Jill Christianson, UNA-NCA Board Chair

While the United States and many other nations celebrated Pride this June, state sanctioned discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ has expanded, especially in the form of legislation.  

The global backlash on human rights has weaponized attacks on identity and diversity, curtailing the rights and freedoms of the most vulnerable. As the United Nations Human Rights Council convenes its 53rd Session, we must highlight the continued assault on LGBTQ+ rights. For me, this issue is international, national, and personal.

On the UN Front

Volker Türk, the High Commissioner of Human Rights, highlighted that Uganda has recently enacted “profoundly disturbing legislation that further criminalizes homosexuality setting up a particular social group for persecution…”  The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023 enforces the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality,’ and individuals who advocate for LGBTQ+ rights can face penalties of up to 20 years in prison. This legislation has been fueled for several years by American evangelicals; similar proposed legislation has been introduced in Ghana and Kenya. 

The United Nations (UN) must continue to play a crucial role in taking international action to address LGBTQ+ discrimination. On May 16, 2023, forty-four United Nations (UN) human rights experts spoke with one voice as they urged governments to address racism and stigma against LGBTQ+ persons: 

“We call on States to uphold the inherent dignity of all persons, without any distinction, by adopting measures to eradicate racial discrimination, exclusion, intolerance, hatred, bigotry, violence, and stigmatisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender diverse persons.”
The Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, has been an essential catalyst in exposing state-sponsored crimes against LGBTQ+ people. His report to the 53rd Session of the Human Rights Council, “Freedom of religion or belief, and freedom from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” cites numerous examples of violence and discrimination taken under the guise of religious freedom. 

In the United States

Hate knows no boundaries. Even here in the United States, the Human Rights Campaign has documented 525 bills introduced in 41 states this year to restrain LGBTQ+ human rights.  About one-half of these are solely focused on trans people. In response, several organizations are mobilizing to raise awareness.

The Human Rights Campaign has declared a National State of Emergency that details attacks state by state. NAACP has issued a travel advisory for the state of Florida due to systemic attacks on the rights of African Americans, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ people. The ACLU is charting legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, which details the similarities of these bills and their current status.  

But what I find most encouraging is that we have not backed down in celebrating pride, including in states that have advanced such legislation. For example, the pride festival in Franklin, Tennessee, still went on despite state laws discriminating against LGBTQ+ people. 

From a Personal Standpoint

This is about all of us – and how we respond to intolerance and hate.  
As a lesbian, there are always threats that I face. I am protected to a certain extent by my location (a progressive state and town), my race (white), my gender (cisgender), and my income (middle class). Together, we can curb intolerance.

This is the 75th year of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the most ratified treaty in the world. Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the key architects of the Human Rights Treaty, noted that human rights begin in “… places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.” She said, “Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”  

Let’s keep working for local, national, and international progress. As Volker Türk puts it:
Solidarity means all of us. We all need to work in solidarity with LGBTIQ+ activists and their communities everywhere to advance equality and rights. 

Join me in following the UN Free & Equal initiative, which reminds us that love and identity are about all of us. Join me, too, in the coming months as UNA-NCA focuses more on human rights with UN Day in October and our Human Rights Awards in December.  
We’re in this together.

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