Today marks the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration expresses a fundamental political and moral consensus about the value of being human, and the respect and dignity each of us is entitled to receive from our governments. The Declaration itself is not a binding legal document, but rather a statement of values cherished by most: the rights to liberty and equality for all people; the aspiration of all to live in a world of peace and security; the agreement that torturing and arresting another human being simply because of who they are or what they believe is repulsive, and incompatible with the Declaration's promotion of respect for human dignity as a mandate for all.
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly consisted of 56 countries. When they voted 48-0 to ratify the Universal Declaration (8 abstained), few could have imagined the impact it would have on the lives of sexual minorities around the world. Yet, it has profoundly shaped the context and ability of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people and all sexual minorities to make our claims to for freedom.
Recounting all of the progress made by LGBT people over the last 60 years is, fortunately, well beyond a brief call to action. Suffice it to say that 60 years ago, only a handful of identifiable groups that we now categorize as “LGBT” existed – and only one, Centre for Culture and Leisure (COC) from the Netherlands – continues today with its work. Today, thousands of LGBT rights, social and service groups exist to promote and support an increasingly visible global movement. Brazil alone has more than 300 LGBT-focused organizations and grassroots groups.
Collectively we have changed the laws and policies of thousands of national and local governments, held public demonstrations in innumerable cities and towns, and made our mark in some way on nearly all nations of the world. These powerful changes have transcended any one region or continent. And our mark has been made at the United Nations itself, where countries such as Brazil, France, Norway, New Zealand, and others have taken leadership in moving human rights discussions to the realm of sexuality and gender. Slowly, but quite surely, other nations are joining the call for LGBT equality.
And, in November 2006, LGBT people acquired our own foundational document, referred to as the Yogyakarta Principles – a document that compiles the specific rights to which LGBT people are already entitled under international law. The right to be free from arrest and detention simply because of our sexual orientation or gender identity. The right to police protection when we are abused. The right to an education and an educational environment free of homophobia. The right to a job that fits our skills and talents, rather than being cast into stereotypic trades or no job at all. The right to health care and treatment that addresses our unique needs. The right to equality. The right to speak our minds and to object to policies and government decrees that harm us. The right to dignity and respect.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission works day to day with LGBT groups and allies around the world to make the promises of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a reality. We know there is still so much to be done, and that the price of our visibility is, predictably, a backlash of violence and oppression.
But we also know and believe in two fundamental realities: First, the world will continue to change, bringing greater respect for our lives and contributions to society. And, second, that no single organization or person can do it alone. We rely on and need collective action and the support of each other.
So today, if you have not already, take another step toward making the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a reality:
- Send a note of your support to a group half way around the world.
- Join IGLHRC's action alert list, or the action alert list of another human rights group of your choice, and write those emails and letters to support our community in times of crisis.
- Make a financial contribution to an LGBT group.
In the coming week or so, the French government will submit a statement to the UN General Assembly (now comprising 192 member states) condemning criminalization of homosexuality and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. If your government has signed on to the initiative (look out for an update on the IGLHRC website next week), write to thank them for that support. If they have not (the US has still not signed on), write to demand to know why.
There are many, many other ways to move us all forward. The point is to do more.
And, if we all commit today to take yet another step, there is no doubt that next year – when we commemorate the 61st anniversary of the Declaration and the 3rd anniversary of the Yogykarta Principles, we will see that we have, collectively, brought the world one step closer to freedom and dignity for LGBT people. Of this I am certain.
Paula L. Ettelbrick
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
Published on December 10, 2008 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization