UN Committee Includes Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity as Grounds for Non-Discrimination

On May 25, 2009, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment No. 20, about the meaning of equality in their treaty, that responded to a recommendation from IGLHRC, ARC International, and the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) to include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for non-discrimination. The three organizations made this recommendation in a joint submission to the committee in December 2008. The committee is a body of independent experts that oversees states’ compliance with the UN Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

The General Comment says that states “should ensure that a person’s sexual orientation is not a barrier to realizing Covenant rights, for example, in accessing survivor’s pension rights,” and that “persons who are transgender, transsexual or intersex often face serious human rights violations, such as harassment in schools or in the work place.”

The comment also references the Yogyakarta Principles, which describe how international human rights law applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. This is the first time that a treaty body has mentioned gender identity and the Yogyakarta Principles in a General Comment, and that sexual orientation and gender identity will be used as criteria to consider states’ compliance with this treaty. Click here to read the joint NGO submission and here to read the General Comment( Microsoft Word Document).