At an event held at United Nations Headquarters to mark Human Rights Day, experts from the United Nations and civil society highlighted the human rights impact of homophobic bullying and related violence and discrimination against young people because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Every year, bullying of this kind causes many children and adolescents to become depressed and drop out of school, even, in some cases, to commit suicide.
Judy Shepard, the mother of a young man murdered in an anti-gay crime in the United States. in 1998, told the gathering that people with different sexual identities and orientations are all human beings with similar aspirations. Anti-gay violence “is hate, it’s ignorance to single out a group of people,” said Shepard, who with her husband founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation after their son was killed.
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, linked the prevalence of homophobic bullying to the wider problem of discriminatory attitudes in society at large, highlighting the role and responsibilities of States to tackle prejudice through legal reform, education and the dissemination of information.
“In many countries, discrimination towards gay and lesbian people is hardwired into the law,” Mr Šimonović said. “We know from experience that discriminatory laws reinforce and lend legitimacy to discriminatory attitudes at a popular level. If the State treats some people as second class, or second rate, or, worse, criminals, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, it invites members of the public to do the same. The result is an alarming and deeply entrenched pattern of violence and discrimination directed at people who are or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”
Mr Šimonović read a message from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who expressed his dismay at reports of children being subjected to sustained verbal abuse, taunting and serious physical attacks because of their presumed sexual orientation or gender identity.
“This is a moral outrage, a grave violation of human rights and a public health crisis. It is a loss for the entire human family when promising lives are cut short,” Mr Ban said. Noting that States are under a legal obligation to tackle the problem, the Secretary-General explained that, under international human rights law, “All States must take the necessary measures to protect people – all people – from violence and discrimination, including on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Other panellists included Nadine Moawad, Doi Nakpor and Ife Kelly Orazulike, human rights defenders from Lebanon, Thailand and Nigeria respectively, each of whom spoke about the reality of homophobic and transphobia in their own countries and the urgent need for action and education to tackle prejudice and related violence. Philippe Kridelka of UNESCO spoke about a new United Nations initiative aimed at gathering and disseminating examples of good practice in countering homophobic bullying in schools and other educational settings.
The event, which attracted some 300 people, took place on 8 December 2011 and was one of several events organized to mark Human Rights Day 2011. It was cosponsored by a cross-regional group of States with support from Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the UN Human Rights office (OHCHR).
14 December 2011