About LGBTI people and human rights

Discrimination against LGBTI people undermines the human rights principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet discrimination and violence against people in the LGBTI community are all too common. Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attitudes remain deeply embedded in many cultures around the world.

Multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination

In a human rights context, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face both common and distinct challenges. Intersex people (those born with atypical sex characteristics) suffer some of the same kinds of human rights violations as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, people. They also face institutional violence within healthcare systems, with lifelong consequences to their physical and psychological health. Read more about Intersex people and the human rights violations they face.

All States are obligated under International human rights law to promote and protect the human rights of all persons without discrimination. Yet in many countries, laws against cross dressing are used to punish transgender people on the basis of their gender identity and expression. Additionally, in 70 countries, discriminatory laws criminalize private, consensual same-sex relationships.

As a result, LGBT individuals are exposed to the risk of arrest, blackmail, extortion, stigma, discrimination, violence and, in at least five countries, the death penalty.

LGBTI discrimination: a pressing concern

“So long as people face criminalization, bias and violence based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, we must redouble our efforts to end this violations,” Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, on 25 September 2018.

United Nations human rights mechanisms have expressed concerns about these violations since the early 1990s. These mechanisms include the treaty bodies established to monitor States’ compliance with international human rights treaties, Special Rapporteurs, and other Independent Experts appointed by the Human Rights Council. For decades, several High Commissioners for Human Rights, UN Secretaries-General and other senior UN officials have expressed similar concerns.

See more speeches and statements

Core legal obligations of States to protect LGBTI people

Protecting LGBTI people from violence and discrimination does not require a new set of human rights laws or standards. States are legally required to safeguard the human rights of LGBTI people. This is well established in international human rights law. It is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties.

The core legal obligations of States with respect to protecting the human rights of LGBT people include obligations to:

  • Protect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence
  • Prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
  • Repeal laws criminalizing same sex relations and transgender people
  • Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Safeguard freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly for LGBTI people

Learn more about the source and scope of the legal obligations of States in respect of the rights of LGBTI people

Advances towards LGBTI equality

In recent years, many States have strengthened human rights protection for LGBTI people including by:

  • Decriminalizing same sex relations
  • Adopting laws banning discrimination
  • Penalizing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crimes
  • Granting recognition of same-sex relationships, and ensuring that transgender individuals are able to obtain identity documents that reflect their preferred gender without abusive requirements
  • Putting in place training programmes for police, prison staff, teachers, social workers and caregivers to better serve the LGBTI community
  • Anti-bullying initiatives in many schools

Learn more about what States are doing to advance LGBTI equality