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LGBTI Core Group Side Event: Building Back Better – how to create a virtuous circle for inclusion of all LGBTI persons

75th session of the UN General Assembly

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

23 September 2020

Distinguished guests,

I thank the Core Group for its leadership in working to end violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people.

As we mark the 75th anniversary of the UN, the world is facing enormous challenges: a global pandemic, climate catastrophe and global recession. We will only fix these issues if we clearly grasp their causes and differential impacts on people, taking full account of their experiences and needs.

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have fallen heavily on LGBTI people. The pandemic has also shown us the unbearable cost of structural discrimination and inequalities. Social and economic systems that perpetuate oppression and exclusion create pockets of vulnerability that harm everyone.

Stigma and multiple discrimination in health services mean LGBTI people may receive care of poorer quality, or may even stop seeking medical care. Discrimination also means that LGBTI people are more likely to be unemployed and poor: in the US, studies indicate that well over 25% of young people experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTI. Moreover, many in the LGBTI community work in the informal sector, without social protections – again, heightening their vulnerability to harm.

One of the key lessons of COVID-19 is that failure to protect one community constitutes failure to protect us all.

My Office has provided guidance to States and other stakeholders on how to protect LGBTI people in their responses to the pandemic. There have been good examples. In France, the Government funded temporary hotel accommodation to protect people confronted with homophobic violence, and launched an app to facilitate reporting of homophobic and transphobic violence. OutRight Action International, an NGO, set up an emergency COVID fund for grassroots organizations that provided accessible health care, food, housing and other emergency services to LGBTI people.

But we will also have to look ahead, and build back from this pandemic – which gives us an opportunity to build back better.

Every trans, gay or lesbian youth thrown out of school or driven to leave their job is a lost opportunity to build a more cohesive society and more productive economy. At the macro level, as the World Bank has pointed out, the exclusion of LGBT people from national economies costs States millions of dollars.

We can break these cycles. My Office has issued a compendium of more than 200 examples of good practices that protect, respect and fulfil the rights of LGBT and intersex people. We need to build on these tools, as we rebuild our economic and social systems in light of the harm done by COVID-19.

Above all, it is critically important to ensure that LGBTI people and their organizations can meaningfully participate in shaping policies to respond to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. This is the best way to ensure that responses will not leave them behind.

My Office will continue to advocate inclusion in decision-making. We will continue to engage with the private sector to promote the LGBTI Standards of Conduct – including our current work with the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality to produce a tool enabling companies to assess how well they are implementing those standards.

We are also finalising guidance to help activists strengthen their advocacy with the Business sector. And we are proud to run the UN Free and Equal Campaign, which not only highlights the diversity of LGBTI people but also seeks to dispel harmful myths and stereotypes about LGBTI people. We are currently conducting an independent evaluation of the campaign to make it more effective in the pandemic context, and to mobilize new allies in the fight for equality for LGBTI people.

I am heartened to witness the commitment of Member States, as well as many companies and activists. Together, we can build more inclusive, just, prosperous diverse societies where we can all be free to love who we want, and be who we are. 

Thank you.