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Freedom of religion or belief not incompatible with equality for LGBT persons: UN expert

21 June 2023

GENEVA (21 June 2023) – Many religious or belief traditions are inclusive and affirming of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender-diverse (LGBT) persons, a UN expert told the Human Rights Council today.

“Paying attention to the voices and practices of inclusive communities can help to shift narratives claiming that the exercise of freedom of religion or belief is incompatible with the equal enjoyment of human rights by LGBT persons,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Presenting his latest report to the 53rd Session of the Human Rights Council, Madrigal-Borloz said violence, discrimination and exclusion can have severe and negative consequences for the personhood, dignity, and spirituality of LGBT persons.

“They are often marginalised, stigmatised and excluded from religious communities simply because of who they are,” the expert said.

He said religion or belief systems are often deliberately placed in antagonistic positions against the human rights of LGBT persons in social and political discourse, feeding the contention that there is an inherent conflict between them. “In some cases, religious narratives have been deliberately used to justify violence and discrimination – often in defiance of the doctrine of those faiths, and also beyond the scope of the right freedom of religion or belief,” said Madrigal-Borloz. 

The expert underscored that the right to freedom of religion or belief must not be used as an excuse for violence or discriminatory denial of the human rights of LGBT persons. “Violent and discriminatory positions of prejudice are beyond the international legal protections of religious or other beliefs,” he said.

The expert received many submissions in his call for inputs raising concerns about religious or belief leaders fueling disinformation, hate speech, and/or intolerance against LGBT persons, such as scapegoating them for controversies, positing them as a threat to the traditional family, and interpreting religious doctrines to exclude and promote violence and discrimination against homosexuality and gender nonconformity. “LGBT persons can be especially vulnerable to hate speech, because the constant exposure to it can lead to exile, emotional distress, and suicidality,” the expert said.

Madrigal-Borloz said embracing spirituality and faith is a path that must be available to all, including all persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

“Human beings often long for a sense of purpose in their lives. For a very large proportion of humanity, spirituality is a fundamental part of this quest,” the UN expert said. “The right to freedom of religion or belief is a shield to protect the lawful manifestation of personal convictions, as well as to protect the right not to be part of a particular belief or subjected to human rights violations claimed to be justified by it.”


Victor Madrigal-Borloz is the UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity

The Independent Expert is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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