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UN experts urge States to uphold the ideal of sport that is inclusive of LGBT and intersex persons

31 October 2023

GENEVA (31 October 2023) – Expressing grave concern about structural barriers to sport faced by women and girls in all of their diversity, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and other gender diverse persons and intersex persons, a group of UN experts* today issued a policy position urging States and other stakeholders to respect the right of all to participate in cultural life through sports and games and to tackle discrimination against, and enforcement of equal treatment of all athletes, especially women and girls in all their diversity, LGBT and intersex persons.

They also urged States to review standards of inclusion of intersex and trans persons to ensure compliance with human rights obligations and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Ahead of the Sporting Chance Forum that is part of the UN’s yearlong commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the experts noted deep inequalities that continue to limit the access of these communities and populations to the practice of sport. These range from structural barriers in accessing sport facilities, training, and sports programmes, to the exclusion that is facilitated by gender and body stereotypes or bullying and harassment at individual or collective level, such as homophobic chanting in sports stadiums and online.

The experts also expressed concern at attempts to use the male-female categorisation in sport to argue for the exclusion of trans women and women with intersex variations from female categories, and the recent intensification and instrumentalisation of this debate, which has led to the adoption of restrictive measures in law and public policy by State institutions and sporting bodies alike.

“Categoric exclusions of trans and intersex women from women’s sports is a prima facie violation of human rights obligations under the principle of non-discrimination, and their right to privacy,” the experts said. “We are also deeply worried by the accompanying, oftentimes offensive, and even hateful targeting of trans and intersex persons in social media and public discourse, especially as it links to their sense of self and bodily autonomy, as those actions impact their physical and mental integrity,” they said.

“The notion of fairness is inextricable to the practice of sport, and the recognition of differences between human bodies may be relevant to protect and promote fairness in each discipline,” said the experts. They said States and sports organisations must remain committed to fairness of competition by also considering relevant factors that may impact participation of persons based on categories protected under international human rights law, including sex characteristics, sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This includes the requirement to adopt human rights-based approaches in the evaluation of bids for countries that seek to hold mega events, they said.

“We are convinced that sports have the power to change perceptions, prejudices, and behaviours: it must not be used to reinforce them,” the experts said. “We therefore urge sporting bodies at the elite level to consider the implications of their decisions not only for LGBT and intersex athletes but, equally importantly, the impact that those decisions will have on LGBT and intersex persons participating in sports at all levels, as well as general social perceptions, and on the ideal of inclusive sport.”

They recalled that sport has the remarkable potential to bring people together in all their diversity and, at its best, it can be promoted as a universal language that contributes to educating people on the values of respect, diversity, tolerance, and fairness, combat all forms of discrimination and promote social inclusion for all.

This position builds on the recently published broader policy position of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights and the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, related to the participation of LGBT persons in cultural life.

The experts: Alexandra XanthakiSpecial Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Ivana Radačić (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Melissa Upreti, and Meskerem Geset Techane, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Damilola Olawuyi (Chairperson), Robert McCorquodale (Vice-Chairperson), Elżbieta Karska, Fernanda Hopenhaym, and Pichamon Yeophantong, Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

The experts are 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.

For additional information and media requests please contact the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (IE SOGI) at [email protected].

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) and Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts

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