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Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity
Discriminatory laws and socio-cultural norms continue to marginalize and exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender-diverse persons from education, health care, housing, employment and occupation, and other sectors. This environment of exclusion lends itself to violence and discrimination. Exclusion also leads to inequality of opportunity and of access to resources.
Twelve UN entities expressed concern about these issues in a joint statement released in 2015: “Discrimination and violence contribute to the marginalization of LGBTI people and their vulnerability to ill health including HIV infection, yet they face denial of care, discriminatory attitudes and pathologization in medical and other settings... The exclusion of LGBTI people from the design, implementation and monitoring of laws and policies that affect them perpetuates their social and economic marginalization.”
Political campaigns, parliamentary debates and public manifestations reveal social prejudice and misconceptions about the nature and moral character of LGBT persons in all regions of the world. Ultraconservative and ultranationalist groups are also on the rise, reclaiming so-called identities at the expense of sexual and gender minorities, challenging advances, and preventing the development of laws and policies inclusive of LGBT people. LGBT issues are often instrumentalized by political and religious leaders as a threat to national cohesion, culture and tradition, in particular during periods of political and socio-economic instability.
LGBTI persons become the “other”, the “foreign”, whose sole purpose is to undermine the national project from within. All these have an impact on the social inclusion of LGBT individuals, negatively affecting their access to health care, education, housing, employment, political participation, and personal security and freedom from violence.
At school, LGBT pupils face abuse, including physical violence, social isolation, humiliation, and death threats that result in feelings of unsafety, missed school days, and reduced chances of academic success. Due to such abuse in educational settings, LGBT youth are more likely to commit suicide than others.
In the working world, LGBT persons also face discrimination and abuse in all regions and in all stages of the employment cycle: hiring, advancement, training, compensation and termination, and in the implementation of benefits throughout. As a result, LGBT people are forced to conceal their sexual orientation and gender identity, which can lead to considerable anxiety and loss of productivity.
LGBT people also face discrimination in access to housing. In addition, exclusion from homes and communities leads to a disproportionate representation of LGBT people among the homeless. They also face discrimination in accessing shelters, and further exclusion, criminalization and stigma because they are homeless.
LGBT persons also face health disparities: higher rates of breast and cervical cancer and HIV infection, and of mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide. Barriers such as the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activities and pathologisation too often render health services unavailable, inaccessible, or unacceptable. Far too often, LGBT people also face discriminatory attitudes of health-care providers, and disrespect or violation of medical privacy that deter them from seeking services.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities prevalent worldwide. The response to the pandemic reproduces and exacerbates the patterns of discrimination, social exclusion and violence. The existence of criminalization laws, for example, further exposes LGBT persons to police abuse and arbitrary arrest or detention, and deters them from fully accessing aid programs and services put in place by States. While contributing to social isolation recommendations by staying at home, LGBT children, youths and elders are forced to endure prolonged exposure to unaccepting family members, which aggravates rates of domestic violence, physical and emotional abuse, as well as damage to mental health. In many jurisdictions, LGBT persons overwhelmingly rely on informal economies heavily affected by COVID-19 restrictions. The reallocation of health resources has also intensified shortages of antiretrovirals for those living with HIV, and impacted the ability of trans men and women to receive hormonal therapy or gender-affirming care.
Further, the pandemic has created a context conducive to increased persecution. Hate speech inciting violence against LGBT persons has been on the rise, including discourse by prominent political or religious leaders blaming the pandemic on the existence of LGBT persons. Some States have also enacted measures which intentionally target LGBT persons under the guise of public health.
Learn more about an LGBT-inclusive response to COVID
Social inclusion requires dismantling all legislation that criminalizes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, and that negates a person’s identity. It also requires urgent measures to dismantle the systems of repression that enforce the idea that diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity is somehow harmful to society, that LGBT people are somehow disordered, or that their identities are criminal.
States must also adopt a robust legal framework protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination in all sectors, and prevent discrimination in the fields of health, education, employment, housing, poverty, and access to justice, among others. Further, States should adopt comprehensive programmes and plans, adopt measures of sensitization and training of State agent and service personnel, and ensure access to justice and effective remedies to victims. Measures of commemoration and celebration of human diversity also send a strong message of inclusion, belonging, and love.
All measures adopted by the State must recognize the intersectional nature of discrimination and exclusion, address their root causes, and ensure meaningful participation of different peoples in decision-making processes.
Across the world, State and non-State entities are designing and implementing creative strategies and frameworks to promote the social inclusion of LGBT people. Some States have passed legislation explicitly protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing and access to social security.
In addition, several United Nations initiatives foster inclusion in various fields. For example:
Additionally, in recent years, some States, regional human rights bodies, and multilateral institutions such as the UN have made efforts to increase the level of knowledge about LGBT people and the discrimination and violence they face. Governments are increasingly including aspects of sexual orientation and gender in routine data collection.
Data is needed to shed light on the nature and extent of violence and discrimination against LGBT people, dispel myths and stereotypes that feed stigma and discrimination, and aid in the formulation of state measures that incorporate relevant communities.
The Independent Expert’s October 2019 report to the UN General Assembly takes a look at social, cultural and economic inclusion of LGBTI persons. Addressing their social and economic rights is key to addressing violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The report discusses the dynamics of inclusion and presents conclusions and recommendations for moving forward.
The June 2019 report to the Human Rights Council discusses the types of data relevant to assess violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It maps what data are already being collected, by whom, and for what purpose. The report points out key human rights safeguards that must be taken into consideration when collecting and using data, and provides recommendations to States and other relevant stakeholders.
A public consultation served as one of the channels through which the Independent Expert collected views and inputs to inform this report on data to the 41st session of the Human Rights Council.
1. Report of the IE SOGI to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/38/43), 2018.