The human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are violated every day, in ways ranging from discrimination and violation of the right to form a family to torture and execution. While international law recognizes the human rights, freedom, and equality of every human being, many countries and leaders claim that LGBTI people do not qualify for basic human rights. Laws criminalizing consensual sex between adults of the same sex exist on six continents, and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status is legal in most countries.
Human rights law and ideals are some of the most powerful tools available, although using them can be complicated. For example, politicians in the United States talk about human rights violations in other countries but do not like to recognize that injustice at home violates international law. In Uganda, many politicians try to reject human rights as a “Western” concept, but LGBTI activists have been able to raise support by drawing attention to human rights violations.
In the face of these challenges, advocates—both LGBTI and allied—are working at the international level to ensure respect for LGBTI human rights. At intergovernmental organizations like the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization of American States, advocates are pushing for explicit recognition and protection of LGBTI people and their human rights. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights launched an initiative in 2013 called Free & Equal, a global education campaign working to destigmatize LGBTI people and promote respect.
In 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, convened the UN’s first ever meeting devoted to the human rights of intersex people around the globe. Amidst one of the greatest refugee crises in history, the UN Security Council had another first: it held its first ever meeting on LGBTI security concerns related to the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Many of the most dangerous places in the world for LGBTI people are also the places with the worst human rights situations in general. Human Rights Watch has highlighted violations of LGBTI human rights in the context of widespread rights abuses in Gambia.
Despite progress on the recognition of LGBTI people’s human rights, violence, discrimination, and other rights violations are commonplace around the world. Thankfully, local activists and grassroots organizations are fighting for the recognition and defense of LGBTI people’s basic human rights. You can learn more about their work here.