UN Faith Coalition Urges Protections for Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity

A growing coalition for decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity

Media Release
December 17, 2010
Contact: Ann Craig (213)-703-1365 craig@glaad.org<mailto:craig@glaad.org>

UN Faith Coalition Urges Protections for Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity

Forty national faith leaders and organizations in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people were convened on December 13 by the Faith Coalition for LGBT Human Rights. The group, meeting across the street from the United Nations at the Church Center for the UN, spoke out strongly against the action of a committee in the UN that removed gay people from a list of groups protected from violent targeting and extrajudicial killing.  The Coalition expressed strong support for Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations, who is expected to propose reinstatement of sexual orientation to the UN resolution on December 20.

The essence of the Resolution is reflected in the following comments by leaders in the Coalition.  The full document can be read on our blog.

Bruce Knotts, Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist UN Office, said, "Thousands of supporters have been called on to contact US State Department officials and the UN to urge the reinstatement of sexual orientation as a protected class.  In addition to this protection, the UN and all countries can add protection for everyone by adopting the Yogyakarta Principles which say, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral to every person’s dignity and humanity and must not be the basis for discrimination or abuse.’"

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, retired bishop from Uganda, said, "As a straight ally to LGBT people, I see how countries in Eastern Africa are increasingly persecuting people because of who they are and who they love, in part, because Evangelicals from the USA come to Uganda and preach against LGBT people. This divides families, communities and countries. The UN removal of sexual orientation from a list of protected groups is one more symptom of a deeply disturbing trend."

Dr. Cindi Love, Executive Director of Soulforce, said, "Imprisoning or executing people for sexual orientation or gender identity does not just violate human rights, it undermines trust, social cohesion, economic development and public health. Trust is vital for cooperation among nations, communities, families and co-workers.  We call on the UN to rebuild this trust by protecting all people who are subject to persecution by unjust laws and mob actions."

Frank Mugisha, head of SMUG (Sexual Minorities of Uganda) said, "The international community must not ignore the warning signs of persecution and genocide.  LGBT people are fleeing from their homes in fear for the lives.  Any law that calls for imprisonment or execution based on sexual orientation or gender identity creates a climate ripe for vigilantes. People of good will must speak out."

Pat Bumgardner, head of the Metropolitan Community Church’s International Committee, said, "All faith traditions support human rights but many faith leaders get cold feet when it comes to LGBT human rights.  It is time for faith leaders to step up and support human rights for all people.
Pastor Joseph Tolton, of The Fellowship, said, African American people of faith understand that LGBT people have always been part of our faith communities.  As part of the African Diaspora, we are saying out loud, that when any of us are targeted, we are all at risk.

Episcopal Canon Albert Ogle, head of St. Paul’s Foundation, said, "When I was in Uganda this year, I saw the needs for pastoral ministry such as Bishop Senyonjo is offering.  Today, we call on all faith leaders to know that much rests on their shoulders.  They need to follow their conscience to take actions to protect LGBT people both in the US and across the globe."

The UN Faith Coalition for LGBT Human Rights is a coalition of the Unitarian Universalist UN Office, Metropolitan Community Church, National Black Justice Coalition, The Fellowship, Union Theological Seminary and St. Paul’s Foundation for Reconciliation.

Senate repeals "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

Today the Senate voted to repeal "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and sent the meseaure to President Obama, who is expected to sign the legislation into law next week.

Please note: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is still in effect and will remain in effect for sixty days after Obama signs the bill into law. Please visit our friends at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for more information.

UN General Assembly Votes To Allow Gays To Be Executed Without Cause

United NationsGay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people were once again subject to the whims of homophobia and religious and cultural extremism this week, thanks to a United Nations vote that removed "sexual orientation" from a resolution that protects people from arbitrary executions. In other words, the UN General Assembly this week voted to allow LGBT people to be executed without cause.

According to the International Gay and Lesbians Human Rights Commission, the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on Social, Cultural and Humanitarian issues removed "sexual orientation" from a resolution addressing extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions this past week in a vote that was overwhelming represented by a majority of African, Middle East and Carribean nations.  For a UN committee that addresses human rights questions that affect people all over the world, by removing protections for LGBT persons from a category of arbitrary executions,  belies the objective and purpose of a committee whose  focus this year is "on the examination of human rights questions," according to its website.

A number of LGBT human rights advocates were surprised by the decidedly lop-sided vote, including Mark Bromley, the chair of the Council on Global Equality, a Washington, D.C. based organization that brings together human rights organizations, LGBT groups, philanthropists and corporate leaders to "encourage a clearer and stronger American voice on human rights concerns impacting LGBT communities around the world."

“I was very surprised by the vote," said Bromley, who had been in contact with the United States Mission to the United Nations delegation all day Tuesday, who were trying to beat back efforts to strip sexual orientation from the resolution.  But because the U.S. supports capital punishment, they usually abstain from voting on this resolution, thus they are in a weakened position with one arm tied behind their backs, according to Bromley. "But that said, the State Department did everything possible to beat back the efforts to repeal protections for LGBT persons," he added.

For further analysis into this story, read Tanya Domi’s latest piece at The New Civil Rights Movement, "UN Vote Allowing Gays To Be Executed Result Of Political, Religious Fundamentalism."

The U.K. gay rights and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said,
“This is a shameful day in United Nations history. It gives a de facto green light to the on-going murder of LGBT people by homophobic regimes, death squads and vigilantes. They will take comfort from the fact that the UN does not endorse the protection of LGBT people against hate-motivated murder.

“The UN vote is in direct defiance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees equal treatment, non-discrimination and the right to life. What is the point of the UN if it refuses to uphold its own humanitarian values and declarations?
“This vote is partly the result of a disturbing homophobic alliance between mostly African and Arab states, often inspired by religious fundamentalism. LGBT people in these countries frequently suffer severe persecution."

In an issued statement explaining the U.S. vote, a representative of the U.S. UN delegation said,

At the outset, let me say that the United States strongly agrees with and appreciates the cosponsors’ efforts to retain language specifically condemning ESAs [extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions] targeting vulnerable groups, particularly members of the LGBT community, and we were dismayed that this reference could not survive an unfriendly amendment.

Bromley expressed great disappointment in losing all the Southern African countries on the vote, including Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Nambia and South Africa, the latter, whose domestic laws and record on LGBT civil rights have held great regard throughout the world.  Nonetheless, according to Bromley, from the days of  former President Thabo Mbeki through present day leader Jacob Zuma, South Africa has been recalcitrant in its opposition to extending human rights to LGBT persons within international legal structures.
Another region that unanimously supported the removal of sexual orientation from the resolution were the Carribean nations.  Most noteworthy was the support from the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica.  Bromley indicated that the U.S.  and human rights groups in the hemisphere have opportunities to forcefully advance LGBT rights through theOrganization of American States (OAS) and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  Brazil and Uruguay are international leaders on LGBT rights and can play a constructive role in bringing Carribean nations into the OAS fold on these issues, according to Bromley.

Middle East countries that principally observe the Muslim religion and its practices, as well as countries whose politics are dominated by Christian fundamentalists, generally oppose LGBT and women’s rights at the UN.  Even the United States has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  Indeed, CEDAW has the most "reservations" filed by the most member states of any international human rights convention on record.  A reservation is a statement made by a State which it purports to exclude or alter the legal effect of certain provisions of a treaty in their application.  According to the  Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights,

A reservation may enable a State to participate in a multilateral treaty in which it would otherwise be unable or unwilling to do so.  States can make reservations to a treaty when they sign, ratify, accept, approve or accede to it.   When a State makes a reservation upon signing, it must confirm the reservation upon ratification, acceptance or approval…a reservation cannot be contrary to the object and purpose of the treaty.

As an LGBT activist or an observer of UN and international politics, it is important for interested persons to understand that religion and culture play a major role in persuading internal bodies to not extend certain human rights to LGBT persons and women on religious and cultural grounds.  These dynamics have created an  international debate between advocates of "cultural relativism"-those who assert primacy of cultural values over human rights and those who are " universalists," who believe rights trump cultural concerns.

The United States Mission to the United Nations has an explanation of the U.S.’s vote.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Andr塚見s Duque for bringing this to our attention.

Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Report Release & Key Points

UPDATED WITH REPORT RELEASE:
SURROGATE TALKING POINTS:

WARNING TO SERVICE MEMBERS:

As the U.S. Senate is poised to take up repeal, service members still cannot come out. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a national, legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT), has a free, confidential hotline for anyone with questions or concerns.  Hotline information and a warning to service members can also be found atwww.SLDN.org/StillAtRisk (the hotline is 202-328-3244 x100.)

A general just approved the separation of an SLDN client serving overseas in the U.S. Air Force.  This service member now faces an administrative separation board.  If the discharge moves forward, the fate of the service member’s career will ultimately fall to Secretary Michael B. Donley, Dept. of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson, and Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel Dr. Clifford L. Stanley.

THE PENTAGON REPORT AND SENATE HEARINGS

(An update will be sent for this section after 2 pm ET / Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010):

This exhaustive report is overwhelmingly positive and constructive.  The Pentagon validated what repeal advocates and social scientists have been saying about open service for over a decade.

Some initial resistance may come from one or more of the service chiefs – the very leaders who will be charged with  implementing this change.  Those chiefs will need to salute and lead in bringing about this needed change.  Fortunately, the chiefs have already made it clear they will do precisely that if Congress acts.  

 KEY REPORT POINTS:

  • When asked about the actual experience of serving in a unit with a co-worker who they believed was gay or lesbian, 92% stated that the unit’s "ability to work together" was "very good," "good," or "neither good nor poor."
  • 89% for those in ARMY combat arms units and 84% for those in MARINE combat arms units.
  • When asked about how having a service member in their immediate unit who said he or she is gay would affect the unit’s ability to "work together to get the job done," 70% of Service members predicted it would have a positive, mixed, or no effect.
  • When asked "in your career, have you ever worked in a unit with a co-worker that you believed to be homosexual," 69% of Service members reported that they had.
  • In communications with gay and lesbian current and former service members, the CRWG repeatedly heard a patriotic desire to serve and defend the Nation, subject to the same rules as everyone else.
  • The CRWG is convinced that our military can do this, even during this time of war.  They do not underestimate the challenges in implementing a change in the law, but neither should we underestimate the ability of our extraordinarily dedicated Service men and women to adapt to such change and continue to provide our Nation with the military capability to accomplish any mission.
  • The CRWG found "the risk of repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell to overall military effectiveness is low."
  • The CRWG believes this to be the "largest, most Comprehensive review of a personnel policy matter which the department of defense has ever undertaken."

 CALL THE SENATE NOW:

  • Congress needs to catch up and the Senate should immediately act to on repeal. 
  • A Pentagon report shows a clear majority of service members are okay serving side by side with their gay comrades. Sen. John McCain, however, rejects those findings and insists repeal language be stripped out of the defense bill. 
  • It is critical that repeal advocates be urging their senators to act in December to pass legislation repealing ‘Don’t Ask’ before Congress goes home for the year.  ACTION ALERT LINK / LANGUAGE BELOW IF ON RADIO/TV: http://bit.ly/dBKRcd

Call both your senators at the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to:

  • Stop using gay and lesbian service members as political pawns.
  • Stand up for national security and all our troops.
  • Pass the defense bill during the Senate’s lame-duck session in December.

 -         As Sec. Gates said, we don’t want to be fighting this in the courts – but if the legislature doesn’t do its job and repeal the law, advocates will continue an aggressive campaign in the judicial branch.

 -         Service members need finality.  We urge the U.S. Senate to act swiftly on repeal now.

 THE KEY FLOOR VOTES TO WATCH:

There will be at least two key votes to watch for when the Senate acts.

  • THE FIRST VOTE: SLDN and other repeal advocates are working to shore up a filibuster proof majority, 60 Senate votes, to proceed again to consideration of the NDAA.

Even with a filibuster proof 60-vote majority, SLDN and our repeal allies will be closely watching for any crippling amendments offered on the floor and a "motion to strike" that could allow repeal opponents to remove the repeal language from the defense bill.

  • THE SECOND VOTE: Sen. John McCain is expected to make an attempt to strike repeal from the larger defense bill.  SLDN is working closely with Senators Joseph Lieberman and Carl Levin to guard against any attempts to strike repeal or weaken its provisions. 

EXAMPLE OF A HARMFUL AMENDMENT: For instance, we will vigorously oppose any amendment to expand the certification process in the "compromise." Opponents of open service may be considering an amendment that would require all of the Joint Chiefs to sign off on the certification process.  This killer amendment is designed to delay open service for years.

 KEY SENATORS WHO NEED TO HEAR FROM REPEAL SUPPORTERS NOW:

 –Susan Collins (R-ME);
–Olympia Snowe (R-ME);
–Mark Pryor (D-AR.);
–Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
–Richard Lugar (R-IN);
–Judd Gregg (R-NH);
–Scott Brown (R-MA)
–George Voinovich (R-OH);
–Kit Bond (R-MO);
–Joe Manchin (D-WV)
–Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
–Mark Kirk (R-IL)
–James Webb (D-VA)