In another sign of changing times, the United Nations today announced an unprecedented global public education campaign designed to raise awareness of homophobic violence and discrimination and promote greater respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people everywhere.
Launching the Free & Equal campaign at a press event in Cape Town, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South African Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron at her side, the UN's human rights chief Navi Pillay said that there was an urgent need for a concerted public education effort to tackle homophobia at its roots. "We know from experience that eradicating discrimination requires more than just changes in laws and policies. It takes a change in people's hearts and minds as well," she said.
With this campaign, the UN hopes to accelerate a change in attitudes toward LGBT people by provoking -- and helping to inform -- millions of conversations around the world and across the ideological spectrum. In addition to plain language fact sheets and articles, Free & Equal will generate a stream of creative content, including short videos, graphics and testimony, all designed to dispel common misconceptions and negative stereotypes and encourage people to look at the lives of LGBT people through the eyes of LGBT people themselves, as well as those of their parents, siblings and children. To kick off this theme of family, the campaign previewed "The Story of a Mother From Brazil," a short film telling the story of Edith Modesto, the mother of a young gay man, who shares her journey toward accepting her son.
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Free & Equal is being launched at a time when LGBT communities have seen important legal advances in many countries but face the introduction of an array of repressive new measures in some others. A December 2011 report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (the first official UN report dedicated to the issue) found an alarming pattern of human rights violations directed at LGBT people, from discriminatory practices in the workplace, in schools, in health care and in other settings to criminalization of consensual same-sex relationships, as well as violent, hate-motivated attacks, including killings.
The campaign's message is threefold:
- Human rights really are universal. Everyone, whoever they are and wherever they live, is entitled to the same rights -- and that includes LGBT people. Violence and discrimination against LGBT people, which has been documented in all regions, is unacceptable and illegal under international human rights law.
- LGBT people are just that: people. The United Nations wants to encourage those who have never thought much about this issue, and who might live in parts of the world where sexuality and gender identity are taboo topics, to learn about the lives of LGBT people, their hopes and their fears, and become better informed about the human rights challenges they face.
- Things are getting better. For all the bad news and the inevitable setbacks, the long-term trends are positive. Attitudes are shifting in many parts of the world, and many governments are gradually stepping forward and implementing necessary reforms. Changes that would have seemed impossible 10 or 20 years ago are taking root, and as they do, the balance of opinion both within and among countries is steadily tilting in favor of equality for LGBT people.
At the launch, Pillay described Nelson Mandela as a great source of inspiration for the campaign and recalled his faith in education as the best weapon against prejudice. "He used to say that people are not born hating one another; they learn to hate," recalled the High Commissioner. "And that if people can learn to hate, they can be taught to love -- for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
A number of celebrities with a commitment to equality have already pledged to support Free & Equal by becoming UN equality champions and helping spread campaign messages and materials via social media. These include the U.S. pop star Ricky Martin, South African singer and "Princess of Africa" Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly, and Brazilian hit maker Daniela Mercury. Additional equality champions will be announced as the campaign unfolds.
Free & Equal is an initiative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, being implemented in partnership with the Purpose Foundation, a leader in building global, social media-driven campaigns on human rights-related issues. For more information on the campaign, and to access and share campaign materials, please visit unfe.org or follow the campaign on Facebook (facebook.com/free.equal) or Twitter (@free_equal).