As President Obama's newly declared support for marriage equality makes headlines across the country, it serves as a reminder that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals continue to fight for their human rights across the globe. We must build on this forward progress domestically by fighting strongly for full LGBT rights overseas, including in nations where the penalty for being oneself if often death.
Fortunately, the extraordinary leadership at the United Nations is taking the issue of LGBT rights head-on, challenging the community of nations to protect the human rights of everyone. This past March, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared that "the time has come" to make LGBT rights a top priority with the United Nations.
Americans can be proud that the U.S. and the U.N. are working side by side to tackle tough issues and build a more secure, peaceful future. In December 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a historic speech to the U.N., declaring it a "violation of human rights" to commit violence or discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation.
This worldwide fight for human rights is just getting started, but already the U.N. has made significant strides in its response to LGBT human rights violations. Consider a few examples that occurred in the past year alone:
• On March 7, the U.N. Human Rights Council met to discuss human rights violations against the LGBT community. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent a strong video message to the council denouncing violence against LGBT people and called on all nations to be more accepting and to join the global conversation on human rights violations.
• In an address to an African Union summit in late January 2012, the secretary general called upon African leaders to end discrimination against LGBT people in their countries.
• In June 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a historic resolution aimed at spotlighting violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It was the first resolution focused exclusively on the human rights of LGBT persons.
• The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) put together its first-ever study examining the challenges faced by LGBT persons around the world. The report called upon U.N. member states to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality, abolish the death penalty for consensual same-sex relations, and enact comprehensive anti-discrimination laws.
It's a strong beginning, and we must maintain the momentum. Concerned citizens can show support for LGBT rights around the world by signing a petition and thanking Secretary Clinton for her leadership. We need the secretary to continue being a strong force in this effort and to continue engaging the U.N. on the topic. As we note a day for the history books this week, let us also continue talking about LGBT rights at the U.N. and on the world stage.