POLITICS
08/24/2015 05:56 pm ET

The U.S. And Chile Got The UN Security Council To Talk LGBT Rights

The body had never before held a meeting specifically about global LGBT issues.
<span>U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power gestures as she arrives for a Security Council meeting to vote on
Credit: Jewel Samad/Getty Images
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power gestures as she arrives for a Security Council meeting to vote on the Iran resolution at the U.N. headquarters in New York on July 20, 2015.

WASHINGTON -- The most powerful body at the United Nations on Monday had its first ever conversation about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. 

A group of speakers -- including two gay Middle Eastern survivors of anti-LGBT persecution by the Islamic State militant group, as well as U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and an advocate for global LGBT equality -- addressed an informal gathering of top diplomats whose countries sit on the U.N. Security Council.

The United States and Chile co-sponsored the event, which was unprecedented for the Security Council, a number of whose member states are notoriously intolerant of LGBT people. The event's organizers, mindful of the diplomatic sensitivities that accompany discussions of LGBT issues, classified the event as an Arria-formula meeting -- a type of unofficial, confidential and non-mandatory gathering of Security Council members.

Thirteen of the 15 current Security Council member states attended Monday's meeting, a U.N. diplomat in attendance told The Huffington Post. Angola and Chad were the only countries that skipped the event.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., launched the event by acknowledging its groundbreaking nature.

"Today we are making U.N. history," Power told the attendees. "This is the first time in history that the Council has held a meeting on the victimization of LGBT persons. It is the first time we are saying, in a single voice, that it is wrong to target people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a historic step. And it is, as we all know, long overdue."

Referring to the Islamic State group's widely publicized targeting of LGBTQ residents of Iraq and Syria, Power told the diplomats that "we are coming together as a Security Council to condemn these acts, to demand they stop, and to commit to one day bringing the perpetrators to justice. That unified condemnation matters."

A gay man from Iraq, who addressed the Security Council members by phone using a pseudonym, had previously told The New York Times that he "hadn't been breathing" for weeks as he tried to escape the Islamic State militants who took over his hometown. 

The other man, a Syrian named Subhi Nahas, had faced threats from both the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al Qaeda, Power told the Security Council gathering.

Power pointed out that it's not only extremist groups like the Islamic State that target LGBT individuals in these countries. Both men had faced discrimination and threats from Iraqis and Syrians not linked to the Islamic State or to Jabhat an-Nusra, she said.

"While the targeting of LGBT individuals in the region appears to have worsened as ISIL’s power has grown, such violence and hatred existed well before the group’s dramatic rise, and that violence and hatred extends far beyond ISIL’s membership," Power said, using the Obama administration's preferred name for the Islamic State group. "Condemning ISIL’s violent and systematic targeting of LGBT individuals is the easiest step we can take today. Because while today’s session is focused on the crimes against LGBT persons committed by ISIL, we know the scope of this problem is much broader."

"The effort to defend the equal rights of LGBT persons must also be waged within every one of our countries, even those where important progress has been made -- and that includes in the United States," she continued. "For just as this year we have made tremendous strides in advancing LGBT rights in the United States, we are under no illusion that the work is finished. Every one of our countries can and must do more to advance these rights domestically."

The U.N. Security Council comprises 15 countries. Five of them, including the U.S., are permanent members, and two of those permanent member states, Russia and China, have received international criticism for their track records on LGBT rights. The current group of 10 non-permanent members includes LGBT-friendly countries like Chile and New Zealand, but also countries like Nigeria, where same-sex couples can be imprisoned for up to 14 years.

Power told the Times that the U.S. hopes to get LGBT rights "into the DNA" of the U.N.

That way, she said, "when you’re talking about minorities or vulnerable groups, you would always have L.G.B.T. people included." 

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