Today is GLSEN's Day of Silence, which recognizes the struggles faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. Though the movement has its roots in the United States, it addresses problems that are not specific to any one country, and it requires a broad solution that transcends borders and cultures. Fortunately, international awareness is increasing in the fight against homophobia. We have seen this from international institutions such as the United Nations all the way to the realm of one traditionally challenging environment for LGBT youth: the realm of sports.
The United Nations offers a crucial, albeit under-acknowledged, platform for raising awareness about anti-LGBT bullying in terms of human rights and exchanging best practices to counteract the problem. Similarly, sports, with their exceptional capacity to straddle varying belief systems, serve as a universal language for communicating this message.
In June 2011, for example, the UN Human Rights Council passed the United Nations' first-ever resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon labeled "homophobic bullying" a "grave violation" of human rights in December 2011. This month the secretary general also promised to "denounce" attacks against LGBT individuals, declaring, "We must right these wrongs." In 2011 then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also emphatically declared, "Gay rights are human rights."
Elsewhere, four Australian professional athletes, among many others in the U.S. and abroad, act as ambassadors of a grassroots program to eradicate homophobia from sports, called Athlete Ally. These athletes speak out publicly against anti-LGBT bullying and the importance of incorporating respect and dignity for all into athletics. As they gain more exposure, the movement toward acceptance and equality is gaining steam.
Although these are critical steps, it is important that UN member states and civil society advocates strive to speak with one voice.
During the upcoming 23rd Human Rights Council session in June, a follow-up LGBT resolution should include specific references to the alleviation of bullying and plights facing LGBT youth. A mandate for a special rapporteur to address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity should also be established.
Efforts, whether in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) or the UN Children's Fund, should consider integrating sports and athletic-themed discussions and events geared not only to challenge hurtful stereotypes about the LGBT community but lay the groundwork for generating new advocacy opportunities and partnerships.
Overall, it is clear that when popular professional athletes with passionate fans stand up for equal treatment of individuals who identify as LGBT, others take notice.
Take, for example, Brendon Ayanbadejo. Ayanbadejo is an Athlete Ally ambassador in the U.S. who harnessed Super Bowl media attention to bring this issue to the forefront of the national discourse. Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets is doing the same with the attention he's receiving from his stellar NBA season.
Young men and women who are LGBT, or perceived as such, are in real danger every day. Savage attacks and beatings are common, notably in Uganda, where the "kill the gays" bill, the goal of which is to make homosexuality an offense punishable by death in many cases, is still actively pending a vote in the legislature. In many areas within the developing world, NGOs supporting fundamental LGBT rights face new state-sponsored threats and harassment for merely trying to carry out their work.
It is sobering that nearly 80 countries continue to criminalize same-sex relations, and that LGBT youth from the United States to Uganda encounter bullying and homophobia within schools, athletic activities and even their own homes.
This sort of indoctrinated bigotry and violence is difficult to remedy, but there is cause for optimism, as the timeless tradition of sports permeates each of the United Nations' 193 member states and can be seen as a way of uniting the world as much as dividing it among respective teams.
When dovetailed with the efforts of civil society action emanating from organizations like Athlete Ally and others, bold UN action for LGBT youth can help ensure the message of tolerance and respect not only reaches the widest possible audience but ultimately changes minds.
April 19 is the Day of Silence, but every day it is critical for the world to speak with one voice for LGBT equality.
Ryan Kaminski is the Leo Nevas Human Rights Fellow at the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA). Hudson Taylor is the Executive Director and founder of Athlete Ally.