An Historic Day at the UN

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    Dec 26, 2008 5:21 PM GMT
    An Historic Day at the UN

    Louis-Georges Tin, the intelligent moving force behind the decriminalization declaration, appeared in New York last week to talk about his initiative and also to sing a vibrant a capella rendition of "We Shall Overcome."
    In an international affirmation of LGBT rights without precedent, a declaration calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality, signed by 66 nations, was read from the podium of the United Nations on December 18.

    At a press conference following the reading of the "Statement on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" to the UN General Assembly by Argentina's envoy to the world body, Ambassador Jorge Arg├╝ello, the foreign minister of the Netherlands, Maxime Vergahen, declared that "human rights are for all people" and that "there can be no excuse for the prosecution, discrimination, or violation of the human rights of gay, lesbian and transgendered people."

    Verhagen added that the reading of the non-binding declaration and its "broad support" by 66 member states meant that the question of LGBT rights was "no longer taboo [and]... now firmly inscribed on the agenda of the United Nations."

    At that same press conference, Rama Yade, the minister for Human Rights in France, which took the initiative in creating the declaration during that nation's six-month term in the rotating presidency of the European Union, called the reading of the statement "a historic day for LGBT peoples and an excellent day for all who struggle for human rights. "

    All 27 EU member states signed the declaration.

    But Yade, speaking in French, also said that the reading of the declaration was "only the beginning," because the "ultimate goal" remains the "total depenalization of homosexuality."

    According to a detailed report released this past May from the International Lesbian and Gay Association, which represents LGBT groups in more than 100 countries, "In 2008, no less than 86 member states of the United Nations still criminalize consensual same-sex acts among adults, thus institutionally promoting a culture of hatred. Among those, seven have legal provisions with the death penalty as punishment" (ILGA's full report).

    The United States was notably absent from among the declaration's 66 signatories of the declaration. The Washington Times, the capital's conservative daily, on December 19 reported, "Gay Republicans are furious at the Bush administration for opposing" it.

    The Bush administration cited legal reasons for its decision, saying that endorsing the resolution's language would conflict with numerous state laws nationwide that ban gay marriage. But the Washington Times quoted Richard Grenell, a gay Republican who until recently was a spokesman for the US mission to the United Nations, as saying, "That's a real stretch. Concerns about a remote possibility ignores the purpose of the resolution, which is to make sure that people are not killed or oppressed just because they are gay."

    "If being gay is a criminal act, then the State Department has granted hundreds of criminals like me top-secret security clearance," Grenell said, adding, "Common sense says that we should be the leader in making sure other governments grant more freedoms to their people."

    Nations still have the option to add their names to the declaration, but the incoming Obama administration has not yet said whether it would support it. A call to the Obama transition office was not returned as of press time.

    At a meeting ten days ago of the Obama LGBT Task Force, which included representatives from more than a dozen leading LGBT organizations and gay activists who worked on the campaign, no one raised the issue of the incoming administration's position on the UN declaration, a source present at that meeting told Gay City News.

    The idea for a statement of principle by the United Nations in support of decriminalizing homosexuality globally was the brainchild of Professor Louis-Georges Tin, the founder of IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia, and the president of the Paris-based International Committee for IDAHO. The campaign for the declaration was launched in November 2006, when IDAHO, at a Paris press conference, unveiled a list of hundreds of VIPs who supported it, including five Nobel Prize winners, ten Pulitzer Prize winners, two former French prime ministers, and six Academy Award winners (see this reporter's November 21-27, 2006 "Bold Move for UN Action").
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    Dec 26, 2008 5:32 PM GMT

    This past May, after a year-long lobbying campaign by IDAHO and an alliance of French LGBT groups spanning the political spectrum from right to left, the French government promised to push for "a European initiative calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality," according to a statement released by Minister Of Human Rights Yade after conferring with a delegation from the gay coalition (see this reporter's May 22-28 "France Fights for Decriminalization").

    In view of her advocacy on moving the declaration, it is unfortunate that Yade, who is black and proved sympathetic to LGBT human rights in her post, is about to lose her job in a New Year's cabinet shuffle after falling out of favor with conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Yade publicly refused to run at the head of the list of Sarkozy's UMP party candidates for the European Parliament in the Paris region, angering the president. Sarkozy has told his entourage he wants to abolish the Human Right post, and his minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, said three weeks ago that having a separate minister for that area was "superfluous" because looking after human rights was the job of the foreign minister.

    IDAHO President Tin, who worked closely with the French government in coordinating the campaign to pressure UN members to sign the declaration, told Gay City News that the next stage in the campaign for global decriminalization would probably be launched this coming summer, when Sweden assumes the rotating European Union presidency from the Czech Republic, which will carry the mantle in the first half of 2009.

    "Unlike the Czech government, the Swedish government has a long record of being LGBT-friendly, and our thinking at this point is that discussions about crafting an actual UN resolution on decriminalization of homosexuality and gender identity to be presented for a vote at the General Assembly could most usefully take place under a Swedish EU presidency," said Tin, the day after the reading of the decriminalization declaration at the UN.

    Tin said that his next project will be to have IDAHO launch a global statement against transphobia. He was one of the speakers at a panel discussion last week at the UN on "Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" that France, the Netherlands, and international LGBT groups organized in connection with the decriminalization declaration. Gay activists from a dozen countries spoke. When it came time for him to speak, Tin declared, "In the French territory of Martinique, where I'm from, we have a saying that 'A little song is often better than a long speech,'" upon which he launched into a vibrant a capella rendition of "We Shall Overcome" that was vigorously applauded by the audience.

    UN television captured both the panel discussion featuring gay activists from around the world and the press conference at which Dutch Foreign Minister Verhagen, French Human Rights Minister Yade, and IDAHO President Tin discussed the decriminalization declarations. Links to those videos appear in the online version of this story at
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    Dec 26, 2008 6:01 PM GMT
    Thanks for posting about this.
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    Dec 26, 2008 9:22 PM GMT
    theatrengym saidThanks for posting about this.


    Global gay rights is important too.
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    Dec 27, 2008 8:45 AM GMT
    VERY good news. This was posted before too in the News section, with the US, China, the Islamic states, the Vatican being the ones who seem to balk at it.

    But finally people are opening their eyes and that's always good news.