The UN has instructed countries to make gay sex legal, stop torturing LGBT+ people, prevent ‘conversion therapy’ and end the sterilisation of trans people.
It has even said countries must recognize same-sex couples and give them benefits in the same way as opposite sex couples. This can be done by offering marriage, civil unions or civil partnerships.
In a wide-ranging report just published, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has a clear message to its 193 member states. She says they have already committed to LGBT+ rights and signed legally binding treaties so they have to comply.
At the moment over 70 countries still criminalise homosexuality and trans rights are even less well advanced. The UN report also outlines how intersex rights and protections are behind even those given to trans people around the world.
But it’s not just the countries that make gay sex illegal who have to change.
For example the UN’s demand that all countries forbid ‘conversion therapy’ or so-called ‘gay cures’ would require law changes in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and most of Europe.
Only a handful of countries currently have a nationwide ban; Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Fiji, Malta, Switzerland, Taiwan and Uruguay.
Overall, it is likely every country in the world will have to make changes, some radical, to fully comply with the UN’s instructions.
LGBT+ torture, murder and discrimination
High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet says the UN has ‘documented widespread violations and abuses targeting LGBTI people in all regions of the world.
‘Such instances include brutal beatings, sexual violence and killings, incitement to hatred, criminalization, arbitrary detention and imprisonment, abuses in detention and medical settings, widespread stigma, harassment, bullying and discrimination at work and at home, as well as in education, health, housing, and accessing public services.’
In the report, the UN has five major instructions to make states comply with their obligations and international law.
1 Protect LGBT+ people from violence
Countries must have hate crime laws that specifically protect people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.
They have to make sure that the police or other authorities investigate and record violent crimes. They also have to ensure the attackers are prosecuted.
Furthermore, the responsibility doesn’t just apply to their own citizens. Countries have to be prepared to accept genuine asylum seekers on the basis they are LGBT+.
2 Prevent torture and ill treatment of LGBT+ people
The report outlines many examples of torture. These include ‘anal probe tests’. Some countries carry out these degrading and painful tests on people they suspect of having anal sex. However, doctors say the tests show nothing and the UN says they are torture.
Other examples include countries forcing or coercing trans people into being sterilized. Meanwhile doctors often play god by deciding an intersex person’s gender at birth or older. They then carry out surgery which the intersex child can’t consent to as they are too young.
The UN also considers dangerous and useless ‘gay cures’ or ‘conversion therapy’ to be unacceptable treatment. And if the state forces people into these so called cures, they are a form of torture.
Countries therefore have to issue bans. And they have to investigate anyone breaching the new laws, punish those responsible and help victims.
Furthermore they are responsible for making sure healthcare providers and police get training in the issues.
3 Make gay sex legal and scrap other anti-LGBT+ laws
The UN report says all laws making consensual gay sex illegal have to be axed. And the age of consent for gay and straight sex must be equal.
Moreover, countries have to scrap laws they use to stop people expressing their gender identity or any other laws to harass LGBT+ people.
In particular, authorities must never arrest or jail anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
4 Allow marriage or civil partnership and eradicate discrimination
The UN’s insistence that countries should recognize same-sex marriage or offer civil partnerships or civil unions is likely to prove controversial. It says states must also recognize the children of same-sex couples and give benefits on an equal basis to heterosexuals.
Furthermore, transgender people should be able to get their gender identity recognised ‘through a simple administrative process without abusive requirements’. That would require legal change in all but a handful of countries.
Naturally, the UN says countries must eradicate any medical classifications that still portray LGBT+ identities as sick or disordered.
Countries have to make sure LGBT+ people can get education, employment, housing and health care on an equal basis.
And they should educate both officials and the public to fight stigma and discrimination. Finally, they should consult LGBT+ people on policies that affect their rights.
5 Allow LGBT+ people to protest and express themselves
The last of the UN’s five steps would lift bans on Pride parades and other LGBT+ events. It would help eradicate censorship and mean LGBT+ people can express themselves freely and safely.
The UN report particularly highlights Russia’s ‘gay propaganda law’ as unacceptable.
This also mean LGBT+ groups can form and get official recognition. Activists in some of the world’s toughest countries to be LGBT+ will welcome this as it’s a vital first step in building the community.
Finally, countries have to protect LGBT+ people when they are exercising their right to assemble or to express themselves. That means prosecuting thugs or public officials who attack them or discriminate against them.
Will the UN report change the world?
Sadly the UN’s new report, titled Born Free and Equal, will not change anything overnight. Countries frequently ignore their obligations under international human rights law.
However, it will be useful ammunition for LGBT+ and human rights activists in legal and political battles and protests.
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Author: Tris Reid-Smith