U.N. Human Rights Office Unveils Gay-Rights Campaign
by David Crary, AP
Amid a surge of antigay violence and repression in several countries, the United Nations’ human rights office on Friday launched its first global outreach campaign to promote tolerance and greater equality for lesbians, gays, transgender people, and bisexuals.
Called Free & Equal, it’s an unprecedented effort by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to change public attitudes around the world on issues that have bitterly divided the U.N.’s own member states.
The multi-pronged campaign—announced at a news conference in Cape Town, South Africa—will include videos and public-service announcements distributed through social media, a new website, a series of fact sheets, and engagement by celebrities well-known in different regions of the world.
“Changing attitudes is never easy….
It begins with often-difficult conversations,” said Navi Pillay, the high commissioner for human rights. “And that is what we want to do with this campaign. Free & Equal will inspire millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.’’
There were multiple reasons for choosing South Africa as the news conference venue. It is Pillay’s home country, and is a leading nation on a continent where discrimination and violence against LGBT people is widespread.
In Cameroon, for example, two men were sentenced to prison recently for gay sex, and a gay rights activist was tortured and killed in July in an attack his friends suspect was related to his activism. South Africa, in contrast, does not criminalize homosexuality and allows same-sex marriage, yet is plagued by extensive antigay violence, including frequent rapes of lesbians.
However, the new awareness campaign will extend worldwide, reflecting the challenges faced by gays in many countries.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin recently signed a law that will impose hefty fines for holding gay pride rallies or providing information about the gay community to minors. In Haiti, gay-rights leaders say their community has been targeted by a recent series of threats. In Montenegro, several hundred people attacked the Balkan nation’s first-ever gay pride rally, throwing rocks and bottles at activists while some yelled, “Kill the gays.”
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights—no exceptions, no one left behind,” Pillay said. “Yet it’s still a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence, and discrimination on a daily basis.’’
Among the dignitaries throwing their support behind Free & Equal was retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who in the 1980s was a prominent leader of the struggle to end South Africa’s apartheid system of racial segregation and white-minority rule.
“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven…I mean I would much rather go to the other place,” Tutu said at a recent news conference. “I would not worship a God who is homophobic, and that is how deeply I feel about this.”
The paramount anti-apartheid leader, ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela, also has been an inspiration for Free & Equal, according to Charles Radcliffe, a spokesman for the U.N. human rights office.