UN unveils gay rights campaign in SA

31 July 2013

The United Nations chose South Africa for the launch of “Free & Equal”, a global campaign to promote respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

The campaign was launched by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and South African Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron in Cape Town on Friday.

A 2011 report by the UN Human Rights Office found an alarming pattern of brutal violence and widespread discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in all regions of the world. In 76 countries, adult same-sex relationships are criminalized, exposing lesbian, gay and bisexual people to the risk of arrest, imprisonment, torture and, in five countries, the death penalty.

South Africa was the first country in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the fifth country in the world and the first in Africa to legalize same-sex marriage.

Speaking at Friday’s launch, Pillay argued that eradicating discrimination of any kind required more than just changes in laws and policies; it took a change in people’s hearts and minds as well.

“Changing attitudes is never easy,” Pillay said. “But it has happened on other issues and it is happening already in many parts of the world on this one. It begins with often difficult conversations. With this campaign, we want to help start and inform millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.”

In addition to fact sheets and articles, Free & Equal will generate a stream of content – including short videos, infographics and testimonies – designed to dispel misconceptions and negative stereotypes and encourage people to look at the lives of LGBTI people through the eyes of LGBTI people and their families.

All campaign materials will be made available on the campaign’s website, www.unfe.org.

Pillay described Nelson Mandela as a great source of inspiration for the campaign and recalled his faith in education as the best weapon against prejudice.

“He used to say that people are not born hating one another; they learn to hate,” Pillay said. “And that if people can learn to hate, they can be taught to love – that love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

The Free & Equal campaign was developed by the UN Human Rights Office and is implemented in partnership with non-profit organization the Purpose Foundation

A number of global celebrities have already pledged their support for the campaign, including musician Ricky Martin, South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly, Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, and Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury.

Source: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with additional reporting by SAinfo