One of the important ways of understanding global politics is in terms of interest of national states and how issues can be instrumentalised by states to serve their own agendas of power. While one will have to apply this framework to understand the yes vote, it is also important to understand the emotion or passion, which underlay the yes vote.
Significantly, when the votes were tallied on screen and it was clear that the resolution was through, there was an eruption of emotion across the room as delegates and observers cheered and then hugged each other, exchanging congratulations. Where did this deep emotion come from?
Two specific instances during the debate captured some part of the story of where the passion underlying the yes vote came from. The speech of the Ambassador of the United Kingdom, Julian Braithwaite did something unprecedented by reminding delegates that this was not an abstract disembodied issue but rather a deeply personal one affecting people in room XX of the Palais Des Nations.
By voting against this resolution you are voting to block the UN from trying to stop violence and discrimination. How is that acceptable? This affects people in this room, and people in my team who are LGBT. Are you saying it is OK to discriminate against them based on their sexual orientation and gender identity? To hit, torture, or possibly kill them? Because that is what you are supporting, if you vote against this resolution.
Violence and discrimination has to stop. And the UN should be allowed to play its part in preventing violence and discrimination. For all these reasons, the UK strongly urges all other states to support this resolution. I urge you to remember the persons who depend on this resolution – brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers.
The emotion, which was articulated by Ambassador Julian Braithwaite, found a larger political resonance in the invocations of the shooting at the gay night club in Orlando by Mexico, the United Kingdom and Ghana.
As Mexico observed:
Mr. President, at the opening of this Council session, delegations from all regions strongly condemned the recent killings in Orlando. Those dreadful attacks targeted people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The proposed amendment is contrary to the common condemnation, pretending the human rights of such individuals are no longer concerned for this Council.
The United Kingdom observed:
This Council opens in the shadow of the Orlando killing where individuals were targeted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity leaving 49 dead and 53 wounded. States from different regions join together to condemn the killings. It would send a tragic message about the Council’s willingness to sincerely address such acts of violence if this amendment is adopted eliminating ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ from the list of grounds based on which violence is deplored.
But there has been evolution in thinking – partly because of the Orlando situation and also because of the resolution of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which I have just cited.
The commitment of the yes vote was fuelled and fed by the experiences of discrimination and violence by LGBT people, which Orlando signified. Orlando symbolized a wider, longer and deeper history of systematic violence experienced by LGBT people across the globe. In short, it was this passion, which emerged from the LGBT grassroots which found expression through the yes vote to which the speeches of all the supporting countries including Netherlands, Uruguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Slovenia, Vietnam, Mexico and the UK were testament to.