Durban 2001 – Plenary statement

Sexual Orientation, Multiple Forms of Discrimination & Related Intolerance Caucus
– Presentation to the Declaration Working Group (May 30, 2001)

Our Caucus has noted that the words SEXUAL ORIENTATION appear in the Preamble and in the Declaration in brackets.  Specifically, in preambular paragraph PP8bis and in declaratory paragraphs OP10 (in relations to sexual minorities) and OP18.  The parentheses would suggest that, in the mind of at least one member state, there is no place for sexual orientation in documents flowing from a world conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia & related intolerance.

The sexual orientation, multiple forms of discrimination & related intolerance caucus submits that such thinking is fundamentally flawed as sexual orientation is a ground of intolerance experienced by persons and groups of people and, as such, has consequences on racialized people’s lives as a form of multiple discrimination.

Our caucus would like you to keep four things in mind in your deliberations regarding the aforementioned paragraphs or regarding any proposed list enumerating grounds of discrimination.

First, one’s sexual orientation and one’s race are inextricably linked.  Consequently, experiences of racism are exacerbated by and cannot be separated from discrimination experienced on other grounds, including sexual orientation.

Second, gays and lesbians are persecuted and prosecuted throughout the world.  Many nations do not protect their gays and lesbians from discrimination, torture, and beatings.  Even more disturbing is the fact that, through the criminalization of homosexuality, there are gays and lesbians who experience torture, beatings and even death at the hands of their own government agents such as the police and other members of the legal system.

Third, despite the obstacles faced by gays and lesbians to full participation in all aspects of society and despite the global threats to the physical safety and well-being of gays and lesbians, the United Nations has remained silent on this issue.  There is nothing in any UN declaration that expressly provides protection for lesbians and gays.

However, having said that, there is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which as you know articulates that “all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights” – not some, not even most, but ALL.  Such freedom and equality presupposes the elimination of racism, xenophobia and intolerances such as homophobia.  This is the first UN world conference on racism to include “related forms of intolerance”.  As such, this conference provides an important opportunity to re-affirm the principles of diversity, universality, indivisibility, and the inter-dependence of human rights.

Finally, the United Nations has come to symbolize, among other things, the protection of the world’s vulnerable.  Gay and lesbians are vulnerable world-wide.  Racialized gay and lesbians are particularly vulnerable and face compounded discrimination.  This reality, combined with the protective role of the UN, behooves its member states to recognize sexual orientation as a related form of intolerance, which results in a form of multiple discrimination.  It also certainly challenges member nations to at least question what is at the root of their opposition to enumerating sexual orientation as a ground of discrimination while approving the enumeration of other grounds.

If we, as racialized lesbians and gays cannot look to the UN for protection, particularly in the context of a world conference that is focussed on the eradication of racism and multiple forms of discrimination – if we cannot turn to the United Nations for protection, then where can we turn?