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First gay speaks at United Nations

in WORLD, 06/08/1992

To our knowledge, I am the first homosexual to speak openly in any United Nations human rights body

Presentation: Thursday, August 6th, 1992
Professor Douglas Sanders

Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, 44th Annual Session August 3rd to 28th, 1992, Geneva, Switzerland.

Agenda Item 17: Promotion, protection, and restoration of human rights at national, regional, and international levels.



Human Rights Advocates are pleased to present the following statement in collaboration with the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

Lesbian and gay human rights issues have received increasing attention at the national and regional levels. To date they have received almost no attention at the international level.

In our view, this represents a very serious omission in the human rights work of this and other international human rights bodies.

Let me briefly give some examples of positive developments which have recently occurred at national and regional

First, examples of developments at the national level.

-- Laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation" have been enacted in many jurisdictions in the last decade. We note the renewed commitment of Canada, this June, to introduce such a provision in national legislation, adding to provisions already in place in six provinces or territories.

-- In 1989 Denmark enacted a Registered Partnership law. This was a major mover towards a norm of equality between homosexual and heterosexual couples. The Danish law is likely to be copied in a number of European countries.

-- In 1991 Australia established equality in its immigration laws with provisions recognizing all relationships of "emotional interdependency." In granting lesbians and gays equal rights to sponsor their partners as immigrants, Australia was following the lead of New Zealand, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

-- Homosexuals have been achieving much higher visibility in their countries. Homosexual rights organizations have existed in Western countries or many years, but new organizations have been established in the last decade in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Today, openly homosexual individuals hold elected national office in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and in other states.

Secondly, I would like to give examples of developments at the regional level. At this point we are only aware of developments in the European region.

-- In 1981 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 756 and Recommendation 924 condemning discrimination against homosexuals.

-- The 1984 resolution of the European Parliament on sexual discrimination at the workplace specifically condemned discrimination against homosexuals and called on members states to report any provisions in their laws which discriminated against homosexuals.

-- The European Commission funded a summer course in lesbian and gay studies in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 1989, and in Essex, the United Kingdom, in 1991. The courses were organized by five European universities, including the Department of Gay and Lesbian Studies at the University of Utrecht. Research on gay and lesbians issues at the University of Utrecht has received financial support from the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Human Rights Foundation.

-- Lesbian and Gay issues have been discussed in two parallel conferences in the CSCE process [the Conference in Security and Co-operation in Europe]. The conferences were held in Oslo in 1991 and Helsinki in April of this year. The Helsinki meeting was an official CSCE parallel conference. It was organized by the Finnish homosexual rights organization SETA and funded by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Unfortunately these positive advanced in national and regional practice are only part of the story. Discrimination against lesbian and gay people continues in most parts of the world. These human rights violations need to be properly monitored and brought to world attention. I will very briefly give examples:

-- In one country the death penalty is applied to anyone found to have committed a homosexual act. Extrajudicial killings of lesbians and gays continue in a number of countries, including the murder, three weeks ago, of at least five homosexual activists in Mexico. The most prominent figure killed was Dr. Francisco Estrade Valle, co-founder of an AIDS education and prevention organization.

-- In many states penal laws still prohibit consenting homosexual activity. Such laws continue in Ireland in conflict with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the cases brought by Senator Norris.

-- In most states we face discrimination in civil laws dealing with inheritance, social insurance, medicalinsurance, housing, and immigration. Canadian immigration authorities have now separated me from my foreign partner, knowing that they were separating a well-established couple. The right to sponsor one's spouse as an immigrant is a right always available to heterosexuals, but regularly denied to homosexuals.

ILGA, the International Lesbian and Gay Association, was formed in 1978 and currently has approximately 500 members in more than 50 states in all regions of the world. The goal of the Association is to ensure that lesbian and gay people can enjoy equal rights with other members of the societies within which we live. The Association has worked with the World Health Organization and contributed to the 1988 Fernand-Laurent study on sexual minorities, authorized by the ECOSOC.

In spite of its useful work and very representative character, the International Lesbian and Gay Association has not yet been successful in gaining consultative status.

Lesbian and gays are, at present, completely unrepresented, as such, in the organizations holding consultative status with the United Nations. To our knowledge, I am the first homosexual to speak openly in any United Nations human rights body. I make that observation to illustrate how completely we have been outside he human rights work of the United Nations. We have been outsiders, though we are large minorities in every member state of the United Nations.

On behalf of Human Rights Advocates and the International Lesbian and Gay Association, may I suggest certain steps that we feel should be taken by the Sub-Commission:

-- Firstly, The Sub-Commission should appoint a special
rapporteur to undertake a comprehensive study on discrimination against lesbian and gay people.

-- Secondly: We call on the United Nations to include the human rights of lesbian and gay people in the agenda of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights.

-- Thirdly: We call upon the United Nations t review its own employment and benefit policies to ensure that there is no discrimination against lesbian and gay people or their partners.

-- Fourthly: We ask the Sub-Commission to encourage the
Economic and Social Council to regard favorably the applications of lesbian and gay organizations for consultative status. We wish to be here in our own names, representing our own organizations.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.
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