Today’s U.N. Vote Technically Made Gay History But Leaves Much to Be Desired

Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva passed a resolution demanding equality regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as investigation into global violence and discrimination against gay people. This is one of those things where it’s great that it’s happening, but also: it seems like it should have happened already.

The resolution — presented by South Africa and passed with 23 countries in favour, 19 against, and three abstentions — really only wants a couple of things. They are:

+ For the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a study on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by December 2011.
+ To have a transparent Human Rights Council panel discussion on the results of the study.
+ For any necessary follow-up to happen.
+ For people “to remain seized with this priority issue.”

In an interview with CNN, Suzanne Nossel, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, said:

“[This resolution] really is a key part in setting a new norm that gay rights are human rights and that that has to be accepted globally. It talks about the violence and discrimination that people of LGBT persuasion experience around the world, and that those issues … need to be taken seriously. It calls for reporting on what’s going on, where people are being discriminated against, the violence that is taking place, and it really puts the issue squarely on the U.N.’s agenda going forward.”

The resolution is being talked about as something historic, and it is. The Human Rights Council hasn’t actually voted to condemn discrimination based on sexual orientation before. But it’s important to remember that this resolution is also not actually creating any new rights. Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads:

“All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”

The rights themselves already technically exist — this resolution just wants to make sure that international standards are applied to them. Led by Nigeria and Pakistan, the dissenting nations have said the resolution has “nothing to do with fundamental human rights.” And it’s good that people are disagreeing with this, because, obviously, it has everything to do with fundamental human rights. And the fact that the resolution — which, it’s important to remember, isn’t even legally binding — passed by only four votes is nothing short of depressing.

Last November, the UN General Assembly voted to remove references to sexual orientation from a resolution that protects against arbitrary executions.

In March, 85 nations signed a statement by the UN Human Rights Council in support of gay rights. Those agreeing with the (non-binding) statement “call on States to take steps to end acts of violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, encourage Special Procedures, treaty bodies and other stakeholders to continue to integrate these issues within their relevant mandates, and urge the Council to address these important human rights issues.”

At the time, South Africa was not in favour of signing the statement (though they eventually did), but wanted to create an “open-ended intergovernmental working group to elaborate on new concepts such as sexual orientation” and limit all discussions of sexual orientation to the Human Rights Council. In the last minutes of the meeting, South Africa announced that they planned to defer consideration of the resolution until June “to provide more time for consultation on the text.” The current resolution also calls for a study, but this time, with less offensive wording.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Baer had this to say:

“If you look at the history of human rights and the ever-expanding circle of who counts as human, every time that circle has expanded there have been those that have dissented and in every case they have been proven wrong over time.”

That statement is a little weird, because last time I checked, gay people were humans too. Nevertheless, it is great and fantastic and wonderful that the resolution passed (even if it was by a narrow margin) and great and fantastic and wonderful that people are going to be examining international discrimination due to gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s less great and fantastic and wonderful that this is the first time it’s occurred to someone (by “someone” I mean “the United Nations”) that resolutions protecting people from that type of discrimination are maybe a good idea and might work towards preventing the type of situation recently seen in Uganda but all too frequently seen in the rest of the world. But it’s something.



Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


    • does this mean that the autostraddle avatar has to change now too? Because I like being a cat in a hoodie.

  1. This is definitely one of those “OK yeah good but also WTF?!” developments. As you pointed out, Carolyn, it’s hard to believe that this hadn’t already been done / isn’t just inherently obvious to everyone.

    It’s good that they’re diving more seriously into this discussion, though, especially since certain UN members are well behind when it comes to LGBT rights (to put it lightly) and perhaps would otherwise not even bother talking about the issue. Maybe this will pull them out into the light, as it were, even if they go kicking and screaming.

  2. Pingback: United Nations Passes LGBT Human Rights Resolution – TIME | Inholland

  3. There’s a ad with a smiling straight couple on the side of this page? I’m confused? Maybe they finally realized that Jesus likes us, too?

    • Ahahahaha thank you for pointing that out.

      I clicked through just to see if they would acknowledge the existence of LGBT Christians, but nope. Right on the first page you have to choose whether you are a “man seeking woman” or “woman seeking man.”

      So now I’m wondering: are they trying to infiltrate? #whosrecruitingnow

    • I always get the ads about getting a masters degrees in military history. Apparently they know I have a thing for women in uniform.

    • I live in Australia so I don’t get the ChristianMingle ones. I do get a Zoosk ad for finding gay men, though…


      i don’t know how to make it stop. we don’t have any connection with the advertisers, we go through a network called the gay ad network — they negotiate with the advertisers and then their ads feed through our site.

      i have combed through all the “media buys” we’ve been approved for and cannot find this one. i don’t know why it’s here, but i will let them give us their money if they really want to.

  4. Yay for slowly developing basic human rights… Also, umm, what the fuck is “LGBT persuasion”? I don’t remember anyone persuading me to like girls.

  5. I am also terribly excited to be a human! Now I can finally relate to everyone I know.

  6. Merrrr. UN decisions/declarations/whatevers are made about a lot of things, like, you know, water. I know we’re on here because we’re all queermos or queermo-allies and the site isn’t called waterstraddler, but my fucking country hasn’t recognized potable water as a human right. That country is Canada.

    So…as glad as I am that we’re recognized as human, I’m a little (A LOT) frustrated with what is now an equality/rights-seeking LGBT movement where I feel a queer liberationist, anti-capitalist model would serve us better. Then we can be free as queers, recognize that commodification of our natural resources sucks, and union busting gets us all into deep shit. I JUST WANT ALL THE BAD STUFF TO GO AWAY NOW, K? K.

  7. It is very disappointing that this hasn’t happened before, but I think the significance if this is huge. If we can get the world to agree that homophobia is NOT OKAY, we have taken an immensely important step forward. If we can push homophobia out of the area known as political correctness, on a world basis, we’re getting somewhere.

    To get equal rights, tolerance, acceptance, we need to be considered equals. The day a person realizes that we are just people, like everyone else, with struggles and feelings and families, and that we are not inherently wrong, that person will no longer feel entitled to to hate, discriminate or separate us from society. I still believe in the power of knowledge, of truth, and humanity’s ability to put the pieces together if we can just get them all on the table.

  8. I think this is the perfect of example of the whole “It gets better” thing.

    Yeah, in fairness, it shouldn’t even be newsworthy that basic human rights are being met in this day and age. However, the act that it is slowly being resolved, even if it is only a marginal resolution, shows the progress being made on a daily basis. Gradually, the world is starting to recognise that we’re not all family-hating, incest loving thugs who have the sole objective of ruining the pillars of functioning society in order to spread evil through the form of Unicorn piss.

    Small victories like this make the fight worth it.

Comments are closed.