U.S. Leads Battle to Recognize Gay Rights at UN

U.S. Leads Battle to Recognize Gay Rights at UN: Historic General Assembly Vote Reaffirms Equality for All

December 21, 2010 – In an important victory for LGBT rights on the floor of the UN General Assembly today, 93 countries supported a human rights resolution condemning gay killings around the world, with 55 countries voting against. The vote reverses an earlier effort by conservative countries to strip the reference to sexual orientation.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice announced earlier this month on International Human Rights Day (December 10) that the U.S. would push for the vote, and that she was “incensed” that language on sexual orientation in a human rights resolution on extrajudicial killings had been dropped in a UN committee vote. The Council applauds the principled leadership of the United States and other like-minded countries in restoring that language and staking out a clear claim for gay men and lesbians at the United Nations. We now look forward to further efforts at the United Nations to respond to the rights of transgender individuals, who are even more frequently targeted for violence and death in many parts of the world.


The human rights text that was voted on today is reviewed and updated every two years. For the past ten years, it has been the only UN resolution to recognize persecution based on sexual orientation, noting that like other racial, ethnic and religious minorities, individuals are often singled out for targeted killings because of their sexual orientation. In mid-November, a group of countries led by Benin on behalf of the African Group introduced a hostile amendment stripping sexual orientation from the negotiated text. Mark Bromley, Chair of the Council, explained that “in a surprisingly hostile committee vote in November, 79 countries voted to remove the reference to sexual orientation, thereby wiping out ten years of recognition and sending a clear message that killing gays is not a human rights concern.”

Ambassador Rice vowed to fight, and fight she did. Former U.S. Ambassador Michael Guest, now a senior adviser to the Council, called the U.S. diplomatic effort “remarkable.” Explaining the process, Guest noted that “the United States took a very principled position, and our diplomats worked very hard at the UN and in capitals around the world to explain to other countries why this is an important human rights cause. The State Department and the White House should be commended.”

Echoing Guest’s praise for U.S. leadership, Julie Dorf, another senior adviser to the Council, also noted that “the U.S. could not have done this alone. U.S. diplomats worked closely with a broad cross-section of like-minded states to win votes. This was a remarkable coalition effort, with key NGOs in swing states in many countries around the world working in parallel to convince their own governments to stand for equality. Nowhere was this more evident than in South Africa, which inexplicably voted the wrong way in November, despite South Africa’s long history of struggle and its constitutional recognition of sexual orientation as a protected class. Fortunately, South Africa broke with most of the Africa Group today to honor its history and its constitution by casting its vote for global equality.”


Read the White House press statement here

Read the State Department press statement here.

Read the statement from Amb. Susan Rice here.