The case for extending the same rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons as those enjoyed by everyone else is neither radical nor complicated. It rests on two fundamental principles that underpin international human rights law: equality and non-discrimination. The opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are unequivocal: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Nevertheless, deeply embedded homophobic attitudes, often combined with a lack of adequate legal protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, expose many LGBT people of all ages and in all regions of the world to egregious violations of their human rights. They are discriminated against in the labour market, in schools and in hospitals, and mistreated and disowned by their own families. On the streets of towns and cities around the world, they are singled out for physical attack – beaten, sexually assaulted, tortured and killed. And in some 76 countries, discriminatory laws criminalize private, consensual same-sex relationships – exposing individuals to the risk of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.
Concerns about these and related violations have been expressed repeatedly by United Nations human rights mechanisms since the early 1990s. These mechanisms include the treaty bodies established to monitor States' compliance with international human rights treaties, and the special rapporteurs and other independent experts appointed by the former Commission on Human Rights and its successor the Human Rights Council to investigate and report on pressing human rights challenges. In 2011, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution expressing “grave concern” at violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The need for action to end these violations is increasingly widely recognized, if not universally accepted. Ending violence and discrimination against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity is a great human rights challenge. I hope that this booklet, which sets out the legal obligations that States have towards LGBT people, can contribute to the debate both at the global level and at a national level, which is where implementation needs to occur. For all the difficulties, this is a time of hope: an increasing number of States now recognize the gravity of the problem and the need for action. With commitment and the combined efforts of States and civil society, I am confident that we will see the principles of equality and non-discrimination translated into reality for millions of LGBT people around the world.