The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), officially launched its first ever global outreach campaign in favour of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, on Friday July 26, 2013. The campaign, called ‘Free & Equal’, constitutes a groundbreaking endeavour by the Office, to challenge and to change public attitudes around the world on issues which have proved extremely contentious amongst UN members states over the last decade.
At a press conference held in Cape Town, South Africa, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was joined by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Justice Edwin Cameron of the South African Constitutional Court to announce the year-long project. A statement of support was read out on behalf of renowned South African singer and UNICEF and Roll Back Malaria Goodwill Ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights – no exceptions, no-one left behind,” said High Commissioner Pillay. “Yet it’s still a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and discrimination on a daily basis.” “Changing attitudes is never easy. But it has happened on other issues and it is happening already in many parts of the world on this one. It begins with often difficult conversations,” Pillay went on to say. “And that is what we want to do with this campaign. Free & Equal will inspire millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.” The Free & Equal campaign aims to raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, and encourage greater respect for the rights of LGBT people. Over the coming year, it will release a variety of creative content along the lines of ‘The Riddle,’ a video released by OHCHR for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and ‘The Story of a Mother from Brazil’, which is the first in a series of films interviewing the family members of LGBT people around the world. The campaign follows an OHCHR report published in December 2011, which was the first ever official UN report on violence and discrimination against LGBT persons. The report documented widespread human rights abuses. Today, more than 76 countries still criminalize consensual, same-sex relationships, while in many more discrimination against LGBT people is widespread – including in the workplace as well as in the education and health sectors. Hate-motivated violence against LGBT people, including physical assault, sexual violence, and targeted killings, has been recorded in all regions of the world. The campaign will focus on the need for both legal reforms and public education to counter homophobia and transphobia. A number of celebrities with a commitment to equality have pledged their support for Free & Equal by becoming UN equality champions and helping to spread campaign messages and materials via social media. These include the pop star Ricky Martin, South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly, and Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury. Additional equality champions will be announced as the campaign unfolds.