Today, in the midst of a surge in anti-gay persecution and violence from Russia to Cameroon to Jamaica, and as LGBT rights issues continue to divide United Nations member states, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights launched Free & Equal, a major global outreach campaign for LGBT equality.
The year-long initiative, which will focus on public education and advocate for legal reforms, was launched at a press conference in Cape Town, South Africa. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was joined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Justice Edwin Cameron of the South African Constitutional Court.
"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, a native of South Africa. "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."
Indeed, a press release from the human rights office notes that consensual same-sex relationships are still criminalized in more than 76 countries around the globe, discrimination against LGBT people is rampant in education, health care, and the workplace, and hate-motivated beatings, sexual assaults, and murders have been recorded "in all regions of the world."
High Commissioner Pillay continued:
"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. 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."
Celebrities including pop sensation Ricky Martin, South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly, and Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury have all pledged their support for Free & Equal and are spreading awareness of the campaign through social media. The office of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement praising Free & Equal and reiterating his personal commitment to "championing this cause."
Free & Equal is a multimedia campaign that will include content along the lines of "The Riddle," a video released by the UN Human Rights Office in May to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner Pillay are both featured in the video.