LGBT Bullying as a Violation of Universal Human Rights

Ed note. This is a special guest post from Ryan Kaminski, the UNA-USA Leo Nevas Human Rights Fellow 

Today is Human Rights Day, which celebrates the 64th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. The theme for Human Rights Day 2012 is inclusion and the right to participate in public life.  While this encompasses a broad spectrum of potential rights violations and concerns, one deserving of urgent attention is bullying of  LGBT persons.

Indeed, such homophobic bullying is an intensely destructive human rights violation, and one that the UN has taken up with resolve. During a UNESCO meeting in December 2011 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called homophobic bullying a “grave violation” of human rights. Months earlier, the UN Human Rights Council—the world’s vital intergovernmental human rights organ—passed the UN’s first-ever resolution on the topic of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Both developments provided a much-needed jolt to create a truly global consensus on the most basic rights of LGBT individuals, though more work still remains. The bullying of LGBT persons and even those perceived to be LGBT is a problem that transcends borders, occurring even in places where LGBT persons are guaranteed legal protections. If we are to reverse this dangerous and unacceptable trend, continued, incremental action from the world’s stage remains vital.

Just two years ago in the United States, for example, the University of Michigan’s first openly gay student body president, Chris Armstrong, was stalked and publicly bullied by that state’s assistant attorney general. Although the university’s community rallied around Chris and the assistant attorney general was fired, not all LGBT youth elicit such a positive response from their communities.  Sadly, in recent years, the U.S. has also witnessed a string of bullying-related suicides across the country.

Elsewhere, LGBT individuals are more systematically targeted through the very bodies that should serve to protect them. Presently, 76 countries criminalize same-sex relationships. Legislation proposed in Nigeria and Uganda targets the most basic rights of expression of human rights and civil society groups that speak out for the LGBT community. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also publicly called same-sex relationships “ugly.”  The examples go on.

Bullying has direct emotional and physical effects on its targets, including social isolation. A recent study from the National Children’s Bureau’s Anti-bullying Alliance found that more than quarter of bullied students surveyed quit an activity they enjoyed due to bullying. “We know that bullying can lead to children missing school, failing exams, dropping out of sport, avoiding extra-curricular activities and limiting their life choices,” observes Ross Hendry, Anti-Bullying Alliance Chair.

The need for global human rights action—from advancing tolerance to empowering LGBT people and advocates everywhere—has never been more evident. In addition to the steps it has already taken, the Human Rights Council should pass a follow-up resolution to specifically highlight the issue of bullying and the interrelated right of inclusion and participation in public life. Similarly, UNESCO should host additional forums to facilitate the sharing of best practices to help prevent and counteract the effects of bullying. Meanwhile, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which has already completed critical and pioneering work to raise awareness about LGBT human rights, should aid and complement these efforts.

Additionally, multilateral efforts are needed to encourage international government officials to echo what Mr. Ban has declared regarding bullying, making clear that bullying is not only destructive and unacceptable, but also a fundamental violation of human rights.

In the global effort to end LGBT bullying, strides have begun to be made on the world’s stage, but much remains to be done. At a time when LGBT individuals are systematically and socially targeted, such an effort will not be easy, but incremental progress is nonetheless essential. Today, Human Rights Day should serve as a critical reminder that human rights, like the right to inclusion and participation in public life, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are indeed universal.

Like Ban Ki Moon says, attacks on people based on their sexual orientation is an attack on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.