The UN Stamp Collection just got a little bit more progressive.
At UN headquarters yesterday, the United Nations Postal Administration launched the UN’s first series of postage stamps to promote and celebrate LGBT equality around the world.
This is a first for the UN. To be sure, other other postage agencies have feted gay civic leaders. The US Postal Service, for example issued Harvey Milk stamps in in 2014 honor of the slain San Francisco city council member who was the first openly gay elected leader in American history. But by an large, stamps issued by the UN tend to focus on relatively anodyne and non-“controversial” issues. In some member states homosexuality is still illegal, and can be punishable with prison time or worse.
By the issuing of these stamps, the UN bureaucracy is trying to lead by example. And it’s one more demonstration of the UN Secretariat’s outspoken defense of LGBT rights.
The stamps feature the artwork of Sergio Baradat, a UN staffer who heads graphic design for the UN Postal Administration. “Sergio [Baradat] called me on day and said ‘look, love the Free and Equal campaign, love the video, the advertising campaigns, the events, but you’re missing one thing – and that’s postage stamps,’” joked Charles Radcliffe, the head of the global issues team at the UN Human Rights Office in New York. It seems like an odd addition to a campaign in our digital world, but as Radcliffe noted, the point of the Free and Equal campaign is to get people talking about the continued violence and persecution of LGBT people around the world. These colorful stamps for snail mail certainly does that.
Stephen Cutts, UN assistant secretary-general for the department of management explained that the process of getting the stamps approved took months of discussions between UNPA and other UN bodies, which points to the sensitive politics of LGBT equality in various member states. In the past UNPA has issued stamps to promote peace, advocate for endangered species, and environmental protection. But, as Radcliffe said during the ceremony unveiling the stamp designs, of all the issues the UN addresses, equality is the “most radical of those.”
Indeed, countries like India decided just a few days ago to review a law that has been upheld since 1860, stating that homosexuality is a criminal act. In African countries like Uganda, LGBT people fear for the lives as violence is almost encouraged through harsh anti-gay laws. Data may be somewhat “patchy,” as The Guardian states, but the evidence of multiple people being abused and killed in Chile, South Africa, Syria, and Uruguay cannot be denied.
It may seem like a small step in a world where paper mail is a distant second to texts, calls, and emails, but Baradat’s designs coupled with the Free and Equal campaign are a positive step in the right direction for the UN – their willingness to promote equality in member states that actively fight it. In a way the stamps are a sign of the very mission at the core of the UN, something that often gets lost in the diplomacy and politics.