Why Ban Ki Moon Will Speak Out Against LGBT Discrimination at the Olympics

Ban Ki Moon will be the first UN Secretary General to address the International Olympic Committee as the games begin in Sochi this week. The question on most UN-watchers mind is how might he approach the issue of Russia’s abominable record on LGBT rights, if at all?

I would not be surprised — in fact, I would expect — Ban to directly address the issue of LGBT discrimination. He may not name Russia by name, but he will almost certainly criticize policies like Russia’s “anti propaganda law” that foster discrimination against the LGBT community.

Why am I so sure? LGBT equality has been one of Ban Ki Moon’s signature human rights issues at the United Nations. Prior to his tenure, the only branches the UN you saw consistently taking up the issue were those dealing with health in general, and HIV/AIDS in particular. But it was under the leadership of Ban Ki Moon that addressing LGBT discrimination shifted from a priority for health advocates to a mainstream issue throughout the United Nations.

Ban Ki Moon regularly speaks out on LGBT issues from a human rights perspective. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has compiled a list of no fewer than 25 speeches and statements on the issue since the 2010 launch of a global appeal to ending discrimination  based on sexual preference and gender identity.

For this advocacy, he has earned the respect and praise of mainstream LGBT rights organizations. One of them, All Out, created this video remix of Ban Ki Moon’s address to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012, which was the first time that UN member states discussed LGBT issues in a formal setting under UN auspices. Some member states from more conservative countries staged a walkout prior to his remarks. But as All Out says, Ban Ki Moon had the last word.


So what will Ban say in Sochi? It is not really his style to aggressively call out a UN member state. So don’t expect blatant Russia-bashing.  But I would expect Ban to take a not-so-subtle jab at the host country in his remarks and work in a line or two about LGBT rights. Stay tuned! His address is scheduled for Wednesday.