In the past few months I’ve been getting to grips with my new role as British ambassador to the United Nations. It’s been a fascinating challenge. The issues I face with my colleagues are among the toughest in the world. At times, making progress on them is frustratingly slow. Thankfully, it’s hard to be deterred when you’re surrounded by the energy, vibrancy, and diversity of New York City. It really is a place where you feel anything and everything is possible.
I saw this so clearly during the New York Pride march last month. It was a privilege to be part of such a historic celebration, just 48 hours after the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. It was an inspiring day; a day that so many had fought so hard, and for so long, to achieve. I was incredibly proud to march with colleagues and friends on the United Kingdom float. It was a fitting celebration of the activists, leaders, donors, friends, and allies who made LGBT rights a reality in the United States.
As we celebrated a historic step forward in the United States, I was struck by how much more needs to be done in other parts of the world to advance LGBT rights. I firmly believe that the United Nations can play a key role in advancing this agenda. No other forum brings together so many countries—193 in total. And at the heart of the U.N. Charter is a shared faith in fundamental human rights and in the dignity and worth of all people.
Yet the breadth of the U.N. membership is also precisely the reason why progress is sometimes so slow. Too many member states continue to punish their citizens for who they are and for whom they love. Too many member states believe that social exclusion, harassment, violence, and even death are acceptable responses to the LGBT community in their countries.
The United Kingdom and, I believe, the vast majority of U.N. members fundamentally disagree with this approach and are taking steps to challenge this mindset. The United Kingdom is proud to be playing a leading role in this effort. We are a member of the LGBT Core Group, a cross-regional group of countries advocating and negotiating at the United Nations for recognition and protection of the human rights of LGBT people. We partner with civil society and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. We use high-level U.N. events and social media campaigns to keep this issue on the international agenda. In time, we hope to change the hearts and minds of all countries.
We have many allies in the U.N. system, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Earlier this year, he took the bold decision to broaden benefits for U.N. employees in same-sex relationships, despite opposition from some U.N. members. Elsewhere, UNHCHR’s “Free & Equal” campaign is working with civil society around the world to amplify the words of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that “all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Together we can make these words a reality for every person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This year will be vital to achieving this goal. In September the United Nations will come together to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals will set the global development agenda for the next 15 years. Through the SDGs, we have the chance to eradicate extreme poverty and help the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.
The United Kingdom is adamant that when developing the SDGs, we need to keep human rights up front. People must be at the heart of the goals. That is why we support the principle of “leave no one behind” at the core of the SDGs. No goal or target of the new agenda can be considered met unless it is met for all groups in society. This includes the LGBT community. Inclusion is the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing to do to achieve true sustainable development.
So as we look ahead to September, my message to everyone who has worked so hard to promote LGBT rights, whether in New York or across the world, is this: Don’t lose your momentum or enthusiasm. LGBT people around the world aren’t just fighting for the right of equal marriage; they are fighting for the right to life and liberty. There is still much work to be done. All governments represented at the United Nations need to hear your voices and your demands for inclusion, tolerance, and understanding. I’m proud to say that the United Kingdom is committed to doing exactly that.
This video from the U.N. Free & Equal campaign showcases LGBT “everyday heroes” from around the world.
Also in Slate:
The United Nations Stiffs Sexual Minorities Once Again