Wednesday, May 16, 2012

United Nations v Homophobia - part 1

Eric Falt - UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for External Relations and Public Information introduced today's meeting: Effective Policies and Practices to Address Homophobic Bullying in Educational Institutions.

Eric Falt introducing UNESCO meeting on 16th May 2012

Mr Falt's introduction began as follows -

Ms Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education; Mr Louis-Georges Tin, IDAHO Founder and IDAHO Committee President; Mr Charles Radcliffe - Chief, Global Issues Section at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights;  Mr Lauri Sivonen - Advisor to the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe; Excellencies, Dear colleagues and Friends

It is a pleasure for me to welcome all of you here today on behalf of the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Irina Bokova. As you know, she could not be with us today, but I'll have the pleasure to read a message that she was very keen for me to share with you. Before I do so, just a few words to say that this UNESCO house is really the house of all cultures, and all people. We proudly welcome everyone here, and everyone's rights are respected here.

Today is the eve of IDAHO day, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and, as you all know, this day has been celebrated in many parts of the world since 2005, and is organised by the IDAHO committee - still I think we can say a new event in the international calendar, and probably has some ways to go before gaining full acceptance everywhere. But certainly the fact that we celebrate this day here today is indicative of a new willingness, I would say, of all stakeholders to concretely recognise that gay rights are human rights.

Moving to such a point of acceptance is a long and slow process for some perhaps, and for others it is a journey met with obstacles. For my part, for instance, I am very aware of the prejudices that I inherited from society early on in my life which I have slowly been able, like I'm sure many others, to overcome to a point of acceptance today.

A much better example of such a journey, which obviously has a lot more impact, could of course be seen in the recent statement on marriage equality made by the President of the United States of America, President Obama. He said - I'm sure you heard his speech and his remarks only last week, I think it was the 9th May in a television interview, and I quote him, "At a certain point, I have just concluded that for me personally it is important to go ahead and confirm that I think that same sex couples should be able to go ahead and get married." Unquote.

Earlier this year, on the 7th March the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon addressed a video message to the Human Rights Council meeting on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. He said, and I quote him: "To those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, let me say you are not alone. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is a shared struggle. Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to defend and uphold. Today I stand with you, and I call upon all countries and people to stand with you too." Unquote. Again this was Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaking only a few weeks ago. And I'm sure you know he's had a chance to express his views on the matter, and the views of the United Nations at large more and more in recent months.

The simple fact of loving someone of the same gender remains unfortunately illegal in too many countries. But consensus is slowly moving towards declaring that this is simply inadmissible in the 21st century. The only way to overcome the ignorance of the other is through education and understanding. This is an important task and it starts, in many ways, on the benches of schools. And that's why the importance of having this meeting here today - the house of education, culture and science,  but certainly where education takes  a primary goal. Schools are squarely at the epicentre of the storm of homophobic bullying. And this kind of bullying has even reached, we now know better, epidemic proportions in some parts of the world, and it must be stopped. No child's life should be threatened in the place where they're expected to learn. No child's life should be cut short because they are fearful of going to a school that ought to be a nurturing and accepting environment.

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