On IDAHOT 2017, let us celebrate families in all their diversity

17 May 2017

On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, a call for compassion, love and understanding

Yoriko Yasukawa, UNFPA’s Director for Asia and the Pacific

May 17, 2017

Let us celebrate love instead of punishing it. Let us rather punish hatred and violence.

This is the central message of Free and Equal, a campaign launched by the United Nations in 2014 to eradicate discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people.

And on IDAHOT 2017, whose theme is "Families", let us celebrate the diversity of families around the world, where love is the foundation.

Given all the violent conflicts in the world today, rooted in intolerance and hatred toward those who are different, it seems to us that what we need more of in the world is, precisely, love.

When we say love, we are speaking on the one hand of that sentiment that is born spontaneously – romantic love, or love for our children, for example. But we are also speaking about a conscious and rational choice to respect and embrace those who are different from us, individually as well as collectively.

We are speaking of love as an effort to expand the circle of caring and solidarity beyond those who are like us, to include those who aren’t.

We are speaking of love as a triumph of reason over irrational fear and hatred.

Love, as called for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its Article I:  All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

This call for love is more urgent today than ever. Despite progress made toward equality in many countries, there are also many, including in the Asia Pacific Region, where LGBTI people continue to be treated with contempt, derision and discrimination.

They are often forced to live in fear, shame and hiding, and are abused, beaten or even killed simply on account of their sexual orientation and gender identity – because of who they are.

It is especially worrying that in our region, countries that had prided themselves on embracing diversity now seem to be taking backward steps toward intolerance and hatred of the different.

We have seen this disturbing trend accelerate in the past year, and we must collectively address this challenge if we are to ensure that all citizens enjoy their basic human rights - to fulfill the pledge of the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals whose ultimate pledge is to leave no one behind.

The former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, had been very clear in condemning discrimination and violence and in defending the rights of LGBT people: “Let me say this loud and clear: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else. They, too, are born free and equal. I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their struggle for human rights.”

The current Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has consistently echoed that sentiment as well, on IDAHOT and other occasions, including while he was head of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Our UN campaign calls on all governments and societies to overcome their prejudices and fears to assume this same commitment to our fellow human beings and citizens who also happen to be LGBTI.

We know that this will not be easy, that it will be a struggle against voices that will insist on denying and quashing diversity. Knowing this, we extend a hand to invite all of you – all of us – to make that choice, a choice that will take courage, but that in the end will reward us by making us better, more inclusive and more just societies.

I had the opportunity some years ago to hear a very eloquent and moving exhortation to make this choice and to take on this effort, at the wedding of a gay couple who were formalizing their union after 17 years of sharing their lives, thanks to the legalization of same-sex marriages in the City of New York. It was a Jewish wedding officiated by a woman rabbi. Prior to the traditional Jewish ceremony in which the couple steps on and breaks a glass, the rabbi explained that this ritual symbolized the fragility of love and the need to care for it so that it might flourish. And in the moment when the couple broke the glass, she exclaimed, ‘Choose love! Choose love!'

Today, on IDAHOT 2017, and every day, let us all choose love - and celebrate the overarching connection that celebrates all of humanity.