Equality and diversity at the heart of sustainable development

15 May 2014

imageUNDP China held a Brown bag lunch for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 15

Recently, at the meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Sochi, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took a stand against homophobia and transphobia, declaring, “We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face. Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century.”

On the eve of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia tomorrow, this message reminds us of the need to promote and protect the wellbeing of all Chinese people, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a message the United Nations family stands firmly behind, informed by the belief in the inherent value of diversity and its importance for a new development model that is inclusive and truly sustainable.

Last year, LGBT representatives talked about their experiences of being LGBT in China at a national dialogue supported by UNDP here in Beijing. Many relayed stories of ostracism, intimidation and violence from family members, peers and local authorities. Others talked about how discrimination had prevented them from finishing school, finding a decent job and accessing health care.

In fact, while Chinese law does not criminalize same-sex relationships, new research highlights that LGBT persons experience high levels of stigma, discrimination, and exclusion in a variety of settings: the home, school, the workplace, health facilities, and public spaces. Government authorities at different levels, parents, teachers, employers, development partners and civil society, we all have a role to play to promote and protect the wellbeing of LGBT persons so that they can participate fully and equally in Chinese society.

Positive steps have been taken in recent years. Anti-hooliganism laws often used to criminalize male same-sex relationships were abolished in 1997. Homosexuality was taken off the list of mental diseases in 2001 and there is growing recognition of sexual orientation and gender identity issues among government, development partners and civil society organisations. Most importantly, the LGBT community in China is increasingly active in both advocacy and service delivery, while academic seminars and policy discussions on LGBT issues are growing.

Since the first United Nations resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity was adopted in 2011, more and more countries in Asia and around the world are taking action to ban discrimination, penalize hate crimes, recognise same-sex relationships, and grant official documents to transgender and intersex persons. The United Nations is supporting these efforts, launching the ‘Free and Equal’ campaign in July last year to raise awareness about violence and discrimination and promote LGBT rights. In China, over the last 18 months UNDP has been implementing the ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ Initiative, a first-of-its-kind learning effort undertaken in 8 countries in Asia with grassroots LGBT organizations and community leaders. The initiative encourages networking between LGBT people across the region, building a knowledge baseline and developing an understanding of the capacity of LGBT organizations. At the same time, through this work UNDP has been promoting a better understanding of the stigma and discrimination that LGBT people face and the steps toward LGBT-inclusive development that the UN system, donors and other development partners can take.

Eradicating discrimination takes time and education. It requires changing not just laws and policies, but also hearts and minds. Everyone – government, civil society, development partners and individuals – can take part in making these changes to combat violence and discrimination against LGBT persons. Because they share the same dreams as everyone else. They, too, are the backbones for the greater development of this society.