U.N. Vote Reveals the Persistence of Institutionalized Homophobia

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By Mel Dikert

On September 29, the U.N. voted on whether or not to condemn “the use of the death penalty as punishment for consensual gay relations,” CNN stated. While 13 countries were against the idea, 27 countries supported it. Some of the countries that voted against the condemnation include Saudi Arabia, China, Egypt and the United States. The U.S., which is one of the leading countries in the advancement of human rights, sided with countries where people are arrested, punished and tortured just for being a part of the LGBT+ community.

Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said that the United States voted against the resolution due to the “broader concerns about the resolution’s approach to condemning the death penalty in all circumstances,” according to the Independent. She continued, “The United States unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery and apostasy.”

Newsweek reported that the U.N. resolution had been a call “for states which have not abolished the death penalty to consider doing so,” claiming that the resolution had been about the death penalty overall, not just in regards to homosexuality. Newsweek continued, stating, “No U.S. administration has backed a measure condemning the death penalty.” The Obama Administration had abstained from a similar resolution proposed in 2014, though the resolution at the time failed to highlight the rights of LGBT+ people.

Regardless, there are countries that legally allow the death penalty to be used on LGBT+ people whether or not the United States supports it, and it is for this reason that so many U.S. citizens are upset over the decision. Some organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, argue that by voting against this resolution, the United States has thus displayed a “blatant disregard” for the lives of LGBT+ people in other countries.

Kayla Brown (‘21) seems to agree with the prior statement. She stated, “No one should die for their sexual orientation. Being where the [United States] is now developmentally and culturally, we should not be voting against something that could potentially end that type of behavior in other countries where it is still legal.”

Another recent setback in LGBT+ rights was the assertion that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 no longer protects transgender workers from discrimination in the workplace. This act decrees that there can be no employment discrimination against people based on race, national origin, ethnicity, sex, etc. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, reversed that policy and stated, “Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.”

Title VII has been interpreted to include protection of transgender people from discrimination, ever since previous Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo stating, “I have determined that the best reading of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination is that it encompasses discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status,” Buzzfeed News reported. The memo continued, “The most straightforward reading of Title VII is that discrimination ‘because of … sex’ includes discrimination because an employee’s gender identification is as a member of a particular sex, or because the employee is transitioning, or has transitioned, to another sex.”

According to CNN, Sessions even believes that an employer should be allowed to hang a “Transgender Need Not Apply” sign in their window, and Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, plans to take him to court.

In March, “a draft of subjects planned for the 2020 census… initially had a proposal to include sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time,” Huffpost stated. The same day, the proposal was removed. According to The Washington Blade, this would have been the first time that LGBT+ individuals could identify themselves on the U.S. census as it has never added questions regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.

Meghan Maury, a project director on the National LGBTQ Task Force, responded to the removal of these proposed questions by saying, “Information from these surveys helps the government to enforce federal laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Housing Act and to determine how to allocate resources like housing supports and food stamps.” She continued: “If the government doesn’t know how many LGBTQ people live in a community, how can it do its job to ensure we’re getting fair and adequate access to the rights, protections and services we need?”

According to NBC News, due to the tremendous outcry from LGBT+ advocates, the U.S. Census Bureau has decided to “include a question about sexual orientation on at least one of its more than 130 surveys: the Census Barriers, Attitudes and Motivators Survey (CBAMS).” This survey is meant to coax participation in the 2020 census from the “hard-to-count” populations.

The community got a question on one of the surveys, but it was only after social pressure was put on the administration. There are more examples of the Trump Administration rolling back LGBT+ rights that the community fought hard to achieve, such as Trump’s transgender military ban in July. Even individual states are fighting back against same-sex marriage.

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