Main Content

You Are Here

LGBTQ/SOGI Human Rights Program

"Veil of Silence" post-film screening panel discussion highlights

Lesbian, Gay,  Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Human Rights at the United Nations

Guided by our principles, Unitarian Universalists are called to advocate for international human rights; to be a voice for the voiceless by promoting the inherent worth and dignity of all living things. At the United Nations, we use the term Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) more often than lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) in order to encompass and represent all peoples who fall in the sexual orientation and gender identity spectrum. The Unitarian Universalist-United Nations Office (UU-UNO) is committed to bringing SOGI/LGBTQ human rights to the forefront of the UN agenda. 

Putting SOGI Human Rights on the UN Agenda

The UU-UNO demonstrated its unwavering commitment to international SOGI rights at the September 2008 61st Annual United Nations DPI-NGO conference in Paris, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Executive Director Bruce Knotts hosted the UN’s first ever SOGI workshop, opening a dialogue and giving voice to a movement developing in the realm of human rights advocacy.

Again, in June 2014, the UU-UNO presented a statement regarding SOGI rights during the 12th session of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The statement, presented to the co-chairs, proposed amendments to certain targets under Goal 10, which deals with inequality among social groups within countries. In that statement, the UU-UNO pointed out that even the most inclusive language will not suffice in securing fundamental rights for LGBTQ populations, and called for explicit inclusion of SOGI demographics in the language of the targets. Although our statement was the only statement to explicitly mention LGBTQ people and SOGI rights, it was well received and was also the only to receive applause.  This speech proved a catalyst for the formation of a coalition of advocates for many vulnerable groups, such as those with disabilities, to work together to ensure that data on all groups is collected to ensure that all benefit from development. Check it out here! Bruce's speech begins at 38:15.

Fully embracing SOGI rights, in 2013 the UN launched the Free & Equal campaign, which is “an unprecedented United Nations global public education campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.” The campaign raises awareness of fear of variations in sexual orientation and gender identity around the world and the criminalization of variations in sexual orientation/gender identity in at least 80 countries that mandate legal sanctions against people based only on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The UU-UNO works to create support to protect SOGI rights.

Improving LGBTQ Refuge and Asylum

Approximately 80 nations criminalize same-sex relations. Eight apply the death penalty for homosexual acts. The UU-UNO works to advocate for SOGI rights at the United Nations. Learn more by reading our LGBT Global Action Guide.

Asylum, refuge, and resettlement procedures for LGBTQ people can endanger their well-being, even after they flee. The UU-UNO works to provide support and community to those forced to flee their homes, by compiling a number of resources to help those seeking various services and vocalizing SOGI asylum issues at the United Nations.

Joining Forces

The UU-UNO works together in collaboration with other organizations that strive to improve the lives of LGBTQ people. The UU-UNO has partnered with Housing Works, an organization that advocates for and provides resources to people living with HIV/AIDS, and also with LGBT Freedom Asylum Network (LGBT-FAN). LGBT-FAN is a group made up of faith leaders, asylum-seekers, asylees, activists, the LGBTQ community center staff, policy experts, and refugee resettlement workers dedicated to helping people who flee to North America. LGBT-FAN assists asylum seekers who escape persecution from their home countries based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. LGBT-FAN is also highly involved with several justice campaigns. Join forces by visiting the LGBT-FAN website.

Working at the UN to End Global Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity

The UU-UNO supports global efforts, including grassroots campaigns, to combat the spread of homophobia/transphobia and the incitement to genocide by local, foreign, state and non-state actors. This includes hosting events and programs to raise awareness on the issue. The UU-UNO has held advocacy events at UU congregations, where Bruce Knotts, asylum seekers, and people who work with asylum seekers spoke about SOGI asylum and refugee issues.

Upcoming Events

The UU-UNO is hosting three events regarding LGBTQ asylum seekers. The first is in late August 2015, at the QI2 Conference 2015 on deprogramming religious homophobia for LGBTQ asylum seekers. The second event, at the United Nations Church Center in October 2015, aims to raise awareness and create discussion regarding LGBTQ asylum seekers at the United Nations. The third event will be in February 2016 to raise awareness as well as supplies and benefits for LGBTQ asylum seekers at First Unitarian Society of Westchester. To find upcoming events, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or join our email list.

Share, Print, or Explore

For more information contact