What is discrimination against LGBTI people?

Non-discrimination is, without exception, a fundamental principle of international human rights law that has been enumerated in myriad human rights instruments worldwide, on national and international levels.

Legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been passed in several Western European countries as well as Australia, Brazil, Canada, and the United States. In 1994, South Africa became the first country to prohibit such discrimination in its constitution, and at present several other countries are considering similar constitutional provisions. A number of countries have also begun to grant refugee status to those who fear persecution in their countries of origin due to their sexual orientations. And, international organizations such as the United Nations have approved human rights declarations that include provisions to protect individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Unfortunately, however, the everyday reality for millions of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people (LGBTI) around the world remains unaffected by these provisions, and the rights and degrees of protection accorded to LGBTI persons in practice oftentimes diverge greatly from those laid out in international human rights law.

LGBTI-related laws vary greatly by country and region, ranging from legal recognition of same-sex marriage or other types of partnerships, to life imprisonment or even the death penalty as punishment for same-sex sexual activity. LGBTI-related legislation includes, but is not limited to, laws governing: sodomy, lesbianism, age of consent for same-gender sexual activity *(including, at times, higher ages of consent for LGBTI persons), government recognition of same-sex relationships, LGBTI persons’ right to adopt, sexual orientation and military service, immigration equality, anti-discrimination laws, and hate crime laws regarding violence against LGBTI people. Unfortunately, in many countries throughout the world, legislation is used as a means of denying, rather protecting, LGBTI persons and their fundamental human rights, including that to non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

LGBTI persons may be denied their basic rights not only through special criminal provisions, but also through everyday practices, which are intentionally overlooked or even supported by State institutions and societal attitudes. The distinction between discrimination occurring in the private and the public spheres, coupled with the State’s almost exclusive focus on the latter, have served to obscure many of the abuses perpetrated in the private sphere of the home. Furthermore, conventional notions of state accountability overlook the fact that most governments consistently fail to intervene in human rights abuses.
This systematic neglect by the State, coupled with the invocation of the sanctity of the institution of the family by religious institutions and the private sphere, serves to legitimize abuses.
In spite of the principle of non-discrimination, LGBTI persons are denied - both by law and in practice - basic civil, political, social and economic rights. Recognizing that persecution on the basis of sexual orientation is a violation of basic human rights is an essential first step towards addressing human rights violations against LGBTI persons.