The human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, 2-spirit and intersex persons
Canada stands up for the protection and promotion of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, 2-spirit and intersex (LGBTQ2I) people globally.
The human rights of all persons are universal and indivisible. Everyone should enjoy the same fundamental human rights, regardless of their sexual orientation and their gender identity and expression.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Article 2 declares, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration.” All people, including LGBTQ2I individuals, are entitled to enjoy the protection provided by international human rights law, which is based on equality and non-discrimination.
Nearly 30 countries, including Canada, recognize same-sex marriage. By contrast, more than 70 countries still criminalize consensual same-sex conduct. This includes 6 countries that effectively impose the death penalty on consensual same-sex sexual acts. In 6 other countries, the death penalty is a possible punishment.
Around the globe, people experience violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. LGBTQ2I people experience discrimination and harassment in housing, the workplace and the classroom. LGBTQ2I people are also often victims of hate-motivated violence, including:
- physical attacks
- arbitrary arrest
- sexual assault
The “2” in “LGBTQ2I’ stands for “2-spirit” and refers to conceptions of sexual and gender identity in some Indigenous communities in Canada. Internationally, “LGBTI” is often used.
What Canada is doing to protect LGBTQ2I persons internationally
In order to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQ2I persons, we:
- engage constructively at both bilateral and multilateral levels to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQ2I people
- consult and work closely with civil society organizations in Canada and abroad to advance the human rights of LGBTQ2I people
- support international assistance programming that seeks to advance human rights and improve socio-economic outcomes for LGBTQ2I people
We use bilateral and multilateral channels to:
- call on states to decriminalize same-sex conduct
- support the work of grassroots LGBTQ2I organizations abroad
- condemn violence and discrimination that target individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity
Canada actively promotes LGBTQ2I human rights in a number of multilateral forums:
- the United Nations
- the Organization of American States
- the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
- the Equal Rights Coalition
At the forefront is the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Combatting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) has links to resources including UN resolutions on SOGI, reports on SOGI issues and activities combatting discrimination based on SOGI.
In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council passed its first resolution recognizing LGBT rights, following which the OHCHR issued a report documenting violations of the rights of LGBT people, including hate crimes, criminalization of homosexual activity and discrimination.
Since 2016, an independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity has also been mandated by the council to:
- assess the implementation of existing international human rights instruments aimed at overcoming violence and discrimination against persons on the basis of their SOGI
- identify and address the root causes of SOGI-based violence and discrimination
Canada is also member of the UN LGBTI Core Group, an informal, cross-regional group of UN member states established in 2008. Its main goal is to work within the UN framework to ensure universal respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBTI people.
UNAIDS examines LGBTI and health-related issues.
UNESCO advocates for increased awareness on homophobia and transphobia in the educational system.
The World Health Organization draws links between sexual health, human rights and the law.
In 2016, the World Bank appointed its first adviser on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
Some international organizations also support programming in the area of LGBTQ2I rights, including the:
Canada is a founding and active member of the Organization of the American States (OAS) LGBTI Core Group. This is an informal policy-coordination group of like-minded OAS member states that seek to advance the LGBTI human rights agenda in the OAS.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has appointed a rapporteur on the rights of LGBTI persons.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development works on LGBTI inclusiveness and publishes the biennial OECD overview of social indicators. The 2019 report features a special chapter on LGBT people. The OECD also published the report “Over the Rainbow? The Road to LGBTI Inclusion” in June 2020.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has studied the impacts of security sector reform on LGBT people in Serbia.
In 2013, the Council of the European Union published guidelines to promote and protect the enjoyment of all human rights by LGBTI persons.
In 2015, the European Commission presented the List of Actions to Advance LGBTI Equality.
In 2014, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights voted to condemn SOGI-based violence.
Equal Rights Coalition
The intergovernmental Equal Rights Coalition (ERC) is dedicated to the protection of the human rights of LGBTI persons. The ERC advances the human rights of LGBTI persons and promotes inclusive development in both ERC member and non-member countries.
In July 2016, the ERC was launched under the leadership of Uruguay and the Netherlands at the Global LGBTI Human Rights Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay. Canada served as co-chair, with Chile, of the ERC from 2017 to 2019. In August 2018, Canada hosted the inaugural ERC Global Conference on LGBTI Human Rights and Inclusive Development in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Canada’s approach to LGBTQ2I-inclusive international assistance
In February 2019, Canada announced its new LGBTQ2I international assistance program. This program helps the country achieve the aims of its Feminist International Assistance Policy. The program consists of $30 million in dedicated funding over 5 years and $10 million every year after. These funds promote human rights and improve socio-economic outcomes for LGBTQ2I people in developing countries.
This funding complements and supports the efforts of partners and movements working with LGBTQ2I communities in developing countries. These new initiatives rely on consulting our partners and on their participation. This program responds to the needs, realities and priorities of LGBTQ2I persons and their representative organizations.
The human rights-based approach and recommendations of experts, partners and stakeholders provide direction to our delivery of LGBTQ2I-inclusive international assistance. We are:
- seeking to partner with LGBTQ2I-led organizations
- pursuing participative and inclusive processes
- paying particular attention to groups that are especially marginalized
- cultivating institutional experience, knowledge and expertise
Canada is also committed to following the “do no harm” principle to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of all partners.
Providing refugee protection
Canada continues to encourage the sponsorship of refugees who face violence and persecution. We have been resettling vulnerable individuals, including those who are part of the LGBTQ2I community, for years.
We rely on the United Nations Refugee Agency, other referral organizations and private sponsors to identify individuals who are persecuted based on their SOGI or HIV status.
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada’s (IRB’s) guidelines for IRB procedures involving sexual orientation and gender identity and expression help provide a better understanding of the challenges people with diverse SOGI may face in presenting their asylum cases.
More and more Canadian NGOs are working to raise awareness and improve the lives of LGBTQ2I persons internationally. The Dignity Network, a network of Canadian organizations, is a key interlocutor in consultations between the department and Canadian CSOs to identify how Canada can further advance LGBTQ2I human rights and inclusive development. The following organizations also work on LGBTQ2I human rights issues:
- Amnesty International
- ARC International
- Fondation Émergence
- Human Dignity Trust
- Human Rights Watch
- ILGA World
- Kaleidoscope Trust
- OutRight Action International
- Rainbow Railroad
- The Royal Commonwealth Society
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