The Americas Come out Against LGBT Discrimination

August 14, 2013 in inQueery

The longest-standing multilateral organization in the hemisphere has recognized the need to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation. The General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance during its recent annual meeting in June, which was held in Guatemala. The convention will become regional law when ratified by two member states. All 35 countries of the Americas, from Canada to Chile, including the United States, are members of the OAS.

The preamble to the convention acknowledges that victims of discrimination include sexual minorities, and expresses alarm at hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender. It also acknowledges a duty of nations to encourage respect for the rights and freedoms of all, without regard to sexual orientation, gender, genetic trait, disability, or debilitating psychological distress.

Member states must commit to preventing and punishing discrimination and intolerance, which are defined to include financing of discriminatory acts, restrictions on property ownership, and promotion of discrimination. Member states must also commit to adopting anti-discrimination laws, diversifying their political and legal systems, and ensuring full access to their justice systems. The convention calls for the creation of a committee comprised of one expert from each of the member states to evaluate progress. Violations of the convention can be submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Each member state must designate an institution that will monitor compliance.
The full text of the convention is can be found at the OAS website.

The General Assembly also passed a resolution condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The resolution commits member countries to adopt public policies against discrimination, eliminate barriers to political participation, condemn homophobic and transphobic violence, and provide protection for human rights workers. Vocal opposition came from Jamaica and several other nations. The Jamaican representative stated during the meeting that his country would not support the matter. Video of the incident has been circulating around youtube since late June. Several countries, in addition to Jamaica, added footnotes to the resolution to address their positions. Guatemala asserted that failure to legally recognize same-sex marriage is not discriminatory. Belize stated it would wait for the outcome of a case pending in its supreme court challenging an anti-sodomy law. The full text of Resolution 2807, along with the footnotes can be found at the SCM OAS website.

Secretary of State John Kerry led the U.S. delegation to the OAS General Assembly. In a press release issued the day before he flew to Guatemala and to note pride month at home, he stated, “All over the world, people continue to be killed, arrested, and harassed simply because of who they are, or who they love.” He stated that LGBT persons must be free to exercise their human rights.

I learned about the convention during a trip to San Pedro, Belize, the same week of the OAS meeting. While walking along the sandy shore of town, I noticed a religious gathering at a park and stopped to listen after hearing several references to “sexual orientation.” The leader had set up a projector and sound system. He was going over the text of the OAS drafts. At one point he passionately asked men in the audience to imagine “what if Johnny” uses the same restroom as your wife, or your daughter. The 50 to 100 attendees did not seem fazed.

Donna Mooney is a guest contributor at InQueery.
She has a master’s degree in International Affairs, and a law degree from UC Hastings.