United Nations Free and Equal Campaign Director Charles Radcliffe called for increasing activism amidst a climate of shifting attitudes toward LGBT rights in an increasingly polarized world at a forum in McShain Lounge on Thursday.
The United Nations Association of Georgetown, GU Pride and the LGBTQ Resource Center hosted the event, titled “LGBTI Rights are Human Rights.”
The Free and Equal campaign formed under the Human Rights Office in 2013 to push for more LGBT rights around the world. The group has since campaigned for these issues to be at the forefront of the U.N.’s agenda.
UNA-Georgetown Undersecretary General of Membership Zackary Abu-Akeel (SFS ’18) said the forum will give the UNA a unique opportunity to increase awareness on campus of the UN’s global efforts to promote LGBTQ rights.
“We hope to raise awareness on campus of the initiatives that the U.N. leads that support individuals identifying as LGBTQ+ around the globe in the fight for freedom and equality,” Abu-Akeel said.
Radcliffe began the forum by playing a video that outlined the various struggles of the LGBT community around the world. He then emphasized that LGBT individuals are deprived of basic human rights, saying that the UN wishes for equality.
“There is nothing new about the right to life or the right to security of person. There is nothing special about the right to education,” Radcliffe said. “There is nothing new or special about the right to be free from discrimination, to be free from arbitrary arrest or detention or torture.”
Radcliffe also said there has been a large shift in global attitudes toward LGBT rights. In particular, LGBT rights went from seldom discussed to a large global campaign with wide support in little time.
“There was literally no debate at all about human rights violations against the LGBT community and that has changed very quickly in the space of a few years,” Radcliffe said.
Several countries have made large strides in LGBT rights, such as passing marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws. Radcliffe sees LGBT equality as achieving the most progress among human rights campaigns. However, Radcliffe noted there has been significant resistance against LGBT rights.
“There is no area that I am aware of where we have seen so many positive steps taken in so many countries in such a short period of time. … It is also true, I think, that there is no issue that we’ve seen so much resistance and so much well-organized and well-funded opposition,” Radcliffe said.
Radcliffe said the issue of resistance to LGBT rights, such as countries criminalizing homosexuality outright and limiting the activities of LGBT rights groups, is a rising phenomenon threatening the LGBT community worldwide.
“One of the challenges we have in this campaign is how to find a way to talk about this that has resonance in so many different cultural contexts,” Radcliffe said.
In the forum’s question-and-answer session, a student asked Radcliffe about the successes of the LGBT rights movement.
“It is hard to say why it’s gathered pace in the last few years, but it is absolutely a determining factor, maybe the most important factor, is people coming out. … When people become known, their stories become known,” Radcliffe said. “When the community is humanized, people’s attitudes change much more quickly.”
At the end of the event, Radcliffe said the best way for everyday people to assist in the LGBT rights movement is to support LGBT individuals in their own communities and join the global campaign.
“The things that you can do that are most effective are in your own communities, in your own families. Embrace your LGBTQ friends and let them know you’re there.” Radcliffe said. “If you want to get interested in what’s happening globally, find out, join the campaign, share the materials. It’s by sharing this, by being part of this movement, we will in the end push for change.”
Grace Laria (SFS ’19) said many of the opinions discussed aligned with her own, especially the U.N.’s goal of working at the local level to implement change.
“A lot of things [Radcliffe] said really resonated with me … the idea of working through local communities, rather than the U.N. imposing regulations,” Laria said.
Samuel Boyne (SFS ’18) also said the event effectively raised awareness of LGBT issues.
“I think it was a really important campaign, and the speech was definitely touching a lot of topics that are good for all of us to know,” Boyne said.