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UN Committee Criticizes US Record on LGBT Rights

Recommends Repeal of Discriminatory Laws

An activist wears the transgender pride flag as a counter protest during a rally in favor of a ban on gender-affirming health care legislation at the Missouri Statehouse in Jefferson, US, March 20, 2023. © 2023 Charlie Riedel/AP Photo

In its review of the United States’ record on civil and political rights, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) condemned a flood of discriminatory state legislation restricting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

The United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1992. Every four years, the HRC reviews laws and policies in countries that have ratified the treaty to evaluate where they are in compliance with the treaty and where they fall short. The review of the US was postponed during the Covid-19 pandemic, making this the first review of the US in nine years.

In advance of the review, released on November 3, the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, the University of Miami School of Law Human Rights Clinic, and partner organizations submitted a report to the committee identifying how Florida and other US states have aggressively rolled back LGBT rights in recent years.

Among the worrying US laws are those restricting access to gender-affirming care and prohibiting transgender children from participating in school sports or using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Also concerning are laws banning books as well as prohibiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBT people, and their families in schools.

As our groups noted, these laws jeopardize a range of civil and political rights, including rights to nondiscrimination, expression, information, privacy, security of the person, life, and freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

In its concluding observations, the committee expressed concern about laws limiting transgender people’s access to healthcare, athletics, and public accommodations, and restricting discussions of race, slavery, sexual orientation, and gender identity in schools. It underscored the prevalence of discrimination against LGBT people in the US, including in housing, employment, correctional facilities, and other domains. The committee also condemned derogatory speech aimed at LGBT people, including from public officials, and violence against LGBT people and members of other minority groups.

The Committee’s findings should be a wake-up call for state and federal lawmakers in the United States. Amid an aggressive backlash, state lawmakers should stop actively undermining US human rights obligations and repeal discriminatory laws, and the federal government should both enact comprehensive legislation to safeguard LGBT people’s rights and enforce existing civil and human rights guarantees.

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