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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is an individual born gay or is homosexuality a choice one makes or a behaviour one develops in the course of life? Aren’t same sex relations unnatural?

Yes, individuals are born gay as they are born straight. No, homosexuality is not a choice.

One simple way you can find out is by asking when you first felt the attraction for an opposite sex. You will not be able to recall a particular time. You always had such feelings. Meaning, you are born this way. It is not a matter of choice. It is the same for individuals who are attracted to the same sex. Having said that cultural expectations or environment may influence an individual to suppress or ignore his/her innate desire for a same sex partner, in order to conform to dominant cultural expectations. In many cases we find individuals ‘come out of the closet’ at a later stage of their lives.

Same sex relationships are not ‘unnatural’. Not all sexual relations are connected to procreation. Therefore, it is unacceptable/not appropriateto call a relationship ‘unnatural’ only because there is no procreation.

2. Can gay sexual orientations be changed through counselling, treatment, punishment or other interventions including legal sanctions and religious interventions?

A person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity cannot be changed. What must change are the negative social attitudes that stigmatize LGBT people and contribute to violence and discrimination against them. Attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation often involve human rights violations and can cause severe trauma. Examples include forced psychiatric therapies intended to “cure” (sic) individuals of their same-sex attraction, as well as the so-called “corrective” rape of lesbians perpetrated with the declared aim of “turning them straight.”

3. Is homosexuality not just a Western behaviour that is being imposed on other countries and cultures?

No. LGBT people exist everywhere, in all countries, among all ethnic groups, at all socioeconomic levels and in all communities. Claims that same-sex attraction is a Western practice are false. However, many of the criminal laws used today to punish LGBT people are Western in origin. In most cases, they were imposed on the countries concerned in the 19th Century by the colonial powers of the day.

LGBT people have always existed and been a part of our communities. There are examples from every locality and time-period, from prehistoric rock paintings in South Africa and Egypt to ancient Indian medical texts and early Ottoman literature. Many societies have traditionally been open towards LGBT people, including several Asian societies that have traditionally recognized a third gender.

See also this infographic on LGBT people throughout history in various parts of the world.

4. Is the United Nations training its personnel to be gay rights activists?

The United Nations is defining the behaviour it expects of all of its personnel, within the workplace, in relation to other colleagues. In keeping with the core values of most United Nations organizations, and with global human rights instruments and commitments, this includes treating all LGBTI colleagues with full respect and dignity.

Learning about LGBTI people and the issues that affect them, understanding how related stigma or discrimination can affect the United Nations workplace, and making personal efforts to ensure the inclusion of LGBTI colleagues are the primary objectives of this training module.

Protecting rights of individuals, where it’s not automatically done, is one of the core mandates of the UN system. One of the good examples of this role that the UN has been playing over the past few decades is encouraging women to work for the UN system and promoting them positively, wherever possible.

5. Will I not face a backlash from my family/friends by when they know that I have attended this LGBTI workshop?

The United Nations is reaching out to its personnel, as personnel – as members of the United Nations workforce, with the obligation to ensure dignity and respect for all colleagues.

United Nations personnel are also part of their families and communities. As with other UN Cares work on HIV, the extent to which workshop participants share this information with their families and communities is a personal one. That said, UN Cares encourages the sharing of the information available in the workshop. UN personnel have an opportunity to take leadership both within and beyond their workplaces to communicate about the universal nature of human rights, including for LGBTI persons, as well as the importance of inclusive language.

6. Is UN Cares changing its focus from HIV to other non-HIV issues including LGBTI rights, disability and substance use OR what’s the relevance of these issues to UN Cares?

UN for All is a project of UN Cares, among other projects. UN Cares Minimum Standard is “Learning and training activities on stigma and discrimination,” and the UN for All project contributes to the achievement of this Minimum Standard. UN Cares will continue other activities and that support the achievement of other UN Cares Minimum Standards.

UN for All also supports the achievement of the global AIDS goals related to Zero New Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS-related Deaths, given that discrimination related to HIV is often also tied to other forms of social exclusion, based on, for example, sexual orientation or substance use, which these workshops address.

UN for All also supports the diversity-related core values or competencies of many UN system organizations, examples of which are in the annex.

7. One’s sexual orientation is a deeply personal and private matter. Why then should sexual orientation and gender identity be an issue for the United Nations workplace when there are many more important issues?

Many of the issues being discussed in UN for All can be considered deeply personal matters – including substance use and disability. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other senior-most United Nations leaders have articulated the desire for the United Nations system to be an inclusive workplace for LGBTI staff. “As Secretary-General, I’ll make the United Nations the best workplace where LGBT staff will be able to work freely.” In order to achieve this end, we need open conversation in the United Nations workplace about the human rights of LGBTI people.

8. My country outlaws homosexuality and bisexuality. Why am I being asked to attend the workshop on the human rights of LGBTI people when homosexuality and bisexuality are illegal in my country?

In at least 76 countries, discriminatory laws criminalize private, consensual same-sex relationships, exposing millions of individuals to the risk of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment – and even, in at least five countries, the death penalty. Criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct violates rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination, both protected under international law, and places States in material breach of their obligation to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Yet, human rights are universal: every human being is entitled to the same rights, no matter who they are or where they live. While history, culture and religion are contextually important, all States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, have a legal duty to promote and protect the human rights of all.

9. My religion and culture both teach against homosexuality. Does learning about LGBTI issues not go against my religious and cultural beliefs?

Human rights are universal: every human being is entitled to the same rights, no matter who they are or where they live. While history, culture and religion are contextually important, all States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, have a legal duty to promote and protect the human rights of all.

10. How should I discuss LGBTI issues with my family, especially my teenage children without appearing to encourage them in to homosexuality? What are the LGBTI issues that I should discuss with my family?

Learning about or spending time with people who are LGBT does not influence the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors nor can it harm their wellbeing. Rather, it is vital that all youth have access to age-appropriate sexuality education to ensure that they have healthy, respectful physical relationships and can protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections. Denial of this kind of information contributes to stigma and can cause young LGBT people to feel isolated, depressed, forcing some to drop out of school and contributing to higher rates of suicide.

ANNEX – United Nations Competency Frameworks on Diversity

Organization Competency/Core Value Definition
United Nations Respect for Diversity An ability to work effectively, respectfully and inclusively with people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives is critical for all staff members.
UNICEF Diversity and Inclusion Treats all people with dignity and respect; shows respect and sensitivity towards gender, cultural and religious differences; challenges prejudice, biases and intolerance in the workplace; encourages diversity wherever possible.
UNFPA Embracing Cultural Diversity Living the human rights principles the organization stands for by demonstrating an appreciation of its multicultural nature as manifested by the diversity of its staff.

Demonstrate inclusive behaviour and willingness to work with all individuals and groups regardless of gender, nationality, religion or any other characteristic.
ILO Sensitive to Diversity Is sensitive to, and adapts own behaviour to accommodate, the differences found in diverse work environments; treats all individuals and groups fairly and with respect, irrespective of cultural background, gender, religious belief, age, sexual orientation, marital status, physical disability or political conviction
WHO Respecting and promoting individual and cultural differences Demonstrates the ability to work constructively with people of all backgrounds and orientations. Respects differences and ensures that all can contribute.
FAO Respect for All Values others’ dignity and worth and draws on diverse ideas, experiences and talents; Shows respect and sensitivity towards gender, culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, political conviction and other differences.
UNAIDS Respect for Diversity This value is about treating all people with dignity and respect, and leveraging the diverse perspectives of our colleagues and partners. It is about becoming aware of our own biases and taking action to confront discrimination or intolerance. It includes respecting and including diverse points of view in our daily work and decision-making.

We demonstrate inclusive behaviour and willingness to work without bias with all individuals and groups, regardless of gender, nationality, sexual orientation, HIV status or any other characteristic.