During this year’s 77th UN General Assembly, hundreds of world leaders went to New York City for a special diplomatic marathon, and thousands of diplomats and journalists celebrated the return of a more in-person UNGA. They were there to make sure what happened at UNGA did not stay at UNGA. (It’s not Vegas!)
If you think about it, during UNGA, people around the world are mainly focused on a single podium with a very unique-looking and recognizable marble wall behind it. Each country’s leader uses their time on one of the world’s most famous stages to speak to other nations and to their citizens watching at home. As an American posted to Luxembourg, this year two speeches caught my eye: the one of President Biden (I guess that comes as no surprise) and the other of Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel. As two NATO allies, I was interested to hear how they will use their time to press the world for action against the war on Ukraine
Those speaking at that iconic podium may be the main event, but on the margins of UNGA, many other events are part of what we at the Department of State do best: diplomacy.
For example, between bilateral meetings and press engagements, Secretary Blinken met with the UN LGBTI Core Group for a high-level discussion about the status of our efforts to promote human rights at a time when, as Secretary Blinken described, “The movement for equality is showing some encouraging momentum.” Among the dozens of high-level participants were Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir, Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra, Argentine Foreign Affairs Minister Santiago Califero, and Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela.
Indeed, many advances toward greater equality for LGBTQI+ persons have taken place in the past year. We witnessed St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda decriminalize homosexuality, the Government of Vietnam announce that homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender identities cannot be considered illnesses, and President Biden sign an Executive Order aimed at curbing the harmful practice of so-called “conversion therapy.”
During his meeting with the LGBTI Core Group, Secretary Blinken followed up on the President’s Executive Order (EO) on Advancing Equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Individuals that was issued in June. In this EO, the President instructed the Secretary of State to “…address so-called conversion therapy around the world,” and required that he, along with other cabinet-level secretaries, “develop an action plan to promote an end to its use around the world.” UNGA was the perfect place to preview to our partners on the UN LGBTI Core Group how the United States is planning to combat discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons around the world and promote their well-being.
This was not the Secretary’s only event on the margins this year. In fact, many senior Administration officials, including State Department leadership, went to New York to participate in this well-choreographed diplomatic effort.
With the many challenges our world is facing, one week of events like this probably isn’t enough. That said, there’s no doubt the United States had the opportunity to start many conversations we can build upon in the coming months.
About the Author: Shalom Konstantino is a Public Affairs professional at the Office of Planning and Events in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs. He is married to a Foreign Service Officer and they are currently based in Luxembourg.
*The UN LGBTI Core Group is an informal cross regional group of United Nations Member States established in 2008. The group is co-chaired by Argentina and The Netherlands, and includes Albania, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Peru, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Timor Leste, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States of America, Uruguay, the European Union (as an observer), as well as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the non-governmental organizations Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International (Secretariat).