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Rights, Equity and the State: Sexual Orientation and Discrimination Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Apr 26th, 2021

Sexual orientation is “a persistent tendency to experience sexual attractions, fantasies, and desires and to engage in sexual behaviors with partners of a preferred sex” (Cochran et al., 2014, p. 674). The American Psychological Association explicitly states that it does not classify homosexuality or bisexuality as an illness and pledges to advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people (Anton, 2010, p. 1).

Similarly, the World Health Organization does not describe homo- or bisexuality as a disease; currently, it is explicitly stated in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) that non-heterosexual orientation is not considered an illness on its own (Cochran et al., 2014). Moreover, the United Nations (n.d.) General Assembly has provided several resolutions, in which it repeatedly declared that states are expected to protect the human rights of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people (p. 2).

In 2011, the United Nations (n.d.) Human Rights Council produced the resolution 17/19 to express a “grave concern” at sexual orientation discrimination and provided a course of action for its elimination. In Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Act explicitly prohibits sexual orientation-based discrimination since 1996 (Canadian Heritage, 2013, para. 4), which makes sexuality discrimination the last kind of discrimination to be considered in the country. However, international human rights documents do not explicitly mention discrimination based on sexual orientation, even though several articles can be interpreted as prohibiting it (Canadian Heritage, 2013, para. 20).

As a result, even though sexuality discrimination is admittedly a social construct, it, unfortunately, persists all over the world, which means that all the negative consequences of using differences to label a particular group of people as an inferior one proceed to harm society and individuals. In this paper, I will attempt to find out why sexual orientation discrimination was the last to be considered by human rights organizations and why “international human rights instruments do not explicitly recognize sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination” even today(Canadian Heritage, 2013, para. 20).

First, it should be pointed out that the scientific studies, which are devoted to sexual orientation and its variations are relatively new. For example, in 1948, homosexuality was indeed included in ICD as a sexual deviation, and only the studies of the last half of the previous century managed to prove the fact that it is not deviant or defective (Cochran et al., 2014). In the process, some truly horrific studies were carried out as well, such as the experiment by Robert Health that involved drilling a hole in the skull of the subject “B-19” (a male homosexual) and inserting an electrode to stimulate the region associated with pleasure (Horgan, 2012).

The reasons that I think could have conditioned this late development include the fact that the previous century was especially rich with advancements in science, especially in the sciences which can prove the fact that sexual orientation is natural and cannot be regarded as an illness, in particular, psychology and genetics. However, I tend to think that there is another reason for the issue of the late development of the bulk of data that proves the normality of various sexual orientations.

The lack of knowledge admittedly fosters misunderstandings and prejudice, but the prejudice, in turn, defines the mindset of millions of people who then enter scientific communities or may have the power to affect them. Moreover, we need to accept the fact that for centuries most influential religions, for example, Christianity has been interpreting their sacred texts in a way that made any nontraditional orientation sinful (see Lev. 18:22 New American Standard Bible, Lev. 20:13, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, Rom. 1:26-28). In general, churches have a history of both promoting (Woods, 2012) and at the same time hindering the development of science (Buxhoeveden & Woloschak, 2011). For sexuality, it appears that hindering is a more likely course of action.

Apart from that, it is noteworthy that the scientific society has devoted a noticeable amount of attention to other issues as well. The world has a lot of issues to combat. To ridicule Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, when the society is torn by the war or emaciated by hunger, it may be not the best time to discuss human rights (in a way, I digress). It is not correct, but you cannot deny the fact that the issues of human rights are indeed discussed primarily by the developed countries.

The rest might not have the resources to allocate to this aspect of our activities or be too distracted by other, more pressing matters. Some might also suggest that the issue of sexual orientation is not as pressing as those that had been resolved earlier for human rights. It is a cynical thing to say but compared to 50% of the world’s population (that is, women, the majority of which is still being oppressed), the issues of several percent do not appear as drastic.

Similarly, it may be suggested that fewer advocates are available for this smaller population. Indeed, the percentage of the people who position themselves as homo- or bisexual is not typically estimated to exceed 5-6% of the general population of the countries where suitable surveys are carried out. In Canada, a 2005 survey revealed that less than 2% of its population identify themselves as being not heterosexual (Gates, 2011, p. 3). Same-sex attraction is typically found in a larger number of people, but the Canadian survey did not include this aspect; also, it worked with people aged between 18 and 59. It is noteworthy that such surveys typically have numerous limitations, but they might provide an estimation of the non-heterosexual population (Gates, 2011, p. 2).

I do not support this argument (it does not even take into account multiple discrimination), but I mention it here to point out an important fact: we do not know much about sexuality as such, and we are still most affected by stereotypes rather than scientific theories. In particular, we proceed to regard sexuality as something polar, but in effect, the idea of sexuality being a scale appears to have more ground.

This theory (Kinsey scale of sexual behavior) was derived from a reportedly valid study that involved male and female participants; 50% of the former and 28% of the latter reported to have had a same-sex experience. However, only 3-5% of the participants considered themselves homosexual (Hunter, 2013, pp. 24-26). This theory cannot be regarded as a perfect model of sexuality, and it has received criticism (in particular, for limiting sexuality to seven types), but its revolutionary nature is, in my opinion, very insightful.

It suggests that homosexuality is not the other variant of orientation but rather one of the possible variants that are truly numerous. Apart from that, in my opinion, this theory emphasizes the fact that sexuality, “traditional” or not, is, in fact, of importance for about 100% of people. As a result, learning about it and its variants is most significant for all of us, not just a few percent of us who dare to say that they are not heterosexual.

Even nowadays, we proceed to overlook this aspect of our lives. Take, for instance, the developed countries that implement sexual education in their schools: the suggested curricula do not always include materials on sexuality. Quite popular programs (those, for example, sponsored by the US government) are abstinence and abstinence-plus programs. The former type is notorious for being practically useless in the long term (Stanger-Hall, & Hall, 2011), and the latter is known for sending mixed messages (Beshers, 2007). Fortunately, in Canada, the curriculum (that has been around for 50 years) is being updated, and it works to get rid of ineffective models (Gee, 2015).

However, a large part of the population is not supportive. The latest version of the curriculum has raised a parental outcry, and while I am not very familiar with the document, I want to agree with columnist Martin Regg Cohn (2016) that it might be difficult to teach children about penis and vagina when their parents cannot quite gather the courage to pronounce these words. We do not just remain in the dark concerning our sexuality, we also work to stay in the dark, and this lack of knowledge results, among other things, in hatred and misunderstandings between the people of different sexual orientations.

We can conclude that nowadays, the need for research and education in this sphere of human activities is accepted by the international scientific and healthcare community (Anton, 2010; Cochran et al., 2014), but it takes much more time to bring this idea to the people who are not involved in politics and science. We like to speak about innovations and moving forward, but conservativeness is a trait that is not alien to entire peoples and countries.

Before 1969, homosexual relationships were illegal, and up until now, people tend to be wary of sexuality that differs from their own, especially since they do not know much about themselves (Canadian Heritage, 2013, para. 2). APA has been advocating for the acceptance of various variants of sexuality as normal since the 1970s (Anton, 2010), but in 2016, a homophobic person kills 49 people (and wounds 53) because they were homosexual (Alvarez, Perez-Pena, & Hayser, 2016, para. 2).

Here, I want to return to my human rights version of Maslow’s hierarchy. Equality, in particular, sexuality equality, is still a dream for developed countries as well as for developing ones. The enforcement of human rights indeed is one of the challenges that the modern world faces. Though, this fact does not make it less important. As a result, the idea that other issues are capable of distracting people from that of sexuality rights appears a plausible one, but it seems to be a consequence rather than the reason. The true reasons that lead to this issue of overlooking this particular kind of rights are the prejudices, wrong interpretation of sacred texts, lack of knowledge, and probably other aspects I did not manage to find.

Indeed, I do not believe that I have discovered the true recipe to keeping a part of human nature from being accepted as our right, but I think that these factors have contributed greatly. Apart from that, they have been working in concert: I would not insist that there is a true system to them, but some vicious circles (for example, that between the lack of knowledge and the restriction of science) may be singled out.

In general, though, there appears to be a very intricate web of reasons and their consequences that must have resulted in the fact that the problem of sexual orientation is still being excluded from human rights at the international level. Remarkably, the right is admitted in Canada, and, notably, changes are being made to create an inclusive society, but there is still a lot to be done at the international, national, and local levels and the understanding of the mentioned reasons for discrimination (or its contributing factors) should be able to assist. If we see that tolerance is being hindered by prejudice and the lack of knowledge, it is apparent that education is necessary to combat the issue.

Also, we need to remember that rights should be embedded in national and local laws and regulations since the international documents do not have the force of the law locally. The United Nations (n.d.) points out that the legislation of many countries needs to be improved to prohibit violence and sexual orientation discrimination. Naturally, the issues that are related to human rights laws (for example, the necessary development of a more comprehensive and complex view of discrimination) also need to be addressed.

Apart from that, these laws require enforcement, which is still a problem even in human rights champions like Canada. This aspect appears to highlight the need for increasing the awareness and acceptance through research and education again. In the end, in my opinion, the key problem of discrimination is the lack of understanding, and knowledge acquisition and dissemination are the key means of improving the situation.


Alvarez, L., Perez-Pena, R., & Hayser, C. (2016). Orlando Gunman Was ‘Cool and Calm’ After Massacre, Police Say. The New York Times. Web.

Anton, B. S. (2010). Proceedings of the American Psychological Association for the legislative year 2009: Minutes of the annual meeting of the Council of Representatives and minutes of the meetings of the Board of Directors. American Psychologist, 65, 385–475. Web.

Beshers, S. (2007). Abstinence-what? A critical look at the language of educational approaches to adolescent sexual risk reduction. The Journal of School Health, 77(9), 637-9. Web.

Buxhoeveden, D. & Woloschak, G. (2011). Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing.

Canadian Heritage. (2013). Sexual Orientation and Human Rights. Web.

Cochran, S., Drescher, J., Kismödi, E., Giami, A., García-Moreno, C., Atalla, E.,… Reed, G.M. (2014). Proposed declassification of disease categories related to sexual orientation in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11). Bulletin of The World Health Organization, 92(9), 672-679. Web.

Cohn, M.R. (2016). . The Star. Web.

Gates, G.J. (2011). Web.

Gee, M. (2015). . The Globe and Mail. Web.

Horgan, J. (2012). Scientific American. Web.

Hunter, S. (2013). Midlife and older LGBT adults. New York: Haworth Press.

Stanger-Hall, K., & Hall, D. W. (2011). . PLoS One, 6(10) Web.

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Woods, T. (2012). How the Catholic Church built Western civilization. Washington, DC: Regnery History.

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