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United Nations hosts conversation on anti-LGBT bias in sports

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Jason Collins and Martina Navratilova join a panel of to discuss LGBT discrimination in international sports

Jason Collins and Martina Navratilova (left) speak at the United Nations
Jason Collins and Martina Navratilova (left) speak at the United Nations
UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

The United Nations on Tuesday held its first public discussion about homophobia in sports in recognition of Human Rights Day. Out MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts moderated the discussion that included out athletes Martina Navratilova and Jason Collins. The event was organized in part by United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment. Video of the full discussion is below (hat tip to the Gay Games).

One person in the audience said much of the conversation revolved around the issue of intersex athletes, which gained worldwide attention with the story of Caster Semenya. Others in the audience -- including Melissa Etheridge -- reportedly addressed the crowd, in addition to the panelists.

The UN is an area none of the LGBT sports organizations had yep been able to tap, so it's positive to see this development. Hopefully this is just the first step toward engaging the UN more on this issue.

The event was a hot Twitter topic on Tuesday:

Here is the press release from the United Nations:

NEW YORK, 10 December, 2013: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today joined tennis legend Martina Navratilova , NBA basketball player Jason Collins and prominent human rights defenders in a call for an end to homophobic violence and discrimination.

In a video message to participants at a special Human Rights Day event at UN Headquarters, the Secretary-General said "Today, we again denounce all attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. We oppose all arrests, imprisonments and discrimination they suffer. And we recommit ourselves to building a world of freedom and equality for all."

Jason Collins, who recently became the first NBA player to come out, spoke about his decision to talk openly about his own sexuality. "In an ideal world, I wouldn't have had to come out as I did this spring; my sexual orientation would have been of no interest to anyone but me" he said. "But I know that there are many people out there - including many young people - who feel so intimidated and so isolated that they are frightened to be open about who they are. We need to let them know that being gay is OK; that being different shouldn't be a source of shame but a source of pride".

"The brutal reality is this: all over the world, LGBT people are physically attacked and discriminated against simply because we are seen as different and because we are seen as less than. It's happening every day, in all countries. And it's an outrage," said Martina Navratilova. "In the end, for me, this is both political and, of course, personal. Whether I love a woman or a man only matters to me and that person. Love is love. It really is that simple," she said.

Participants emphasized the positive contribution that sport - and leading sport stars - can play in countering homophobia. "Sports cut across borders and continents. Games unite people across cultural divides. Professional athletes are heroes to their fans. And when they speak out against prejudice, they are heroes to the United Nations," the Secretary-General said.

Also taking part in the event were Tumi Mkhuma of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women in South Africa, Hida Viloria, Chair of Intersex International (OII) USA, Anastasia Smirnova of Russia's LGBT Network, as well as UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović. The discussion was moderated by MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts.

The event featured the first public screening of a new infographic video produced for Human Rights Day by the UN human rights office's global campaign for LGBT equality, Free & Equal. The video traces the evolution of the debate on LGBT rights at the UN, as well as changes taking place at the national level in countries around the world. (To watch visit: www.unfe.org/human-rights-day).

The event was organized by the UN human rights office and other members of the LGBT Core Group at the United Nations (Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, El Salvador, European Union, France, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the United States, Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission), with additional support from UN Women and the NGOs United for Equality in Sport and Entertainment and Global Action Initiatives.