The United Nations human rights office launched in Mumbai today the latest phase of its global fight against homophobia: a Bollywood-style video called The Welcome, accompanied by an appeal from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to end the prejudice that forces millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to live in fear or hide in shame.
Unveiled at a press conference in India’s second-largest city to promote the Organization’s Free and Equal campaign championing equality for LGBT people and an end to homophobia, the two-and-a-half-minute clip stars Bollywood actress and former Miss India Celina Jaitly, who makes her musical debut in the clip and was last year nominated by the High Commissioner for Human Rights as a UN Equality Champion in recognition of her support for LGBT rights.
The video release and press conference mark the Free and Equal campaign’s launch in India, following its inaugural kick off last year in South Africa. The Welcome tells the story of a young man who brings his boyfriend home to meet his family for the first time. Ms. Jaitly sings a new version of the 1979 Bollywood classic, Uthe Sab Ke Kadam, remixed by Neeraj Shreedhar of the Bombay Vikings. The video’s dance sequences were choreographed by Longi (Slumdog Millionaire), who worked on the project pro bono, as did the entire cast.
“It is an honour to partner with the United Nations on the incredibly timely and important Free & Equal campaign,” said Ms. Jaitly. “I have been working for LGBT rights for many years, and I am honoured to contribute my musical debut to such a good cause. Music is a universal language. It can engage people’s passion, and that’s when good things happen.”
She was joined at today’s press conference by renowned Indian actor Imran Khan, Humsafar Trust founder Ashok Row Kavi, transgender rights activist Laxmi Tripathi, commentator and comedian Cyrus Broacha, and UN representatives. Speakers discussed the human rights challenges facing LGBT people in India and around the world and the steps needed to combat homophobia and transphobia.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a special message in which he expressed his support for the campaign and his solidarity with India’s LGBT community. Delivered by Charles Radcliffe of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the message also reaffirmed Mr. Ban’s staunch advocacy to end prejudice and intolerance against LGBT persons.
He appealed for an end to the discrimination, abuse and violent attacks that characterize this deplorable human tragedy. “Today the United Nations and our partners issue a call to action: For an end to criminalization, for effective legal protection against discrimination, and for all members of our human family to be treated with the compassion, respect and dignity they deserve.”
Commenting on the launch, High Commissioner Navi Pillay said she was delighted to see the Free & Equal campaign extended to India. “LGBT people have historically been marginalized and subjected to discrimination and violence in India, as elsewhere. But change is coming.”
She noted that in the past few months, India had witnessed an unprecedented level of public debate relating to the rights of LGBT people. “As awareness grows, attitudes will change. We need to do all we can to hasten change by challenging the myths and misinformation that get in the way of understanding. That is what this campaign is all about,” said Ms. Pillay.