New York

02 November 2016

UN Secretary-General's remarks on receiving the Founders Award from the Elton John AIDS Foundation [as prepared for delivery]


Thank you, Sir Elton, David and all of you for this great honour.
I proudly accept this award in the name of my fellow UN colleagues working for justice and equality for every member of our human family.

I also want to thank the Elton John AIDS Foundation for your extraordinary work.

I grew up long ago in a deeply conservative Korea.  There were almost no visible gay and trans people.  We never discussed sexual orientation and gender identity.
I think that’s true for many people of my generation – in Korea and most other countries.
So this advocacy did not come naturally to me. But when I saw that lives were at stake, I had to speak up.

This is a matter of life and death. It is a struggle for human rights. And no matter how much opposition I faced, I knew it was a mission for the United Nations.
I started listening to colleagues and to human rights activists.  I heard their stories.  I was inspired by their courage.
I also reached out to many LGBT people living with HIV. Far too many still suffer stigma. They struggle even for basic health care. This is a terrible injustice.

I applaud the lifesaving work of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.  It complements the efforts of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

We share a common vision:  No new HIV infections.  No discrimination.  And no AIDS-related deaths.

An AIDS-free world is in our sights.  We can get there by the year 2030.


Perhaps not many people would admit they condone violence and discrimination.

But then why do so many turn a blind eye when the victims are gay or transgender?

Why are so many LGBT young people bullied at school and thrown out of their homes – rejected even by their own parents?

Why is suicide such a massive public health threat for this community, taking so many promising young lives?
Why are so many LGBT people attacked, assaulted or even killed?  

How can it be that 73 countries – almost 40 per cent of all UN members -- still treat consensual, same-sex love not as a source of joy to be celebrated but as a crime to be punished?
The answer lies partly in ignorance – and its exploitation by irresponsible leaders who stir up anti-gay hate.

I like to remind others that LGBT people are just that – they’re people. They are worth just as much as anyone else. And they are born with the same inalienable rights as everyone else.

The tide is turning.  And I am proud that the United Nations has made so many waves.
More than 100 countries have accepted UN recommendations to change their laws to better protect the rights of LGBT people.

In the past year alone, a dozen countries have introduced new legal reforms – including three that decriminalized same-sex relationships.
UN teams are working every day to support these changes, and to help LGBT communities get the equality they deserve.
I credit the UN Free & Equal campaign for LGBT equality, led by the UN Human Rights Office.

Our celebrity UN Equality Champions have generously donated their outstanding talent to this cause.  I especially thank the Bollywood star Celina Jaitly, who is with us this evening.  She is a true fighter for justice.
I urge all of you to join this effort.  We need you.

Dear friends,

If my 20 year-old self could see me talking about these issues, he would have been very surprised.
But I am happy to say I found my voice. And every day more and more people are finding theirs.

A certain brilliant superstar and humanitarian once asked: Can you feel the love tonight?

Here, now – yes. We feel the love.

But it is rough out there, around the world, for millions who struggle just to be who they are, and love who they love.

So I thank you for speaking out and I ask you to keep up the fight.

Let us shout – loud and proud – until all people are free and equal.

Thank you.