NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – The United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) has given approval to the worldwide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement through its release of six commemorative stamps promoting the UN "Free & Equal" campaign.
The initiative, overseen the by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, features stamps showing gay men and women embracing, gay men with an adopted child, a "transgender butterfly" and a figure coming out of the darkness of a closet. The set features two stamps in German, two in French and two in English.
Sergio Baradat, the Cuban-born artist who designed the stamps, said he hoped the stamps would be a step toward changing minds worldwide about the way members of the LGBT community are treated.
"There are some countries in the world right now where not only are we not celebrated and respected, be are beaten and killed. And I thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity using art, to use postage stamps as a vehicle – using art to change hearts and minds," Baradat said.
"We live in a world where even though [developed] nations have embraced marriage equality [and] LGBT equality, we still have a far, far, far way to go. But we are making some strides," he said.
According to the UN's Postal Administration, this is the first time the world body has issued such stamps, dedicated to raising awareness of "homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination globally."
In the UNPA's stamp catalog, the agency claims all political, cultural and economic systems "have a legal duty to promote and protect the human rights of all, including the LGBT members of the community."
UN Free & Equal recently celebrated the second year of the campaign for LGBT equality. In May 2015, the UN laid out a multipoint plan to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians. It also noted that its efforts would pertain to "intersex" persons. So far, it is said to have reached more than 2 billion people.
Some, however, have been very critical of the new stamps and called on the UN to pull them from circulation.
Nigeria's ambassador, Usman Sarki, said many of the African states – usually very conservative and tied either to European mainline denominations or the Catholic Church – oppose same-sex relationships strongly. Sarki and others want the stamps recalled.
"We wish to remind the UN to limit itself strictly to activities mandated by member states and especially to promote issues that are beneficial to mankind rather than lend itself as tool to promote aberrant behavior under the guise of promoting human rights," Sarki said.
"The UN should not take unilateral decisions on such sensitive matters that offend the sensibilities of the majority of its member states, and contradict their religious beliefs, cultures, traditions and laws."
UN officials, however, are sticking by their decision to issue the stamps.
Charles Radcliffe, who oversees the Free & Equal campaign, said the UN had to speak because 76 countries still penalize LGBT persons. Radcliffe said the UN was going to work to get laws allowing punishment for homosexuality repealed, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said the emphasis is "in line with the mandate" of the UNPA.
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The United States was one of the key sponsors of the stamp series, according to the UN's press release. But the US is no stranger to the LGBT stamp theme. Last year, it announced that a US postage stamp would feature Harvey Milk, the "visionary leader" who was the first openly gay elected official in the US.
Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was shot to death in November 1978 along with other city leaders by a disgruntled former city supervisor. He was not shot because he was gay.
Milk's stamp, now in circulation, features a rainbow colored bar on the left side of the black and white photograph. According to the US Postal Service, the bar represents "the colors of the gay pride flag."
In 2009, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Milk with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest honor for citizens not serving in the military.