Will Ban Ki-moon extend his authority to LGBT-friendly mobility plans?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during his support speech at the “Leadership in the Fight against Homophobia” event, flanked by South African singer Yvonne Chaka-Chaka and Puerto Rican singer actor Ricky Martin. Photo by: Hansine Korslien / NorwayUN / CC BY-NC-ND

Russia’s failed bid to curtail same-sex couple benefits at the United Nations was a complicated issue, challenging both LGBTI rights and the authority of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to establish administrative policies at the U.N.

Now, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex advocates and allies wonder if Ban’s authority will extend to U.N. mobility policy, currently under review — and another area LGBTI staff members feel excludes same-sex spouses in its present form.

“I don't think the support for same-sex benefits was for the secretary-general a stand on [gay rights], but more on his authority and ability to issue instruction,” said Alfonso Nam, president of U.N. Globe, the staff group representing LGBTI staff members of the U.N. system and its peacekeeping operations.

Still, “what was clear is that there was an LGBT component,” Nam suggested. And it’s a component U.N. Globe would like to see applied to mobility policy in an organization that encourages movement of staff between duty stations — and applies monetary and performance value to that movement.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a managed mobility framework in spring 2014 that would “enable staff to enjoy more rewarding careers as well-rounded and multiskilled individuals,” according to Ban’s address at the meeting. It would also enable staff to more effectively share the burden of service in the most difficult duty stations.

But the problem right now, according to Nam, lies in family duty stations.

Entebbe, Uganda, a regional administration hub for the U.N., is considered a family duty station, for example. But the Ugandan government will not grant a visa to a same-sex spouse, therefore he or she cannot obtain a residency visa, Nam explained.

Normally, an “additional hardship allowance” is allotted for all internationally recruited staff assigned to nonfamily duty stations and is paid in addition to the standard applicable hardship allowance. But this isn’t currently the case for duty stations that end up being nonfamily by default for LGBTI staff.

U.N. Globe is calling for the secretariat to push for anti-gay governments to grant residency visas to all international civil servants regardless of sexuality. If nothing else, personnel files should note when gay staff members should be credited as serving in a nonfamily duty station, Nam said.

The topic is still up for discussion at the U.N. as “the [mobility] policy has not been finalized,” a spokesman for the secretary-general told Devex. “In the meantime, management has met with the representatives of U.N. Globe to hear their concerns about the mobility policy and take them into account.”

But the U.N. has been skittish about approaching this issue, Nam said.

“So you end up in a situation where a straight colleague goes with his or her family while the gay colleague leaves their family behind,” he said.

What do you think of the U.N.’s push for more inclusive administrative policies? Weigh in on the discussion by leaving a comment below.

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Bangkok, she covers disaster and crisis response, innovation, women’s rights, and development trends throughout Asia. Prior to her current post, she covered leadership, careers, and the USAID implementer community from Washington, D.C. Previously, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.

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