In a reversal of policy, the United States on Monday backed an Iranian initiative to deny United Nations consultative status to organizations working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
“This vote is an aggressive assault by the U.S. government on the right of sexual minorities to be heard,” said Scott Long, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch. “It is astonishing that the Bush administration would align itself with Sudan, China, Iran and Zimbabwe in a coalition of the homophobic.”
In May 2005, the International Lesbian and Gay Association, which is based in Brussels, and the Danish gay rights group Landsforeningen for Bøsser og Lesbiske (LBL) applied for consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Consultative status is the only official means by which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world can influence and participate in discussions among member states at the United Nations. Nearly 3,000 groups enjoy this status.
States opposed to the two groups’ applications moved to have them summarily dismissed, an almost unprecedented move at the UN, where organizations are ordinarily allowed to state their cases. The U.S. abstained on a vote which would have allowed the debate to continue and the groups to be heard. It then voted to reject the applications.
“The United States recklessly ignored its own reporting proving the need for international support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “The State Department’s ‘Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’ show severe human rights violations based on gender identity and sexual orientation occur around the world.”
As the U.S. government acknowledged in its 2004 country report on Iran, Iranian law punishes homosexual conduct between men with the death penalty. Human Rights Watch has documented four cases of arrests, flogging, or execution of gay men in Iran since 2003. In its 2004 country report on Zimbabwe, the U.S. government noted President Robert Mugabe’s public denouncement of homosexuals, blaming them for “Africa's ills.” In the past, Mugabe has called gays and lesbians “people without rights” and “worse than dogs and pigs.”
The U.S. has reversed position since 2002, when it voted to support the International Lesbian and Gay Association’s request to have its status reviewed. Officials gave no explanation for the change.
“It is deeply disturbing that, at the UN, the United States has shifted gears toward an aggressive stance against human rights for LGBT people,” said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “Unfortunately, denying LGBT groups a voice and a presence within the United Nations – the world's most important human rights institution – is fully in keeping with the U.S.’s assault on basic human rights principles worldwide.”
In voting against the applications to the NGO committee, the U.S. was joined by Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Votes in favor of consultative status came from Chile, France, Germany, Peru, and Romania. Colombia, India, and Turkey abstained, while Côte d'Ivoire was absent.
“It is an absolute outrage that the United States has chosen to align itself with oppressive governments – all in an effort to smother the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “It is deeply disturbing that the self-proclaimed ‘leader of the free world’ will ally with bigots at the drop of a hat to advance the right wing’s anti-gay agenda.”
In addition to the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the organizations signing the letter are:
Advocates for Youth
Al-Fatiha Foundation for LGBT Muslims
Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School
Amnesty International USA
Catholics for a Free Choice
Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
Center for Women’s Global Leadership
Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA)
Congregation Beth Simchat Torah
Family Care International
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
Gay Men’s Health Crisis
International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, City University of New York School of Law
Jan Hus Church
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
Latino Commission on AIDS
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (New York City)
Mano a Mano
Marriage Equality USA
Metropolitan Community Churches
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition Building Institute Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Caucus
National Center for Lesbian Rights
New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition
Open Society Institute
Queer Progressive Agenda
Queers for Economic Justice
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.
Women's Environment and Development Organization
Additional endorsers of the letter since it was formally sent are:
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project
Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization
San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center