In a surprising reversal, the United States voted with Iran and other anti-gay countries at the United Nations to deny observer status to two gay rights groups at the world body.
The UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations of the United Nations Economic and Social Council voted January 23, 10-5 with three abstentions to deny the International Lesbian and Gay Association of Brussels and the Danish National Association for Gays and Lesbians of Denmark consultive status at the UN.
Such status, which is enjoyed by over 3,000 NGOs around the world, allows access to UN proceedings, presence at conferences, and the right to propose agenda items.
ILGA operates in 90 countries, including the U.S., to reduce discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and respond to homophobic attacks.
The group has sought consultive status since 2002, which the U.S then supported.
The resolution to reject was put forth by Iran. Joining them and the U.S. in support of it were Cameroon, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Iran and Zimbabwe in particular are among the world's most GLBT-oppressive nations in the world.
Voting against the rejection resolution were Chile, France, Germany, Peru and Romania.
Columbia, Turkey, and India abstained. Ivory Coast was not present.
Germany publicly objected to the vote, calling the denial an act of discrimination against NGOs whose sole purpose was to combat discrimination.
"The message the majority of the committee had sent to the NGOs and to the world was clear," said their statement. "Discrimination against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation was okay."
The U.S. issued no statement explaining their vote, but have subsequently said that ILGA was unacceptable because due to a past association with the North American Man Boy Love Association.
However, when State Department spokesperson Noel Clay was asked what has changed since then, Clay referred the reporter to another spokesperson, Edgar Vasquez, who ignored multiple attempts for comment.
Further, according to the 2002 U.N. minutes, testimony was given that NAMBLA had been expelled from IGLA in 1997, and IGLA abides by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes the age of consent around the world to be 18.
The reason the Danish group was denied is not known.
IGLA is active in Iran where its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is waging a pogrom against gay men, including stalking, torture, imprisonment and public hangings.
Consultive status would give IGLA more opportunity to document the plight of Iranian gays for the world.
Outraged, the Persian Lesbian and Gay Organization has sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanding a reversal of the U.S. position. The letter is signed by Arsham Parsi, the group's secretary of human rights affairs, Aryan Varjavandi, who is the group's secretary general, and four other officers, all living in exile having fled Iran.
"After the atrocity terrorist attack on the U.S. in September 2001, the Iranian youth were the only youth group in the Middle East to walk with candles and show their support for the U.S. and their solidarity with the U.S. people," says the letter, adding, "Your action in ECOSOC was like a slap in our face and caused a great disappointment indeed."
"We, Iranian GLBT hope that democracies in the world will use UN mechanisms and human rights to help oppressed people to gain their rights," it concludes.
GLBT advocacy groups in the U.S. are also demanding an explanation from the State Department.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force director Matt Foreman issued a statement saying, "Apparently Iran, which President Bush has deemed part of the 'Axis of Evil' is a suitable partner when it comes to discriminating against gay people."
On Jan. 25, 39 GLBT and human rights organizations led by NGLTF, the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission released a statement demanding an explanation from Rice.
"This vote was an aggressive assault by the U.S. government on the right of sexual minorities to be heard," said Scott Long of Human Rights Watch. "It's astonishing the U.S. would align itself with Sudan, China, Iran and Zimbabwe in a coalition of the homophobic."
Democrat Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Committee on International Relations, joined the call Jan. 31 with a letter to U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
"I sincerely hope that the U.S. vote on this issue was a technical error or the unfortunate result of an undisciplined U.S. officer operating on his or her own without instructions," wrote Lantos. "In any case, I am asking you to clearly and publicly disavow and explain this anti-human rights vote before it does any long-term damage to U.S. moral authority at the U.N. I would also like to discuss with you, at length, any possible breakdown in State Department procedures that may have lead to this most unfortunate U.S. action."
To date, Rice and the State Department have remained silent.
In 2003, a Human Rights and Sexual Orientation Resolution was considered by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
That resolution, offered by Brazil, was tabled in part due to U.S. lack of interest.