The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has commended the United States for voting last week to support the application of two lesbian and gay groups seeking United Nations consultative status. The vote was a reversal of that country’s position in January 2006 when it voted, along with Iran and eight other nations, to reject the applications of two lesbian and gay groups.

After that January vote, IGLHRC helped form a coalition of 40 human rights organizations to send a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, calling for an explanation of the vote which aligned the United States with governments that have long repressed the rights of sexual minorities. IGLHRC also led a delegation of advocates in Geneva, Switzerland to meet with the US mission to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, where participants expressed their surprise that the United States would vote against inclusion at the UN. IGLHRC participated in meetings with a number of missions to the UN in New York to strategise about turning votes around the this issue.

“Having a participatory voice in the proceedings of the United Nations is an intrinsic component of both free expression and democracy,” said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of IGLHRC. “The United States’ anti-gay vote in January was shocking. We are glad that the Administration heard our concern and reversed its position.”

Last week, the U.S. supported the applications of Germany’s Lesbian and Gay Federation and the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)-Europe 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.

In May 2005, ILGA and a Danish gay rights group had applied for ECOSOC status, but some states moved to have their applications 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, joined by Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

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