Associated Press: US gay rights group gets UN accreditation

By Edith M. Lederer

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Economic and Social Council voted Monday to accredit the U.S.-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission after strong lobbying by the Obama administration.

Obama, in a statement issued by the White House, welcomed the vote as an "important step forward for human rights." With the group's inclusion, he said "the United Nations is closer to the ideals on which it was founded, and to values of inclusion and equality to which the United States is deeply committed."

The group will now be able to attend U.N. meetings, submit statements and collaborate with both government and U.N. agencies on human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, commission officials said.

The 54-member council, known as ECOSOC, approved the U.S.-based group's application for consultative status by a vote of 23-13 with 13 abstentions. Many of those voting "no" — including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia and China — cited procedural reasons.

But the U.S. government and 14 members of Congress who supported the organization's application said they believe it had not been approved previously because the group promotes gay rights.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, which has offices in South Africa, Argentina and the Philippines, has been trying since 2007 to get consultative status with ECOSOC, which serves as the main U.N. forum for discussing international economic and social issues.

"We are thrilled," Jessica Stern, the commission's program director, told AP after the vote.

"Given that more than 70 countries still have sodomy laws in effect and that homophobia is rampant around the world, this recognition by the international community, and the human rights standards that the U.N. represents, is invaluable to our work," Stern said.

Of the 3,200 NGOs which enjoy consultative status at the U.N., Stern said only nine are gay and lesbian groups.

The group's accreditation is a victory for Obama, who has been chipping away at a long list of promises to gay voters, a strong source of support in the 2008 election.

Last month, the committee that accredits nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, decided to take "no action" on the group's application.

Stern said Egypt led the opposition to the commission's application. A telephone call to Egypt's U.N. Mission seeking comment on the vote was not returned.

After the NGO Committee's "no action" decision, the United States decided to go directly to ECOSOC, which is holding its annual meeting in New York.

U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo noted that the NGO Committee has refused to grant consultative status to any gay or lesbian organization for more than a decade.

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