UN Committee Recommends LGBT Organizations for ECOSOC Consultative Status

Following Six Years of Stalling by Conservative Members

Human Rights Advocates Hail UN Recommendation

On May 24, 2013 the Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) at the United Nations recommended the Australian Lesbian Medical Association (ALMA) for consultative status and recommended Homosexuelle Initiative (HOSI) Wien on May 28. The organizations will not have official consultative status until adopted by ECOSOC’s full committee in July 2013. The recommendation is viewed as a critical step given past discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) hailed the recommendations, saying, “The Committee’s decision asserts that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people cannot be cast aside and sends a clear message that arbitrary and prejudicial stall tactics for LGBT human rights organizations will not be tolerated in the NGO Committee review process.”
With ECOSOC acceptance of the Committees’ recommendation ALMA and HOSI Wien will join just three LGBT-organizations to be granted status by the Committee. Expertise of LGBT-organizations is valuable and rare as less than 20 of 3,735 NGOs with consultative status deal with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. IGLHRC, granted special consultative status in 2010 after enduring a three-year application process, remains the only US-based NGO exclusively focused on International LGBT human rights to hold such status.
Dr. Carol Booth co-convener of the Australian Lesbian Medical Association (ALMA) said, “We are very pleased that the NGO Committee has recommended us for consultative status.” She continued, “We look forward to having this confirmed by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.” The Australian Lesbian Medical Association (ALMA), an organization supporting and advocating for lesbian doctors, lesbian medical students and their partners, submitted its application in February of 2007.
“HOSI Wien is delighted about the outcome, as it has taken so long to come down with this positive decision,” said Kurt Krickler, Secretary-General of HOSI Wien, also heralding the Committee’s decision. “I am happy with the outcome, after six years of waiting and three years of a bizarre question and answer Ping-Pong.” Homosexuelle Initiative (HOSI) Wien an Austria-based organization combatting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, applied for consultative status in May of 2007. Both organizations were deferred for several sessions after receiving questions primarily from Sudan and Pakistan.
When ALMA, in review was peppered with additional questions, Bulgaria said it was “surprised to hear pending questions after so many sessions of review.” Bulgaria, noting that the NGO had already responded in a “comprehensive and satisfactory manner” to 54 questions over 7 consecutive review sessions, called for a roll call vote.
The resulting vote was 9 States recommending ALMA, and 6 opposed. Venezuela explained its vote in favor was to “broaden the rights of these people in building our nation and work in favor of all vulnerable groups and minorities without distinction.” Belgium noted that ALMA's application was one of the oldest on the deferred list and asserted that it had been “the victim of unfair treatment.” Only Sudan spoke against the motion, objecting on procedural grounds.
The Committee’s review of HOSI Wien on May 28 played out similarly. As States began the review posing additional questions, Belgium noted that the organization’s application had been deferred several times and requested a roll-call vote. The vote passed a recommendation for consultative status for         HOSI Wien to ECOSOC. Again several states heralded the result, leaving Sudan as the sole vocal opponent.
Notably, no States called for a no-action motion, which would prevent member States from continuing debate and allow countries to avoid taking a position as had occurred in previous votes on LGBT organizations, including IGLHRC.
The final count for both organizations included nine countries voting “Yes,” (USA, Venezuela, Belgium, Bulgaria, India, Israel, Nicaragua, Peru, Turkey), six voting “No” (China, Morocco, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan), two voting “Abstain” (Kyrgyzstan, Mozambique) and two absent (Burundi and Cuba).
These recommendations are considered a groundbreaking victory in light of the Committee’s history of repeatedly denying and deferring LGBT organizations. Aside from COC Netherlands (2008), International Wages Due Lesbians (1998) and Australian-based Coalition of Activist Lesbians (1999), the only way LGBT organizations have been granted consultative status has been through ECOSOC overturning the NGO Committee’s recommendation to deny applications.
IGLHRC also applauded other favorable votes. “I was very pleased to see that Turkey voted in favor of adoption of the organization,” stated Hossein Alizadeh, Regional Program Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, (IGLHRC). “This is welcome progress after the country’s progressive step forward, in mid-February, when 59 members of parliament from the main opposition group, requested a parliamentary commission of inquiry to be set up on LGBT rights in Turkey.”
Krickler of HOSI Wien added, “We hope these decisions will make it easier in future for LGBT organizations to gain consultative status. As we recall the injustice plaguing the history of LGBT organizations applying for consultative status, the Committees’ recommendation of ALMA and HOSI Wien marks a momentous step forward.”