WASHINGTON - The governments of the United States and Iran--part of President George W. Bush's ''axis of evil'' and his current nuclear bete noire--demonstrated rare unity of cause this past week when Washington backed a Tehran initiative to deny UN access to advocates of sexual minorities' rights.
Critics of the move denounced it as a show of bigotry.
Indian gay men carry a rainbow flag during a rare march to raise awareness about the rights of gays and other sexual minorities in the eastern city of Calcutta on June 26, 2005. The arrest of four people on charges of homosexuality and running an online gay club in northern India has triggered criticism by NGOs and the United Nations' AIDS body, UNAIDS. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw
''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 Human Rights Watch (HRW) program for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
''It is astonishing that the Bush administration would align itself with Sudan, China, Iran, and Zimbabwe in a coalition of the homophobic,'' Long said.
Rights advocates said the Bush administration's international posture matched its increasingly strident and discriminatory bent at home. Religiously and socially extremist elements of the U.S. population and among Bush's supporters--to whom many pundits attributed the president's 2004 re-election-- have been increasingly loud and militant over the past year, according to human rights activists.
Even so, on Friday the Pacific Northwest's Washington joined 16 other states that had passed ''landmark legislation protecting people against discrimination because of sexual orientation,'' said Roberta Sklar, spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
This brought to nearly half--48 percent--the proportion of the U.S. population protected by similar anti-discrimination measures.
Friday's vote in Washington State demonstrated that despite ''a lot of propaganda and positioning...there is great support for equal protection,'' Sklar told OneWorld.
The federal government's UN vote to dismiss two international organizations' applications for speaking rights at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) brought the U.S. government in line with regimes it routinely chides as human rights delinquents, HRW said. These include the leaders of Cameroon, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.
The move also marked a shift in policy for Washington, which previously had supported or abstained on such applications, according to HRW. Officials gave no explanation for the change, it added.
Some 40 groups joined the rights watchdog Wednesday in signing a letter demanding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice account for the turnaround.
''Is it now the policy of the U.S. government to oppose consultative status for all organizations working to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people?'' the letter asks.
''As U.S.-based organizations working in the fields of human rights and sexual rights, we are dismayed--and we expect better,'' it concludes.
Groups signing the document included Advocates for Youth, Al-Fatiha Foundation for LGBT Muslims, Amnesty International USA, Catholics for a Free Choice, Center for Health and Gender Equity, Latino Commission on AIDS, MADRE, Metropolitan Community Churches, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Open Society Institute, and Women's Environment and Development Organization.
At issue are applications filed by the Brussels-based International Lesbian and Gay Association and the Danish gay rights group Landsforeningen for Bosser og Lesbiske in May 2005.
Both groups had sought consultative status with ECOSOC. Consultative status is the official means by which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world can participate in discussions among member states at the United Nations. Nearly 3,000 groups have this status, according to HRW.
When ECOSOC's NGO committee met to review the applications this week, Iran led governments opposed to the two groups' applications in moving to have them summarily dismissed. This was an almost unprecedented maneuver at the world body, where organizations normally are allowed to state their cases, critics of the move said.
U.S. representatives on the NGO committee abstained on a vote to allow debate on the applications before moving to vote in favor of the Iranian proposal to jettison the applications. The motion to dismiss passed 10-to-5 with three abstentions.
Chile, France, Germany, Peru, and Romania voted not to dismiss the applications. Colombia, India, and Turkey abstained while Cote d'Ivoire, which is being consumed by civil unrest, was absent.
At least three other applications are pending, from the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, the Canada-based Coalition Gaie et Lesbienne du Quebec, and Germany's Lesben- und Schwulenverband in Deutschland.
''As long as human rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people occur, it is vital that non-governmental organizations working on their behalf are given a place and voice at the United Nations,'' the U.S.-based groups said in their letter to Rice.
That had been the U.S. position, the groups said, adding that this week's about-face came despite the U.S. State Department's own expressions of concern regarding oppression against sexual minorities in various countries but particularly in Iran and Zimbabwe.
The U.S. government's latest 'Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,' covering 2004 and released last year, highlighted Iran's use of the death penalty to punish male homosexual behavior and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's verbal lashing of homosexuals as ''people without rights'' and ''worse than dogs and pigs.''
Joe Solmonese, president of the group Human Rights Campaign, assailed the U.S. reversal, saying ''the United States recklessly ignored its own reporting proving the need for international support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.''
Added Matt Foreman, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's executive director: ''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.''
Copyright © 2006 OneWorld.net