Saturday, February 11, 2006

US Votes with Iran Concerning LGBT Groups

Strange bedfellows indeed. Yahoo News reports that the United States recently voted in favor of an Iranian initiative to deny UN consultative status to organizations working to protect the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT).

In May, 2005, two LGBT organizations – the International Gay and Lesbian Association and the Danish National Association of Gays and Lesbians – applied for consultative status with the UN’s Social and Economic Council. Such status is the sole official means through which NGOs can participate in discussions at the UN between member states. Some 3000 groups enjoy consultative status. Led by Iran, a group of states moved to summarily dismiss the organizations’ applications, a nearly unprecedented event. The US first abstained on the vote to end debate over the applications, then voted to reject the applications themselves. The vote put the US in rather unsavory company: in addition to Iran, the other states voting to dismiss the applications were Cameroon, China, Cuba, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Chile, France, Germany, Peru, and Romania voted in favor of the applications; Colombia, India, and Turkey abstained. (Cote d’Ivoire was too busy with its internal problems to vote.)

The vote represents a complete reversal of US policy. As recently as 2002, the US voted to support IGLA’s request to have their status reviewed. It’s also an unfortunate reversal, given that the State Department’s recent “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices documents numerous examples of violence – actual and symbolic – against LGBT persons, including 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.” (Human Rights Watch documents more examples here.)

Why did the U.S. reverse course? According to the State Department – dusting off a right-wing shibboleth – because it’s afraid of pedophilia:

Edgar Vasquez , a State Department spokesman, said Friday: "The United States continues to implement a law requiring certification by the United Nations to prohibit funding of NGOs that condone pedophilia. The United States as a policy matter remains concerned about support for pedophilia, and we believe that ILGA must establish a verifiable process" to ensure that neither it nor its member organizations promote or condone pedophilia.

When questioned by a reporter from the Washington Blade, Vasquez admitted the United States opposed ILGA's application because it once included the North American Man Boy Love Association as a member.

That group aims to legalize sexual relations between adults and minors; ILGA expelled it in 1994.

"In this case, we did not vote against the group because it was a gay rights group, but because of its past association with a group condoning pedophilia," said Vasquez, referring to ILGA.

Vasquez claimed he did not know why the United States voted against the Danish group's application.

Vazquez also didn’t explain the U.S.’s 2002 vote in favor of IGLA. In fact, according to the official UN Web site,

The representative of the United States, who said his government had sought the earlier suspension of the organization because of the pedophilia issue, said he had not seen any proof that the organization now condoned pedophilia. On the contrary, he saw evidence that the NGO was saving lives in the struggle against HIV/AIDS.

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