A homosexual congressman and human rights and gay rights groups have asked to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to explain why the US sided with Iran, Zimbabwe and other repressive governments to exclude two gay rights groups from membership on a UN panel.
"I had hopes for better from you," Representative Barney Frank said in a letter to Rice this week.
Frank told Rice he was "deeply troubled to learn that the US government, presumably at your direction, sided with some of the most undemocratic, anti-human rights regimes in the world" in voting against the two gay groups.
Rice has not yet responded, Frank said in an interview.
"To refuse them status, what else is it except an act of bigotry?" said Frank, who is openly homosexual.
Human Rights Watch, the homosexual rights group Human Rights Campaign and other gay rights organizations also complained in a letter to Rice shortly after the Jan. 23 membership vote for the UN Economic and Social Council.
The UN panel is a think tank of non-governmental agencies from around the world. The Brussels-based International Lesbian and Gay Association sought inclusion in May, along with the Danish national gay and lesbian organization Landsforeningen for Bosser og Lesbiske. Nearly 3,000 organizations hold "consultative status" with the body, meaning they can participate from within in discussions among UN member states.
According to Human Rights Watch, states that joined the US in voting against the applications were Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Chile, France, Germany, Peru and Romania vote for inclusion. Colombia, India and Turkey abstained, and Ivory Coast was absent.
Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Zimbabwe are among nations regularly criticized by the State Department for repression and human rights abuses. The US has also criticized China's human rights record and made milder recent statements about the continuation of military rule in Pakistan and increasingly undemocratic moves by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez confirmed receipt of Frank's letter.
"We're working on providing a response in the near future," he said. "You can be sure that we're looking into this issue very carefully." He would not comment further on the reason for the US vote or whether it represents a change in policy.
US officials thought there was enough ambiguity about the situation that they were uncomfortable voting for the groups.
In 2002 the US voted to support the International Lesbian and Gay Association's request to have its status reviewed. US officials have not explained the change.
"We hope you will provide the reasons for this reversal," Human Rights Watch and about 40 other groups wrote to Rice. The letter asked whether it is now US policy to oppose panel membership for any gay rights group.