Speakers at a panel discussion Monday evening organized by the U.N. alliance of gay, lesbian or bisexual employees said homosexuals have made great progress in winning equal rights and fair treatment but warned that discrimination is still widespread.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said there is strong support for adopting the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender people as part of the U.N. doctrine of human rights, which sets the standards worldwide.
He also urged the 191-member world body to extend rights and benefits to same-sex couples among its own employees.
"One of the real problems in politics is if you start telling people to do something you haven't done yourself," he said.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who briefly attended the symposium at U.N. headquarters, stressed the need for more tolerance and said he had heard the "message about rights," although he did not specifically mention gays or lesbians.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said earlier Monday that Annan has met with his senior advisers on the matter but was not ready to announce a new policy.
"Member states themselves have divergent and strongly held views on this subject, so the secretary-general is carefully considering how he would move forward on this issue," Eckhard told reporters.
In April, the U.N. Human Rights Commission faced problems in discussions over its first-ever attempt to tackle the issue — a proposed resolution expressing "deep concern at the occurrence of violations of human rights in the world against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation."
The proposal by Brazil was backed by European countries. But the debate was postponed for a year after Muslim members of the commission said they were against any resolution containing the words "sexual orientation."
Eckhard noted that U.N. policies were based on agreement with the national laws of the staff member in question.
Amnesty International has said millions of people across the globe face imprisonment, torture, violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation. It pointed in particular to Egypt's sentencing of 21 men to three years in prison last month on charges of practicing debauchery.
Frank, the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, also criticized the Egyptian policy and warned he would move to block any attempt by the conservative country to negotiate a free trade treaty with the United States.