The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has confirmed that it will engage with foreign governments about the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people.

Yesterday PinkNews.co.uk reported that the FCO has issued an ‘LGBT Toolkit’ to its 261 embassies, high commissions and other diplomatic posts.

The kit contains information on the official British policy on gay rights and instructions in how to “provide added value to equality and non-discrimination work.”

It covers a wide range of issues, from decriminalisation, sexual health, reproductive rights and health education to bilateral work with other countries.

The document states that LGBT activists are often targets for persecution and that the FCO should ensure these people are “included among human rights defenders concerning whom the UK will lobby and will engage the support of other governments, especially EU members.”

There has been little publicity about the new guidance. A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told PinkNews.co.uk:

“The UK remains committed to promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people overseas.

“Last December the FCO adopted a programme of action for promoting the human rights of LGBT people abroad.

“This made clear that sexual orientation cannot be a qualifying factor in the application of human rights.

“We have now worked with partners to develop a programme to guide our embassies overseas.

“This programme has now been sent to all our diplomatic posts worldwide.

“We will continue to engage with our posts to promote the rights LGBT people across the world.”

Previously the government has backed called for a universal decriminalisation of homosexuality, but in February Foreign Office minister Meg Munn conceded that there is not sufficient consensus globally to justify pursuing an international convention.

“The government consider that it can pursue equality and non-discrimination through existing human rights mechanisms, through multilateral action with like-minded partners and bilaterally,” she told MPs.

The French minister of human rights and foreign affairs announced last week that her country will appeal at the United Nations for universal decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Rama Yade also confirmed last Saturday that the International Day Against Homophobia, May 17th, is now officially recognised in France.

She announced plans to raise the issue of universal decriminalisation later this year when France takes over the rotating Presidency of the European Union.

From July until the end of 2008 France will speak for all EU member states at the UN General Assembly.

The French initiative envisages the EU advocate a solemn declaration from UN states to decriminalise homosexuality, rather than a vote in the UN on the matter.

Marking the International Day Against Homophobia last Saturday Ms Munn made reference to the FCO ‘toolkit.’

“We are committed to promoting equality and ending the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world and have developed a programme to help achieve this,” she said.

“Working with human rights activists, international institutions and non-governmental organisations and like minded governments the Foreign Office is targeting states where same sex relations are illegal, to raise our concerns and encourage them to change their laws.

“Our work concentrates on those aspects of discrimination where UK intervention may have a positive effect such as non-discrimination in the application of human rights; decriminalisation of same sex relationships; support for LGBT activists and human rights defenders and raising LGBT issues at international and multilateral institutions.”