Two sexual orientation and gender identity rights groups have been given consultative status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

COC Netherlands and the State Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transexuals and Bisexuals of Spain (FELGTB) are national organisations representing LGBT communities in the Netherlands and Spain.

“COC Netherlands is delighted about obtaining consultative status with the UN,” said Björn van Roozendaal, the group’s international advocacy officer.

“It means we can join the efforts at the UN to address human rights violations against people with an alternative sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Spanish-speaking LGBT voices will be heard in UN meetings where human rights questions are debated,” said David Montero, FELGTB Spain’s officer for international issues and human rights.

“We thank all who have contributed to this exciting outcome, and especially Spain’s UN mission for their support.”

Consultative status allows non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to deliver oral and written reports at UN meetings, and to organise events on UN premises.

With it, these groups can share their information and analysis of the abuses and discrimination LGBT people confront around the world.

ECOSOC, consisting of 54 member states of the UN, grants consultative status to NGOs after reviewing recommendations made by its subsidiary body – the NGO Committee – which screens the applications.

COC Netherlands and FELGTB Spain join approximately 3,000 other NGOs with consultative status at the UN.

However, only a handful of LGBT groups have received the status.

In recent years, some states have treated LGBT groups’ applications with intense hostility, and ECOSOC has only granted such groups consultative status after first overturning negative recommendations from its NGO Committee.

ECOSOC approved the Danish National Association for Gay and Lesbians, the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-Europe), and the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany in December 2006.

The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Québec and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights gained consultative status in July 2007.

The US-based International Wages Due Lesbians and Australian-based Coalition of Activist Lesbians have had consultative status at the UN for more than a decade.

At its January session, the committee tied 7-7 on consultative status for FELGTB Spain, meaning the motion to recommend it failed, but at the following session in June it voted 7-6 to grant the status for COC Netherlands.

At the July session in New York, ECOSOC adopted by consensus the recommendation on COC Netherlands and voted to overturn the recommendation not to grant status to FELGTB Spain.

“Many states that harass or persecute LGBT people at home also try to shut down scrutiny of their records internationally,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Programme at Human Rights Watch.

“This vote ensures that two more voices will be raised to defend basic human rights at the UN.”

The NGO Committee is due to review a number of additional applications from LGBT groups at its next two sessions in January and May 2009.