The new President of the United States should “defend the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex people, in the US and worldwide,” according to a leading gay activist.

Barack Obama will take office later today as the 44th President of the United States.

During his campaign and throughout the transition period he has referred to the ideals of President Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery in the US, and Martin Luther King, who fought for equal rights for African-Americans.

He has stated he supports equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, but favours civil unions over gay marriage.

In an open letter to the new President Peter Tatchell, gay rights campaigner and Green party spokesman on human rights, called on him to lobby for the worldwide decriminalisation of same-sex acts.

Last month the United States chose not to support a statement at the United Nations on the universal human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.

Mr Tatchell also called on the Obama administration to support a new UN International Human Rights Convention, enforceable worldwide and including protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation, transgender identity and HIV status.

He also wants the State Department to compile a Global Index of LGBTI Rights and raise abuses of these rights in the UN and make US aid to homophobic countries conditional on serious progress towards their repeal of anti-gay and anti-transgender laws.

President-elect Obama has already stated his support for an end to the ban on openly gay people serving in the US forces and federal protection for LGBT Americans at work and from hate crimes.

Obama also backs the repeal the Defence of Marriage Act and said he will “enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognised unions.”

US foreign policy is directed by the State Department, which has been heavily criticised by its own staff for discrimination against same-sex partners of employees.

The new US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was the President-elect’s opponent for the Democratic party nomination for President.

During the campaign she said that if elected she would be “strongly outspoken” on the executions of gay people in countries such as Iran.

In an interview with Philadelphia Gay News ahead of the Pennsylvania primary in April, Mrs Clinton answered questions on gay rights internationally.

Her comments on attitudes towards homosexual acts in some Middle Eastern nations revealed a stance far more radical than that taken by EU governments.

“What changes would you make toward governments that execute gay people, such as Iran, Egypt and Iraq and numerous other countries in the Middle East and Africa? Will you offer political asylum?” she was asked.

“I would be very strongly outspoken about this and it would be part of American foreign policy,” the former First Lady replied.

“There are a number of gross human-rights abuses that countries engage in with whom we have relations and we have to be really vigilant and outspoken in our total repudiation of those kinds of actions and do everything we can, including using our leverage on matters such as aid, to change the behaviour so we can try to prevent such atrocities from happening.”