The Human Dignity Trust (HDT) has been forced to appeal against a decision to deny it from holding charitable status, raising concerns across the voluntary sector for groups standing up for LGBT rights.

The human rights group’s application for charitable status was rejected by the Charity Commission, which said the group’s work was too political, and that it failed its ‘public benefit’ test.

Similar organisations which do not take on the same type of LGBT legal cases have retained their charitable status.

Other charities have voiced concerns over the decision by the Commission, saying that it could represent a threat to the status of any organisation which uses courts to uphold the human rights of any minority or oppressed groups.

Speaking to the Guardian today, Andrea Coomber, Director of Justice, said: “The decision undermines the determination of parliament that the advancement of human rights must be a charitable purpose. If [the decision] stands, valuable work to uphold important legal standards designed to protect us all will be deemed to have no public benefit. This cannot be the case.”

Tony Farnfield, Director of Corporate Services at Amnesty International UK, said: “HDT’s work to challenge the criminalisation of consensual activity is, by any sensible definition, a human rights matter and meets a common sense test of the public benefit requirement. Parliament needs to issue fresh guidance to enable the Charity Commission to apply more practical rigour in cases such as this one.”

The Human Dignity Trust is a not-for-profit human rights organisation that works in countries where it is still a crime to be gay. The Trust provides legal expertise to local groups or individuals who are using the courts to protect themselves against laws that criminalise homosexual conduct. Such criminalisation violates a person’s right to dignity, equality and privacy.

The HDT’s CEO, Jonathan Cooper, said: “Our appeal marks the beginning of a pivotal process, the outcome of which could have serious repercussions. If upheld, the Charity Commission’s decision would set a dangerous precedent that upholding human rights law is not a charitable purpose, and many of our peer organisations are rightly concerned.”

The HDT has appealed to the Charity Tribunal. The Charity Commission has until 11 December to submit a response. A hearing will follow afterwards.