|President Barack Obama has directed that US foreign assistance work to fight discrimination [GALLO/GETTY]
Globally, homosexuals and transgender individuals face discrimination and violence, including killings, rape and torture because of their orientation, and risk the death penalty in at least five countries, the United Nations says.
In the first official UN report on the issue, released on Thursday, the world body called on governments to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, prosecute all serious violations, and repeal discriminatory laws.
"Homophobic and transphobic violence has been recorded in all regions. Such violence may be physical (including murder, beatings, kidnappings, rape and sexual assault) or psychological (including threats, coercion and arbitrary deprivations of liberty)," said the report by Navi Pillay, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Pillay said governments should also outlaw all forms of abuse based on sexual orientation and set the same age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual activity.
The UN Human Rights Council commissioned the report in June when it recognised the equal rights of LGBT people and said there should be no discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation. Western countries called the vote historic but Islamic states firmly rejected it.
"On the basis of the information presented (in this report), a pattern of human rights violations emerges that demands a response,'' Pillay said.
"Governments and inter-governmental bodies have often overlooked violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,'' she added.
In addition to spontaneous "street" violence, people perceived as being LGBT may be targets of more organised abuse,
"including by religious extremists, paramilitary groups, neo-Nazis and extreme nationalists," the UN report said.
'High degree of cruelty'
Violence against LGBT people tends to be especially vicious, with "a high degree of cruelty" including mutilation and
castration, the 25-page report said.
They are also victims of so-called "honour killings" carried out by relatives or community members who believe shame has been brought on the family, the report added.
Gay men have been murdered in Sweden and the Netherlands, while a homeless transgender woman was killed in Portugal, it said. Lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan and South Africa have experienced gang rapes, family violence and murder.
Currently 76 countries have laws that are used to criminalise behaviour on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, it said, calling for their repeal.
"In at least five countries, the death penalty may be applied to those found guilty of offences relating to consensual, adult homosexual conduct," the report said.
It did not identify the countries, but activists named them as Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. Areas of
Nigeria and Somalia also impose the death penalty for homosexual practices, they said.
Last week, US President Barack Obama directed government agencies to make sure US diplomacy and foreign assistance promote gay rights and fight discrimination.
At the same time, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, in a speech to diplomats in Geneva, compared the struggle for gay equality to difficult passages toward women's rights and racial equality.
The US, and Pillay's report, stopped short of backing gay marriage. But the UN report cites human rights experts as saying countries have an obligation to ensure "unmarried same-sex couples are treated in the same way and entitled to the same benefits as unmarried opposite-sex couples".