GENEVA // The Obama administration has warned the world against gay and lesbian discrimination, declaring the US will use foreign assistance and diplomacy to back its insistence that gay rights are equal to other basic human rights.
In unusually strong language, the secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Tuesday compared the struggle for gay equality to difficult passages toward women's rights and racial equality, and she said a country's cultural or religious traditions were no excuse for discrimination.
"Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights," she said. "It should never be a crime to be gay."
Mrs Clinton's audience included diplomats from Arab, African and other nations where homosexuality is criminalised, or where brutality and discrimination against gay people is tolerated or encouraged.
Many of the ambassadors in the audience responded with stony faces and rushed out of the room as soon as Mrs Clinton finished speaking.
The US President Barack Obama directed the state department and other agencies to make sure US diplomacy and foreign assistance promoted gay rights and fought discrimination.
But there were no specific new consequences for poor performers, meaning the directive was more of a challenge to other governments than a threat.
In announcing the policy the US did not point to individual countries with specifically poor records on gay rights, although an annual state department accounting of global human rights had cited abuses against gays by such allies as Saudi Arabia.
The White House said Tuesday's announcement marked the first US government strategy to combat human-rights abuses against gays and lesbians abroad.
The speech in Geneva, home of the United Nations' human-rights body, was also part of the Obama administration's outreach to gays and lesbians, a core Democratic constituency at home.