The US has announced it will use foreign aid to promote the rights of LGBT communities abroad by combating attempts by foreign governments to criminalise homosexuality and making treatment of gays a factor in awarding foreign aid.

US President Barack Obama yesterday issued a memorandum directing the heads of executive departments and agencies abroad to combat the criminalisation of homosexuality, protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, enhance foreign aid to countries with respect to promoting LGBT rights, respond quickly to abuses of LGBT citizens abroad, and engage international organisations in the fight against LGBT discrimination.

“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights,” Obama wrote in the memo.

“I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world – whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.”

The memo was written in the lead-up to International Human Rights Day and was released shortly before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a human rights policy speech hosted by the US Mission to the United Nations in Geneva.

Clinton used the address to challenge nations around the world to call the rights of LGBT people “universal” and criticised nations that criminalise gay behaviour or tolerate abuse.

It was highlighted by international news agencies as an unusually strong speech to the UN Human Rights Council in front of an audience of diplomats from Arab, African and other countries with poor records on gay rights.

Clinton said religious beliefs and cultural practices were no excuse for discriminating or tolerating violence against gay people.

“No practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us, and this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people,” she said.

“It is a violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave.”

Clinton admitted that the US’s own record on LGBT equality was “far from perfect” and rejected the notion that homosexuality was a Western phenomenon and therefore people from outside the West have grounds to reject it.

“Gay people are born into – and belong to – every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths. They are doctors, and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes,” she said.

“Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality.”

International Human Rights Day is on Saturday and commemorates the 1948 signing of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Watch Clinton’s speech below:

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