President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama has told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that countries must respect the rights of their gay and lesbian citizens.

Speaking before the UN’s member states about human rights around the world, Obama took the ground-breaking step of specifically referring to sexual minorities and women’s rights.

“No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere,” said Obama.

He added: “And no country can realise its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs. This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down the economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. This is what our commitment to human progress demands.”

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, described the comments as historic. “Never before has a sitting US President spoken so clearly about LGBT rights in a formal address to the full General Assembly. It shows how far we have come,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, The Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organisation, announced that the President would deliver the keynote address at its 15th Annual National Dinner on October 1st in Washington, D.C.

Watch President Obama’s UN speech below.

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