Activists called on governments around the world to end homophobic bullying and violence, saying Thursday that gay rights are human rights that must be respected by all.
Judy Shepard, the mother of a young man murdered in an anti-gay crime in the U.S. in 1998, told the United Nations gathering that people with different sexual identities and orientations are all human beings with similar aspirations.
Anti-gay violence "is hate, it's ignorance to single out a group of people," said Shepard, who with her husband founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation after their son was killed.
Rights activists from Lebanon, Nigeria and Thailand joined several senior U.N. officials on the panel organized by the Netherlands in advance of International Human Rights Day. Saturday marks the 63rd anniversary of the U.N.-sponsored International Declaration of Human Rights.
U.N. members, with their diverse religious and cultural sensibilities, are often deeply divided over the issue of gay rights.
The U.N. undersecretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, told the gathering that education and information are needed to end anti-gay violence.
Simonovic said a new U.N. study on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, to be released in the coming weeks, should help.
"The fact that a report of this kind is being published is in itself a sign of progress at the United Nations," he said. "I hope it will provide a basis for constructive dialogue."
Simonovic read a statement by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said he continues to be "dismayed" by homophobic bullying, noting that some young victims of the practice can become depressed, drop out of school or even commit suicide.
Ban said all countries have a legal obligation to protect people from violence and discrimination, including on grounds of sexual orientation.
"This is a moral outrage, a grave violation of human rights and a public health crisis," the U.N. chief said. "It is also a loss for the entire human family when promising lives are cut short."
(This version CORRECTS Corrects year of death to 1998, not 1988. Corrects last name to Shepard, not Shepherd. For global distribution.)