Global LGBT Rights
On Thursday 26th October, Stephen spoke in a Back Bench Business Debate on Global LGBT Rights. You can read the text of his speech below:
it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), who is a fellow member of the Select Committee on International Development. I welcome today’s debate, thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it and congratulate the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert). In particular, I thank the range of non-governmental organisations, based both in the UK and in other countries, and global ones such as Amnesty International, for their assistance.
Next year marks the 30th anniversary of section 28. Just three decades ago, this Parliament and this Chamber carried discriminatory legislation. We can learn something from the past 30 years, because after section 28 was passed there was a renewal of LGBT organisations in this country, including the formation of the Stonewall group, lesbian and gay organisations in our trade union movement, and lesbian and gay campaigns within political parties.
The Labour campaign for lesbian and gay rights, now known as LGBT Labour, played a critical role in what became Labour’s 1997 manifesto. There are lessons from that experience in the UK for today’s debate, because what happened was that this place listened to LGBT communities themselves. That needs to be our starting point when looking at global LGBT rights. In the briefing that the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs arranged earlier, somebody said, “Change has to come from below.” In a world where there are still 13 countries where being gay is punishable by death and 75 where same-sex contact remains a criminal offence, the challenges are enormous.
I welcome the policy paper on LGBT rights that the Department for International Development published last year, particularly its focus on how the realisation of human rights underpins sustainable development and, importantly, the need to identify and engage with the southern voices that are beginning to emerge on LGBT issues. Two years ago, the world agreed the sustainable development goals, whose theme is, “Leave no one behind.” Inclusion must mean non-discrimination, but if we are to achieve the SDGs on health, we need to be able to reach all communities, including LGBT communities.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that when we look at DFID’s work, it is crucial to look at the support given to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, particularly as it applies to the LGBT+ community and the MSM—men who have sex with men—community in developing countries and, particularly where we are looking at pulling out bilateral or multilateral aid, at ensuring that adequate services for those communities remain?
I thank my hon. Friend for that important point, which speaks to a broader issue about the availability of relatively small amounts of funding for local organisations working on HIV and AIDS or equality issues on the ground. The International evelopment Committee raises this issue across the full breadth of DFID’s work, but it has particular resonance and relevance for today’s debate, so perhaps the Minister could refer to it in his response. I praise the DFID LGBT staff network for its work in this regard as well.
I want to address what is a tricky issue in this debate. Some people will say, although probably not in today’s debate, “How come we’re giving aid to these countries whose Governments are acting so appallingly to their LGBT communities? Should we not be cutting aid?” I urge caution against such an approach. Cutting support for malaria programmes or school programmes in some of the poorest countries of Africa does not help LGBT rights. We need to engage with civil society here in our own country and, most importantly, on the ground in the countries concerned. That sort of engagement would be very fruitful.
I welcome last year’s appointment by the UN of Vitit Muntarbhorn as the independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. He has an important role to play. His position was challenged and there was a vote last year. Eighty-four countries voted to allow him to continue, but 77 did not want him to. I congratulate our Government on the leading role that the UK played in defending his appointment and the Governments of South Africa and several Caribbean countries, which stood out against the pressure to try to get rid of the position.
I pay tribute to the role that the trade unions have played here and internationally in the struggle for LGBT rights. LGBT rights are workers’ rights, and next week Public Services International and Education International will host their fourth LGBT forum in Geneva. There are many crucial issues to do with rights in the workplace and violence against people at work, but also to do with trade unions’ broader role in society in making the case for equality and against discrimination.
The right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs spoke about Chechnya. Many of us are deeply concerned about developments in Chechnya in recent months. Last week, Human Rights Watch highlighted the case of Maxim Lapunov, who had been confined for 12 days in a dark basement by the regime. The example of Uganda has already been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). A recent front page of a daily newspaper in Uganda said, “Exposed! Uganda’s Top Homos Named”, and carried photographs of allegedly gay men. I pay tribute to the very brave community in Uganda. They have celebrated Pride there since 2012. Tragically, they were not allowed to this year. Let us think of those sisters and brothers in Uganda.
I want to say something today about Tanzania, because a catalogue of concerns have been raised by various organisations, including the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. The most recent incident was last week, when 13 activists and lawyers were arrested in Tanzania simply for trying to challenge the ban on drop-in centres that serve communities at risk of HIV. The 13 were accused of promoting homosexuality. They are still in detention. I urge the Minister to take to his colleagues in the Foreign Office the vital importance of the United Kingdom raising the case of those imprisoned people.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) spoke about Iran. We know that Iran is a country that still executes people for the “crime” of being LGBT. urge the Minister to set out what the Government are doing to press countries such as Iran that do just that to stop using the death penalty against LGBT people.
Most of the examples I have given are, understandably, from Russia, Africa and the middle east, but I want to say something about what is happening in the United States of America. President Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from the US military is an enormous shame, one I hope we can condemn on a cross-party basis. I pay tribute to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in America for his positive and measured response to President Trump’s actions. I urge our Government to do all they can to press President Trump to think again on his attempt to ban trans people from the US armed forces.
That, however, is not the only incident of greater homophobia and transphobia in American politics and policy. Recently, the United States voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution that condemned the use of the death penalty against people because they are LGBT. President Obama left a very positive legacy on LGBT. Tragically, President Trump is undoing it. That leaves a vacuum in global LGBT rights. I hope that the United Kingdom, working with like-minded countries around the world, will play a leadership role to ensure we do not slip back, but instead move forward to global LGBT equality.