Parliaments can play a part in advancing LGBT+ rights around the world
Seeing tens of thousands of people take part in Pride events across the globe is truly heartening.
Yet this is a tale of two worlds.
Pride marches have been banned in Istanbul and cancelled in Tbilisi. In Egypt, citizens have been arrested merely for flying the rainbow flag. Sixty-nine countries still punish same-sex intimacy as a criminal offence, punishable by death in 11 of them.
Even where homosexuality is legal, there is no legal protection at all for LGBT+ people in more than 50 countries and some – such as Russia – have “propaganda” laws that prohibit public self-expression.
In recent months, we have seen HIV workers arrested and detained in Tanzania, the torture and even murder of gay men in Chechnya, and an attempt by Brunei to introduce the death penalty for consensual sexual acts between men.
In too many jurisdictions, neither international human rights law nor the courts have been effective in protecting LGBT+ citizens. Russia is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. Only last month, Kenya’s High Court rejected the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Bulgaria, a member of the EU, has removed the right for transgender people to change their names or gender markers on official documents.
Understandably, we focus on the evidence of human rights breaches, but we need to appreciate the drivers of discrimination. The uncomfortable truth is that, too often, religious fundamentalism lies behind regressive attitudes towards LGBT+ people.
Evangelical church leaders licence politicians in South America and sub-Saharan Africa to take prejudicial stances that are completely at odds with the Christian teaching of love. Hostility to LGBT+ people surfaces in communities where Islamic fundamentalism is taking a hold, and not just in Asia and Africa.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights in the UK, which I chair, will shortly launch a major inquiry into religion and LGBT+ rights, recognising that we need to understand better the positive role which faith can play in promoting love and acceptance, as well the negative.
Yet we should not be despondent. In many other countries across the world there have been amazing and rapid advances in LGBT+ rights.
In some, reform has been through the courts, such as the landmark Supreme Court decisions to enshrine rights in Brazil, or to allow equal marriage in the US, or to repeal discriminatory laws in India. In others, referendums have won the day, such as the plebiscites for equal marriage in Ireland and Australia. But parliaments can play their part, too.
The National Assembly in Angola has decriminalised same-sex relations and introduced broad legal protections for LGBT+ people, particularly in employment. Legislators in Taiwan have approved same-sex marriage, becoming the first place in Asia to achieve marriage equality.
Laws in Portugal have made it easier for transgender people to change their legal gender without medical or state intervention and have banned unnecessary surgery on intersex children. The parliament of Bhutan is currently in the process of decriminalising homosexuality.
Last month at the United Nations, I launched the first ever international grouping of parliamentarians and elected representatives dedicated to tackling discrimination against LGBT+ people. The Global Equality Caucus has already brought together politicians from more than 25 countries in every region of the world, including the global south, in a unique forum to advocate for improvements in LGBT+ legislation.
Our launch coincided with the WorldPride 2019 celebrations and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York, a reminder that injustice can be confronted.
Across the world, brave campaigners are speaking out for LGBT+ people. We must strengthen their stand, united by our belief that human rights are universal, and equality should be for all.