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LGBT International Rights

Volume 806: debated on Monday 12 October 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking (1) to support, and (2) to enhance, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans rights internationally.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I declare my interest as a patron of the Terrence Higgins Trust.

My Lords, the UK is a strong supporter of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans rights internationally through our overseas network, at the UN and through our co-chairmanship of the Equal Rights Coalition. During the recent UN General Assembly, I announced further UK support to help Commonwealth Governments and civil society to repeal outdated, discriminatory laws. Today, I can announce a further £800,000 of funding to support the work of the Commonwealth Equality Network.

My noble friend will know that, in many countries, the Covid-19 emergency has been used by Governments to curtail human rights, with LGBT people very much in the firing line in places such as Uganda and Turkey. Some, particularly in those countries where homosexuality is criminalised, have been jailed under the guise of enforcing Covid legislation. However, is my noble friend aware that the pandemic risks the progress that has been made internationally in tackling HIV, with a rise in new infections of up to 60% and possibly half a million extra deaths from AIDS predicted this year as a result of disruption to antiviral therapy services—with tragic consequences for those who are most marginalised and at risk? Will she commit to the protection of LGBT people as a core component of the Government’s international response to Covid, including preventing HIV transmission and ensuring that new vaccines and treatments are available to and affordable for all?

My Lords, we are clear that states must not use Covid-19 as a cover for repressive action, including discrimination against LGBT citizens. Like my noble friend, I am concerned about the impact Covid is having on HIV care and prevention, and we are taking steps to action this. The global fund, to which the UK is the second-largest donor, is reallocating up to $1 billion to continue prevention and treatment services. The UK is fully committed to equitable global access to safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. As chair of the Government’s international LGBT conference, which regrettably had to be postponed, may I ask my noble friend to update the House on what is happening with this important event, which offers the opportunity to demonstrate to the world the Government’s commitment to the promotion of LGBT rights? Will she also say something about the opportunity to announce a funding commitment for the groups all around the world that fight hard to promote LGBT rights and which rely on support from the UK and other Governments?

My Lords, we are looking forward to hosting the international conference. As my noble friend said, our ambitious plans, sadly, had to be postponed. We are looking at alternative options that will ensure that the event achieves all we want it to and is safe for our delegates; we hope to make an announcement on that shortly. We have a strong record on funding and supporting LGBT rights programmes, and that will continue.

My Lords, the UK is rightly proud of its record on both LGBTI rights and inclusion and the global power and influence of the FCDO. In order that we can strengthen our position on the global stage, will the Minister seek advice from countries with legislation that is more progressive than our own—including Ireland, Denmark, Malta and Portugal—so that we can be world-beating once again?

My Lords, the UK is recognised as one of the most progressive countries on LGBT rights and has one of the world’s strongest legislative frameworks to prevent and tackle discrimination. We are fully committed to the principle of non-discrimination on any grounds, including on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that on 27 September, an open letter was released urging the Polish Government to end discrimination against sexual minorities. It was sent by envoys from 50 countries, including the UK, the US, Israel, India and Poland’s EU partners. Many towns in Poland have declared themselves free from LGBT ideology. It is commendable that our ambassador signed the letter, but is that sufficient? Are there any plans for this message to be delivered to the Polish Government at ministerial level?

My Lords, our embassy in Warsaw works actively on this agenda with both civil society and the Polish Government, in close co-operation with our diplomatic partners. The noble Lord pointed to the letter that the UK ambassador recently signed. Earlier this year, the embassy hosted an expert round table with Polish businesses and LGBT groups. We fly the rainbow flag annually, and our embassy in Warsaw will continue to work on this important agenda and support the groups that are fighting for equal rights in Poland.

My Lords, statistically, LGBT citizens of the United Kingdom enjoy greater rights than many people around the world, but citizens of our overseas territories do not. They often find themselves in legal limbo, whereby they cannot appeal to their Government or ours. What are the Government doing to close that legal loophole for citizens in our overseas territories?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, the British Overseas Territories are separate and largely self-governing jurisdictions with their own democratically elected representatives. That said, we are seeing progress. I was delighted to see the Government of the Cayman Islands introduce civil partnerships legislation recently. We have seen good progress on that and I hope that other OTs will follow.

My Lords, Theresa May’s apology at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in 2018 marked a turning point, placing the responsibility for laws that outlaw homosexuality at our door. I welcome the fact that the Government are topping up the fund, but how much progress has been made on decriminalisation in Commonwealth countries and are other countries contributing to the fund to ensure that we make more rapid progress?

My Lords, we have seen good progress over the past two years. Our UK-funded Equality & Justice Alliance has helped to promote the full social, economic and political participation of all, has helped to support the creation and strengthening of movements for change and has delivered a series of dialogues across the Commonwealth. We hope to see further progress in Commonwealth countries.

My Lords, trans rights in international competitive sport is a sensitive and important issue. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that leaving it to international sports federations and not enshrining it in domestic legislation is the only fair and sensitive way to address this incredibly difficult and sensitive issue, given that the current guidelines allow successfully transitioned athletes to compete internationally, subject to limiting testosterone levels as a metric in women’s competition categories?

I agree with my noble friend: it is right that sports bodies have the discretion to set their own rules on these issues.

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, I have issues with the regime in Poland. I welcome the Minister’s recent answer, but can I press her slightly further to confirm whether the UK Government, with allies, are exploring any further steps to support the LGBT population of Poland?

My Lords, we are working closely with allies to support the LGBT community in Poland. Recently, we have seen concerning reports of local councils and regional administrations in Poland making themselves free of LGBT ideology. We are also working with all our allies to make it clear that we oppose all forms of discrimination and are committed to protecting and promoting the rights and freedoms of LGBT people in Poland.

My Lords, every country is on a journey in recognising LGBTQ rights. Indeed, over the past decade my party—particularly under the leadership of the right honourable David Cameron—and I have learned much and made huge strides. Will my noble friend accept, therefore, that we must always work with local campaigners to ensure that changes in other countries are both indigenous and long term? Will she join me in congratulating Pakistan on its achievements on transgender rights, including the appointment of a transgender rights adviser—Aisha Mughal, who last year became the first transgender person to represent their country at the UN—to its Ministry of Human Rights?

My Lords, I will happily join my noble friend in praising the right honourable David Cameron; I know that introducing marriage for same-sex couples was one of his proudest achievements. I agree that we must always work with local campaigners to ensure that the changes we see and the progress we make are sustainable. I also join my noble friend in welcoming this and congratulating Pakistan; it is important that we see transgender representation at all levels.

My Lords, the Government can now do independent trade deals, but as we know, some countries have capital punishment for LGBT people. What approach will the Government take to doing trade deals with countries that kill people just because of who they love?

My Lords, we oppose the death penalty in all circumstances and oppose any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. We will continue to work with countries to remove the death penalty.

My Lords, should we not pay tribute to organisations such as the Human Dignity Trust and the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, whose work helps LGBT people in Commonwealth countries to gain their basic rights through their courts, most recently in Belize and Botswana? At the same time, should we not continue to deplore the oppression and suffering that remain the lot of gay friends and colleagues in most parts of the Commonwealth, in open defiance of that organisation’s charter?

My Lords, of course we fully support the Commonwealth charter and we are working closely to make sure that we are seeing progress in this area. I join my noble friend in paying tribute to the brave organisations that are working across the world. These are exactly the kind of organisations that we are supporting through the Commonwealth Equality Network. They work tirelessly to protect the rights of fellow citizens and ensure that LGBT people can live free from discrimination and violence.