Zero Discrimination Day: why LBGT rights matter worldwide

1st March, 2015 12:12 pm

When Ed Miliband appointed me his LGBTI global envoy he displayed once again his grasp of the wrongs that exist in the world and our need to be part of the resolution of these defining issue. His lead was followed this month when President Obama appointed Randy Berry as State Department LGBT envoy. And this is extremely important because when oppression and discrimination are on the increase that is precisely when we need to give our voice to the voiceless.


It is true that any civilised society is judged by how it treats its minorities. History reminds us of how so often we have failed in this regard. And that is why I welcome 1 March as Zero Discrimination day and the start of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council. Labour’s progressive record on equality stretches back over fifty years, when we have displayed the courage to lead public opinion and change our country for the better.

In government we ensured that we not only delivered equality at  home for our citizens and visitors, but also at EU level and  in the wider International community with a positive and supportive stance in our Foreign Office work.

However, at EU level it is worth remembering that currently Freedom of Movement does not really exist for LGBT people. A lesbian couple visiting or working in Italy, Poland, Romania for example, would lose all rights arising from their marriage, and their rights to non-discrimination in the supply of goods and services, and would have no legal authority or recognition over their children, or partner.  Since 2008 the governments of the EU have blocked a law which would at least address discrimination in goods and services.

There is still so much more to do elsewhere.  There are 7 countries where the Death Penalty exists for homosexuals, and seventy countries still imprison you simply for your sexual orientation. Other repressive legislation is under active consideration.

Homophobia, transphobia, and bi-phobia are on the increase. And not only in far flung places, but on the streets of the capitals and cities of the EU, such as Amsterdam and Paris, according to the wide ranging survey undertaken in 2013 by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency.

And wherever the rights of LGBT people are attacked there soon follows attacks upon other minorities, and against the rights of women and young girls. That is why we are all in this together and only by working together that we can effect lasting change. Central to this idea is the expression of the concept of human rights, that which happens to another human being should be viewed as if were happening to us. We connect, and by so doing we uphold the concept of humanity.

I look forward to taking up my role in the next Labour Government, to work within the United Kingdom, and with International partners, to undo the wrongs exported in the names of colonialism. But also to recognise that we cannot achieve alone and that in all these matters we must listen and take direction from NGOs and civil society activists in those countries.

It will be a difficult path to tread. Diplomacy must be exercised to the full by a wide range of partners and not only politician’s and the diplomatic service. The economic case for equality and diversity has been made and taken up in most western countries by Global and Multi National companies.  The shift in progressive religious attitudes needs to be supported and encouraged. The UN, a long time opponent of persecution and discrimination, needs to specifically appoint a Special Rapporteur on LGBT matters. Similarly so does the African Union.

Only by collectively owning the problem can we effectively bring about a solution which can be owned by us all.  Then and only then can we achieve and maintain the fundamental principle that Human Rights do not stop at man made borders or barrier. They are Universal.

Michael Cashman is Labour special envoy on LGBT issues worldwide.

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