The baseless claims that Brexit will damage LGBT rights are ludicrous and offensive

The baseless claims that Brexit will damage LGBT rights are ludicrous and offensive

As a gay man and an ardent Brexiteer, the suggestion being made by some LGBT activists that I should feel threatened and worried by Brexit is as offensive as it is patently untrue. Indeed, it makes me both sad and angry that anti-Brexit activists should feel it appropriate to hijack a cause on which the UK has a proud progressive record to try and further their agenda of seeking to reverse the democratic will of the British people.

My political awakening came in my late teens thanks to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. It was the first time I’d ever intentionally turned on BBC Parliament and followed a Bill through both Houses of Parliament. It was refreshing and uplifting at that stage in my life to hear the British Prime Minister make the case for marriage equality. David Cameron said the Act would send “a powerful message to young people growing up who are uncertain about their sexuality. It clearly says ‘you are equal’ whether straight or gay.”

Last year I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of BBC Two’s factual drama Against The Law. The drama was interspersed with moving testimonies from a chorus of men whose love and lives were against the law before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. I felt incredibly proud to sit alongside those who had fought so hard to ensure that my generation of gay men and women in Britain could live their lives freely and openly.

The UK has undoubtedly led the world in the development of LGBT rights, starting with the decriminalisation of homosexuality fifty years ago. We are now allowed to marry whoever we love (Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013), start a family (Adoption and Children Act 2002) and are protected from discrimination in society and at work (Equality Act 2010). This is a record of which our country can be proud.

And it’s a complete myth that any of these rights have come from the European Union, where many countries constitutionally ban same-sex marriage, enforce sterilisation for those who wish to change gender and ban LGBT people from serving in the military.

That’s why it angers me that a former MEP like Lord Cashman – who has done much to advance LGBT equality in our country – now thinks it appropriate to try to stir up baseless fears amongst Britain’s LGBT community over Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, simply to push his own anti-Brexit agenda.

In the foreword to a recent Gay Star News-commissioned report, Brexit: The LGBT Impact Assesment, Lord Cashman claimed that Brexit will have negative implications for the LGBT+ community. I tweeted about the report (using colourful language), and was met with replies linking me to a Guardian report that seemed to back up Cashman’s comments, with findings from an LGBT charity, Galop. Galop claimed homophobic hate crime rose by an astounding 147 per cent in the three months after the referendum, but this was met with the following excellent response by Brendan O’Neill from spiked:

If you’re buying it, hopefully a glance at Galop’s laughably unsubstantiated report will make you think again. The report claims 2.1million gay people in the UK have experienced hate crime at some point in their lives, and many such crimes happened in the three months after Brexit. But these ‘facts’ are based, not on court cases or police investigations or images of bruised bodies, but on one online survey of 467 LGBT people… Galop extrapolated from the responses of these 467 individuals to say that 800,000 gay men, 500,000 bisexual people, 400,000 trans people and 400,000 lesbians have been the victim of hate crime at some point, with a spike in such crimes after Brexit. I’m going to put my neck on the line and say this is not good science.

The idea that anyone voted for Brexit on the basis that it would somehow provide an opportunity to roll back LGBT rights is utterly ludicrous. And when you look around Europe, nor is there any evidence that the EU protects LGBT people. Our equality, non-discrimination and family rights were hard fought for over many years by parliamentarians in the UK. The idea we’ll become intolerant of minorities without the EU is unfounded nonsense on stilts – and it flies in the face of the fact that the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association’s 2017 Rainbow Index placed the United Kingdom as the second best EU member state to be LGBT.

Demonstrating his utter lack of faith in our parliamentarians, people and democracy, during the second day of Report Stage of the EU Withdrawal Bill on Monday Lord Cashman went on to repeat his claim that Brexit – and no longer being bound by the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights – could mean “rights will be attacked”:

“There are real, deep concerns that rights will be attacked once we leave the protection of the charter and the treaty establishing the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Most of these rights arise out of Article 13 of the treaty of Amsterdam, which gave the European Union a legal basis upon which to act on the grounds of race, ethnicity, religion, belief, age, disability or sexual orientation.”

Lord Cashman is right to say that the first treaty to reference gay equality was the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999. The treaty compelled all EU states to adopt, in what was supposed to be within three years, legislation to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation at work. Yet the treaty only required EU member states to ban anti-gay laws in employment; LGBT people across the EU were not protected from discrimination in other areas such as the right to equal access to medical treatment, protection against being refused a double room in a hotel or protection from homophobic bullying in schools. The UK has gone so much further than the basic level of anti-discrimination legislation required by the EU, and it is wholly cynical and irresponsible to suggest this will be affected in any way by Brexit.

Delve further into LGBT rights across the rest of the EU, and you find huge variations in the levels of rights and freedoms enjoyed. Only 13 of the EU27 allow same-sex marriage, with seven countries actually banning same-sex marriage in their constitutions. 23 of the EU27 ‘recognise’ civil partnerships and adoption by same-sex couples is legal in only 14 other EU states. Thirteen have laws which insist on forced sterilisation for trans people who wish to change gender, and one (Cyprus) still bans LGBT people from serving openly in the military. At best, the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights has proved itself weak and almost irrelevant at promoting gay rights while, at worst, in several corners of the EU progress seems to be being reversed.

It’s truly excellent that the the UK leads on LGBT rights in Europe. But really it’s time we stopped focusing on one region of the world. Last week’s meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in London proved that Commonwealth members are excited about their post-Brexit relationship with the UK, although many of those nations’ records on gay rights is admittedly poor. But it is no coincidence that some of the most progressive countries are also the most economically developed. The liberalising of social attitudes often closely follows two other social factors: greater economic wealth and better education.

Through a combination of aid, trade and diplomatic leadership after Brexit, we can work with our Commonwealth cousins to further develop their nations both economically and socially. That should make a very genuine difference to some of the LGBT people who most desperately need our support and attention.

It’s time that the likes of Lord Cashman and groups like Galop which purport to represent the interests of gay people stopped trying to put the fear of God into the UK’s minority communities in order to further their anti-Brexit agenda. Instead, they should focus on the good that we can do around the world post-Brexit through the UK’s top-tier international trade, aid and global diplomacy.

The suggestion made by some LGBT activists that we should feel threatened and worried by Brexit is ludicrous