Baroness Liz Barker: International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

Baroness Barker
Baroness Barker

This year the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which rejoices in the snappier acronym IDAHO,  was particularly poignant for lesbian, gay bisexual or trans citizens of the UK. Equality, enjoying the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else is fast becoming reality for us, or families and friends.   Thanks to the determination of colleagues such as Nick Clegg and Lynne Featherstone same sex couples are able to marry.

Over the last forty years thousands men and women fought injustice so effectively that Britain is now recognised as the most LGBT friendly country in Europe.  Gone are the days when being out at work was to be avoided at all cost. Successful companies know that having a diverse workforce, who don’t spend time worrying about discrimination, is a business asset.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the job is done, but it is not. Lesbians and gay men in Northern Ireland are limited to civil partnerships.  The spousal veto restricts the right of trans people to marry. Religious institutions are free to treat people adversely just because they are gay. Whilst many members are ashamed of the example set by their church, life for gay people in some faith communities remains fearful. Young people still suffer homophobic bullying at school. I am delighted to support Stonewall’s  ‘No Bystanders’ campaign which empowers young people to challenge homophobia.

Britain’s has a proud history of being a leading force for good throughout the world.  The legacy of our internationalism is evident, nowhere more than throughout Africa and south Asia. So when countries such as Uganda and Russia legislate to criminalise homosexuality we cannot turn a blind eye. The NGO Sexual Minorities Uganda is documenting the consequential rise in homophobic violence.  The Indian Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold section 377 of the Indian Penal Code – a measure passed in 1861 to criminalise gay sex – sits ill with the country’s aspiration to be a vibrant, modern economy.  As staff of Indian NGOs put it “The police didn’t know they had an excuse to harass gay people. They do now”.

Those responsible for health services fear that advances in hindering the spread of HIV will stop.  Why go to a clinic when there is every chance that doing so will land you in jail.  This week. This week the Right Reverend Father Simon  Lokodo, Uganda’s State Minister for Ethics and Integrity,  accused HIV support groups of “promoting homosexuality” and announced his intention to close them down.

Brave LGBT community leaders, such as Frank Mugisha in Uganda, risk their lives to stand up against such oppression and they need our help.  Frank, and colleagues throughout the Commonwealth are adamant that there should be no boycott. Resulting hardship would be blamed on the LGBT community.  Our government stopped giving aid to the Ugandan government because of corruption.  We need to be satisfied that NGOs which are now responsible for channelling aid do so in ways which are compatible with our values.  We also need assurance that companies which do business in those countries do not perpetuate the denial of human rights.

From this week, LGBT people who live in Idaho (and I do mean Boise) will be able to get married. Until every LGBT person can live safely and openly in their chosen community,  all of us must remain vigilant and never be a bystander.

Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.

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