Global LGBT Rights

Part of Modern Slavery Act 2015 – in the House of Commons at 3:23 pm on 26th October 2017.

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Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 3:23 pm, 26th October 2017

I thank my hon. Friend for that important point, which speaks to a broader issue about the availability of relatively small amounts of funding for local organisations working on HIV and AIDS or equality issues on the ground. The International Development Committee raises this issue across the full breadth of DFID’s work, but it has particular resonance and relevance for today’s debate, so perhaps the Minister could refer to it in his response. I praise the DFID LGBT staff network for its work in this regard as well.

I want to address what is a tricky issue in this debate. Some people will say, although probably not in today’s debate, “How come we’re giving aid to these countries whose Governments are acting so appallingly to their LGBT communities? Should we not be cutting aid?” I urge caution against such an approach. Cutting support for malaria programmes or school programmes in some of the poorest countries of Africa does not help LGBT rights. We need to engage with civil society here in our own country and, most importantly, on the ground in the countries concerned. That sort of engagement would be very fruitful.

I welcome last year’s appointment by the UN of Vitit Muntarbhorn as the independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. He has an important role to play. His position was challenged and there was a vote last year. Eighty-four countries voted to allow him to continue, but 77 did not want him to. I congratulate our Government on the leading role that the UK played in defending his appointment and the Governments of South Africa and several Caribbean countries, which stood out against the pressure to try to get rid of the position.

I pay tribute to the role that the trade unions have played here and internationally in the struggle for LGBT rights. LGBT rights are workers’ rights, and next week Public Services International and Education International will host their fourth LGBT forum in Geneva. There are many crucial issues to do with rights in the workplace and violence against people at work, but also to do with trade unions’ broader role in society in making the case for equality and against discrimination.

The right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs spoke about Chechnya. Many of us are deeply concerned about developments in Chechnya in recent months. Last week, Human Rights Watch highlighted the case of Maxim Lapunov, who had been confined for 12 days in a dark basement by the regime. The example of Uganda has already been described by my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy. A recent front page of a daily newspaper in Uganda said, “Exposed! Uganda’s Top Homos Named”, and carried photographs of allegedly gay men. I pay tribute to the very brave community in Uganda. They have celebrated Pride there since 2012. Tragically, they were not allowed to this year. Let us think of those sisters and brothers in Uganda.

I want to say something today about Tanzania, because a catalogue of concerns have been raised by various organisations, including the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. The most recent incident was last week, when 13 activists and lawyers were arrested in Tanzania simply for trying to challenge the ban on drop-in centres that serve communities at risk of HIV. The 13 were accused of promoting homosexuality. They are still in detention. I urge the Minister to take to his colleagues in the Foreign Office the vital importance of the United Kingdom raising the case of those imprisoned people.

Mr Evans spoke about Iran. We know that Iran is a country that still executes people for the “crime” of being LGBT. I urge the Minister to set out what the Government are doing to press countries such as Iran that do just that to stop using the death penalty against LGBT people.

Most of the examples I have given are, understandably, from Russia, Africa and the middle east, but I want to say something about what is happening in the United States of America. President Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from the US military is an enormous shame, one I hope we can condemn on a cross-party basis. I pay tribute to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in America for his positive and measured response to President Trump’s actions. I urge our Government to do all they can to press President Trump to think again on his attempt to ban trans people from the US armed forces.

That, however, is not the only incident of greater homophobia and transphobia in American politics and policy. Recently, the United States voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution that condemned the use of the death penalty against people because they are LGBT. President Obama left a very positive legacy on LGBT. Tragically, President Trump is undoing it. That leaves a vacuum in global LGBT rights. I hope that the United Kingdom, working with like-minded countries around the world, will play a leadership role to ensure we do not slip back, but instead move forward to global LGBT equality.