It is a pleasure to follow Iain Stewart, but I start by paying tribute to Nick Herbert for securing this debate and to the all-party parliamentary group on global lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights for its hard work in keeping this important human rights issue high on the agenda.
As we have heard, over the past year—even just in recent months—we have continued to see persistent and appalling reports of persecution of the LGBT community around the globe, including in Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Tajikistan and so many other places in between. We have heard about kidnapping, mistreatment in custody, beatings, harassment and even torture—all on a significant scale—with the leaders of those countries so often appearing to face nothing more than a stern talking to. I was going to speak about the case of Zelimkhan Bakayev, the gay Chechen popstar who was murdered while attending his sister’s wedding in Chechnya, but Crispin Blunt has already rightly highlighted that particularly tragic case.
Homophobia in all shapes and forms is absolutely abhorrent, but the state-sponsored persecution we still see too often is disgusting and despicable. Far from being the strong men they think they are, its perpetrators are among the most cowardly, pathetic and vile individuals alive.
The process of turning this around will not be easy, and clearly it will take co-ordinated international action, rather than the actions of one or two isolated Governments. The UK Government should be commended for the times they have shown leadership on LGBT rights across the world, but there is so much work ahead. It is imperative that they persist in calling for the immediate release of people who are detained because of their sexual orientation. Not only should they press for the repeal of legislation that allows such detention to happen, as Gerard Killen said, they also have to argue positively for legislation that protects against discrimination and protects human rights.
Laws and political leaders are just one side of the coin. It is not just about changing the minds of Presidents and Prime Ministers. For example, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Centre, 95% of Egyptians believe that homosexuality should not be accepted by society. There is an even bigger battle to change hearts and minds more generally, and hon. Members have already rightly said how both the Government and business can and must support non-governmental organisations in protecting LGBT rights.
We must take every opportunity to be ambassadors both in our actions abroad and when we are hosts. That brings to mind Pride House in Glasgow during the 2014 Commonwealth games, which is an excellent example of how Governments can positively promote LGBT rights across the world when acting as hosts. That project celebrated the participation of LGBTI people in sport and hosted a total of 90 events during the Commonwealth games. More than 6,000 people from at least 39 different countries and territories passed through its doors, and they all now know that Glasgow, Scotland and the United Kingdom want to support LGBT rights, even as we accept that we still have a journey to go.
Before I conclude, I will raise the issue of how we treat those who have fled the repressive regimes that we have all condemned this afternoon and who seek refugee status here. Several years ago I represented a young gay man in his appeal against the refusal of his claim for asylum. Back then, the legal challenge to the then Home Office practice of refusing refugee protection on the basis that a person could “be discreet” had barely started. Eventually, the Supreme Court made it absolutely clear that what is protected under the refugee convention is not some measly right to live a shadowy, furtive existence but the right to live freely and openly as a gay man or woman. Lord Rodger put it rather more colourfully in his speech:
“To illustrate the point with trivial stereotypical examples from British society: just as male heterosexuals are free to enjoy themselves playing rugby, drinking beer and talking about girls with their mates, so male homosexuals are to be free to enjoy themselves going to Kylie concerts, drinking exotically coloured cocktails and talking about boys with their straight female mates…
In other words, gay men are to be as free as their straight equivalents in the society concerned to live their lives in the way that is natural to them as gay men, without the fear of persecution.”
Awful, awful stereotypes aside, it was a ground-breaking decision. Almost seven years on, there are real concerns that the Home Office, once again, is not taking the decision seriously at different stages of the asylum process—from detention to interview; and from the guidance it issues to the decisions and removals that are being implemented.
Although I welcome and encourage the Government to continue and redouble their efforts to tackle persecution abroad, I also ask them to consider how, here at home, they treat those who have fled that same persecution.