International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State 4:47 pm, 16th May 2019

I am going to run out of time, so if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me I want to move on to the international dimension, which is more my field as a Foreign Office Minister and which I do not want to neglect in my response to the House.

In terms of our international approach, hon. Members will be aware that promoting and defending human rights is an integral part of our foreign policy. That includes speaking up for gender equality and LGBT rights and seeking an end to discrimination wherever it occurs, as I did this year following yet more disturbing reports of persecution in Chechnya. We are clear that every country must fulfil its international human rights obligations. LGBT rights are not special or additional rights. They are not optional rights. They are human rights. They are the very same rights and fundamental freedoms that are enshrined in the UN charter and the universal declaration of human rights and which should be enjoyed by everyone. We are talking about the rights of families, friends, colleagues and neighbours. These are rights for all ages, all races and all faiths. We must be resolute in our campaigning and stand firm by our values. We cannot stand by and allow atrocities to happen.

In such cases, it is often our quiet diplomacy that reaps the most rewards. Where that does not work, we have no qualms about making our case in public. When Brunei implemented the Sharia penal code, we addressed our concerns in both public and private, particularly about the potential impact on LGBT people. Consequently, we warmly welcome the assurances provided by His Majesty the Sultan on 5 May. I hope that those who have been leading bans and boycotts of Brunei-owed equities fairly acknowledge those improvements and changes. We will continue to encourage Brunei to take further steps to protect LGBT people from all forms of discrimination.

We welcome the fact that India and Trinidad and Tobago decriminalised same-sex relations last year but, as we heard earlier today, it still remains a criminal offence in 70 countries, half of which are members of the Commonwealth. That statistic alone is a matter of great concern and regret. That is why it was vital to address the issue at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last year. I am delighted to report that it was the most progressive ever on LGBT rights.

I am going to skip over some things that I would like to say, as I am running out of time, but I want to refer quickly to the Equal Rights Coalition, which was mentioned earlier. I am delighted to announce that next month we will take on the co-chairmanship of the Equal Rights Coalition. It is a group of 40 countries that work together and share expertise to advance equality. It aims to co-ordinate international efforts to tackle violence and discrimination against LGBT people. It is a great pleasure that our partner will be Argentina. We have already worked closely and successfully with Argentina on a number of important issues and I look forward to this being another area of close collaboration. I hope that together we can re-energise the coalition.

I am confident that I speak for the whole House when I say that everyone, no matter where they live, should have the right to be who they are and to love whoever they love without judgment or fear. I hope this debate today will have made sure that the voice of this Parliament can be heard widely and that we can keep pressure on those whose ways need to be amended for the better.