The defence of LGBT rights is a key part of our foreign policy, and at the core of our work on human rights
It is our belief that LGBT people are not asking for special or additional rights, just to be accorded the same dignity, respect and rights as any other citizens, says Foreign Office Minister, Sir Alan Duncan.
It is astonishing that in 69 countries it is a criminal offence to be gay. That means living in fear of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment is a daily reality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in around a third of countries around the world. Add to that the everyday violence, discrimination and stigmatisation suffered by many more LGBT people globally, the situation for LGBT communities is not only difficult, we can actually see it actually worsening.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear: human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people everywhere. It is completely incompatible with international human rights laws to make consenting same-sex relations a crime and to deny rights to people on the basis of their sexuality. The defence of LGBT rights is a key part of our foreign policy, and at the core of our work on human rights.
While the situation is bleak in many parts of the world, the UK has an extremely strong foundation for promoting LGBT rights worldwide through our global network and our leading international position. We work through the existing mechanisms of the UN, EU, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the Commonwealth to promote tolerance and non-discrimination against LGBT people and to address discriminatory laws.
And a group of countries wanted to do more still. So in 2016 the UK helped to create the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC), a grouping of like-minded countries working as the first intergovernmental network to promote and protect LGBT rights. The ERC’s members work with civil society and seek ways for governments to co-ordinate their diplomatic efforts to share information and work together at the international level to achieve LGBT equality. The UK is committed to the ERC as a valuable new global mechanism with significant potential to advance LGBT rights. Last year the UK was successful in its bid to be the next ERC co-chair, and on 14 June 2019 we took over the ERC co-chair role, in partnership with Argentina.
The co-chairs are required to lead and shape the work of the ERC and we have ambitious plans for our two-year tenure. Our priorities include the creation of a refreshed ERC Strategy that guides, shapes and re-energises the work of the Coalition. We shall host an international LGBT rights conference in London in 2020 that seeks to address the key issues facing global LGBT equality; and we shall co-ordinate the ERC’s work plan with the Global Equality Caucus, a new international network of parliamentarians and elected representatives that launched on 21 June.
As London prepares for the Pride parade taking place here on Saturday, I am delighted to see that the UK Government will be participating in Prides across the globe, including in Brazil, across Europe, and Israel. I am also proud the UK is the first foreign government to participate in global Prides at this scale. Our participation forms part of our work to support the efforts of civil society organisations to change laws and social attitudes by advocating for human rights defenders during gay Pride and anti-discrimination events, often in countries where such events provoke hostility and violence.
The UK remains committed to the principle of non-discrimination on any grounds, including on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is our belief that LGBT people are not asking for special or additional rights, just to be accorded the same dignity, respect and rights as any other citizens.
Sir Alan Duncan is Minister of State for Europe and the Americas and Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton.