The world must keep up the fight for LGBT+ rights

Fifty years ago today a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, then one of the few gay clubs in New York City, resulted in riots that lasted for days. For LGBT+ people this act of official repression was, in the words of one witness, “the last straw … time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us...”  The gay rights movement had been born.

Half a century later the rainbow flag flies proudly during Pride month in New York, London and other cities. Great progress has been made worldwide. This month Ecuador became the 28th country to legalise same-sex marriage. India has recently decriminalised homosexuality. Angola has just passed anti-discrimination laws.

But this is a tale of two worlds. Millions of LGBT+ people still face discrimination. Seventy countries still criminalise same-sex intimacy, 11 of them allowing the death penalty. LGBT+ citizens face discrimination at work and restrictions when accessing healthcare. Legal obstacles to self-identification face transgender and intersex people.

Religious extremism has driven alarming breaches of human rights. Gay men have been tortured and murdered in Chechnya while Russia has turned a blind eye. Aids workers have been arrested in Tanzania. Indonesia has seen increasing official repression of gay people. In Egypt, activists have been arrested for flying the rainbow flag.

We can be proud that our own country is so different, but even here there is more to do. We have legislated for marriage equality in England, Scotland and Wales but not in Northern Ireland. The Government has yet to announce how it will make it easier for trans citizens to identify freely. Parliament recently passed measures to improve education about LGBT+ relationships, yet we have seen the vociferous resistance of some parents in Birmingham. 

Elected representatives have a vital role to play. Last week, at the United Nations, I launched the Global Equality Caucus, the first international grouping of parliamentarians dedicated to tackling discrimination against LGBT+ people. Politicians have the power to drive change, and we should use it.

But people power is beginning to be felt, too. When Brunei recently announced a sharia code which would have punished gay sex with death, international diplomatic condemnation was matched by boycotts of its companies, resulting in a swift — if partial — reversal. Brazil’s homophobic new President was unable to collect an award in New York as one hotel after another, under consumer pressure, declined to host the event.

The history of Stonewall reminds us injustice can be confronted. Across the world, campaigners and politicians are speaking out, often against the majority, giving LGBT+ people a voice. We need to support and strengthen their stand.

First published here in the London Evening Standard.