BREXIT LGBT+ BREAKDOWN
Looking back, Boris Johnson does not have the most inspiring relationship with the LGBT+ community. It would be very easy to conjure up the woefully offensive statements he has made about gay people (fun fact: in 1998, he referred to gay men as “tank topped bum boys” and has refused to apologise publicly for doing so) or to revisit his questionable attitudes when it comes to LGBT equality. While his actions on achieving equality improved as Mayor of London, his stint as Foreign Secretary left much to be desired, especially in overseeing barriers to marriage equality in Bermuda. As he has become our elected Prime Minister, it is vital that we assess how he, the Conservative Party and a separated-UK retain the legal protection LGBT+ people presently receive as EU citizens.
Perhaps we should reflect on the most recent election, namely the way LGBT+ people and causes were presented (if at all). Historically, championing LGBT+ rights has proved a fruitful strategy in elections: look at Tony Blair’s landslide in 1997 – whose progressive stance on gay rights provided a stark contrast to the Tories’ action on HIV/AIDS and Section 28 – and even David Cameron in 2010, when being the convenient poster boy for marriage equality presented voters with a somewhat more liberal face of the Party. Theresa May did not adopt a specific enough strategy, and her woolly statements on promoting social equality with too few practical measures, such as introducing PrEP on the NHS or reforming the Gender Recognition Act, ultimately worked against her. She did promise an end to the “abhorrent practice” of gay and LGBT conversion therapy, though this did not make the final draft of the Party’s most recent manifesto. The Conservative manifesto makes so little reference to LGBT+ rights (one to sexual orientation protection and no direct mention of gender identity and trans rights) that this should have been a red flag for voters. Perhaps Johnson’s avoidance of LGBT+ rhetoric was a deliberate ploy to attract votes from stauncher, socially conservative Brexit supporters. Perhaps we should take this as a telling sign of the times that a Party for whom protecting the rights of such a vulnerable minority can be so successful in an election, how adopting such conservative attitudes towards LGBT+ people was somehow not a dealbreaker in 2019.
But as with most facets of both the election and the ever-baffling Brexit process, we cannot dwell on the past and must, instead, focus on how we will be impacted. For one, can we be guaranteed that LGBT+ rights become a main priority of the Conservative government? When our new PM has Brexit to deal with, as well as the potential privatisation of the NHS and independence of Scotland, it feels unlikely that initiatives that will protect and support our community will be high
on his list.
Over the last two decades, the legal protection of UK LGBT+ citizens has improved dramatically, but such progress could not have been achieved without ground-breaking efforts in safeguarding LGBT+ people by implementing universal Acts and setting legal precedents. Take the 2010 Equality Act, which, protects people in the workplace from discrimination on the basis of their sexual or gender identity and implements four previous EU Equal Treatment Directives. Furthermore, the European Court of Justice contended that this protection extends to discrimination against trans people, applied in a pioneering case in which a trans woman was terminated from her job ahead of her transition. When so much safeguarding is at stake, it is crucial to consider the risk Brexit poses to LGBT+ people on a legal basis, as separation from the EU revokes protection we currently receive within the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Historically, the Conservative Party has been active in trying to repeal and replace the Human Rights Act, and in their election manifesto made vague promises to “update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.”
According to the House of Commons Library, Theresa May’s Government contended that the absence of the Charter would not impact human rights protections in the UK as it did not create new rights, but rather it codified rights and principles that already existed in EU law that would continue to apply as ‘retained EU law’ in the UK. The HCL “If future security cooperation is to come anywhere near current levels of cooperation, it is likely that the UK will need to commit to ongoing adherence to these standards. The Political Declaration proposes a ‘broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership’ underpinned by continued adherence to the ECHR.” But as previously contended, it may not be wise to trust a Party for whom LGBT+ equality does not appear to be a key priority to implement such crucial human rights protections.
The outlook is grim, but perhaps there is hope. There are so many passionate and powerful organisations on our side: for example, Stonewall’s director for campaigns, policy and research Laura Russell assured PinkNews that “We will carry on working together with other human rights organisations to protect the fundamental rights and equalities the LGBT community have worked so hard for.” Consider the election as a call to arms to lobby our MPs and ensure we hold Westminster accountable for vague promises to be kept, for laws to be introduced, for minorities to be protected. We may not feel like a priority, but we deserve to be. Search up your MP and make sure they have your voice heard in Parliament. And take to social media: use whatever tools we must assure the people in power that we expect the same, even improved standard of legal protection outwith the EU. Tank tops optional.