* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Britain can play an important role in tackling violence and discrimination against LGBT+ people
Nick Herbert is the UK’s Special Envoy on LGBT rights
In December last year, the UK government announced sanctions against individuals responsible for torture and other human rights violations against LGBT+ people in Chechnya. These welcome measures reminded us that terrible violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people continues worldwide, but also that countries like the UK can play an important role in taking a stance and tackling the problem.
In a tale of two worlds, some nations continue to make encouraging progress on these issues. Only recently, the parliament of Bhutan voted to decriminalise gay sex and the Czech Republic is making progress in legalising same-sex marriage.
Yet other countries seem to be going backwards.
We are witnessing the prohibition of vital LGBT+ services and increases in violence across the world. Even in Europe, we are seeing worrying signs of continued persecution and exclusion of LGBT+ people.
The UK has been at the forefront of global co-operation to make the situation better. We were founding members, five years ago, of the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC), which now numbers 42 states committed to promoting LGBT+ equality. The UK and Argentina became co-chairs of the group in 2019 and were all set to host a major international LGBT+ conference last year. The COVID-19 pandemic intervened and regrettably we were forced to postpone.
As chair of the conference I was determined that this would only be a temporary setback. So I’m delighted that the Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, has announced that the event, the first of its kind in the UK, will go ahead in summer 2022.
In a further sign of the government’s commitment to LGBT+ equality, the PM has asked that I take on the role of UK Special Envoy for LGBT+ Rights. I am honoured to accept this position, which will allow me to promote the conference internationally and to champion LGBT+ equality more broadly both here at home and abroad.
As part of my remit in the new role, we have chosen to focus on three crucial areas: reducing the ongoing criminalisation of same-sex relationships around the world; tackling violence and discrimination; and improving access to public services.
These are all issues that we know are amongst the top priorities for those campaigning for global LGBT+ rights. The UK rightly sees itself as a leader on these issues and I believe the conversations we have can help to build a platform for real change.
We want to energise the work of the ERC further, giving it a clear path to fulfil its potential as a force for change. Together with our Argentinian co-chair, we’re delivering the first ERC strategy, with a focus on increasing international action to defend the rights of LGBT+ people around the world.
Millions of LGBT+ people still face discrimination around the world.
Nearly 70 countries still criminalise same-sex intimacy, 11 of which could still impose the death penalty. LGBT+ citizens face discrimination at work and restrictions when accessing healthcare. We need politicians worldwide to use their power to drive change. But it’s also vital to empower citizens, and the often brave civil society organisations who represent them, to take a stand.
With our immense soft power, and as a global force for good, the UK has an important role to play in leading international efforts to tackle the violence and discrimination against LGBT+ people which should have no place in the modern world.
At a time when COVID-19 has pulled us apart, now is the time to bring people together and drive change for good.