We’ve made extraordinary progress advancing LGBT rights in the UK. But now is not the time to be complacent. Our human rights laws, and with them many of the gains we’ve made in LGBT rights, are under threat. The Tories have pledged to repeal the Human Rights Act and are threatening to ditch the European Convention on Human Rights if they’re elected again.
Human rights have played a vital role pushing the LGBT rights agenda forward in this country. In 2002, for example, human rights were successfully used in a landmark case to protect Christine Goodwin’s right to non-discrimination and freedom from harassment at her place of work. While going through a gender reassignment process, Christine found herself at the receiving end of workplace bullying. As if suffering sexual harassment wasn’t enough, administrative gaps meant her personal records remained unchanged though Christine herself did not.
An appeal to the European Court of Human Rights secured the recognition of Christine’s identity change right here in Britain. The protection of her right to dignified treatment was ensured, as are the rights of countless others through the very same human rights laws.
These same laws protect our LGBT friends in the military from discrimination and unfair treatment too. Several cases of soldiers being discharged because of their sexuality have been overturned because of the European Convention on Human Rights and LGBT people can now serve openly in the military. Such a change of policy at the Ministry of Defence is no small feat.
Human rights also underpin equal legal rights for LGBT people. Equality for partners with respect to “nearest relative” status and tenancy inheritance rest on human rights laws and precedents set through cases brought under the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. These changes make a real practical difference in people’s lives and we can’t afford to put them at risk.
Today, Britain ranks among the best in the world for human rights progress and equality status of LGBTI people. From the lifting of the ban against homosexuals in the military, to the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, the Equality Act of 2010 and finally, a triumph this year with the introduction of same-sex marriage for gay and lesbian couples, we’ve come a long way.
All of that progress is what Britain risks losing under the proposed Conservative agenda. We could quickly find ourselves moving downwards in any such league and worsening people’s lives if the human rights laws underpinning much of our progress are dismantled. Without them, there would be nothing to stop us going backward.
The Tory plan to ditch the Human Rights Act and the European Convention will also have consequences abroad. We’ve seen all too recently that human rights, specifically LGBT rights, still need to be championed internationally and the UK can be a strong advocate for rights. There are strong homophobic voices that can shout loudly – recently we have witnessed them at the Sochi Winter Olympics and in Russia’s “gay propaganda” witch-hunt.
We cannot let such voices be louder than ours and others who advocate equality. The dangers faced by LGBT rights activists in places like Uganda, Nigeria and the Caribbean serve as more sad and worrying reminders. Any backtracking at home harms our standing abroad as we tacitly accept a gradual erosion of human rights everywhere.
The Labour Party has been a tireless champion of LGBT rights and we will continue to fight for progress. We will also reject any attempt to get rid of our human rights framework. This week Ed Miliband endorsed the Our Human Rights campaign, which highlights who would lose out if our human rights are taken away. He made it clear Labour will always protect the Human Rights Act and the European Convention. The fight for LGBT rights isn’t over, but Labour will always be a staunch advocate of equality for everyone.
Purna Sen is a board member of the Kaleidoscope Trust. She is also the Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion