Gay and transgender rights are going backwards in parts of the world, Britain’s first special envoy on LGBTQ+ Rights has warned, as Hungary implements an anti-gay law and equality reforms in Singapore and Bermuda are blocked.
Hungary recently passed a law banning the “promotion” of homosexuality or gender identity to minors, following in the footsteps of Russia, while in February Singapore’s highest court dismissed a challenge to the city-state’s gay sex ban.
Earlier this month, London’s Privy Council – the highest court of appeal for British territories – ruled that Bermuda’s ban on same-sex marriage was allowed under the island’s constitution.
“It’s important to realise that there are some countries where human rights issues are a real concern, where they are going backwards,” Nick Herbert told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a video call.
Herbert, a 58-year-old British peer, was appointed as the country’s first ever Special Envoy on LGBTQ+ Rights last year.
In June, he will lead Britain’s first global LGBTQ+ conference, aimed at promoting legal reform and tackling violence and discrimination.
Nearly 70 countries around the world criminalise gay sex, mainly in Africa and the Middle East.
Alongside improving access to public services, another pillar of the June event, titled “Safe To Be Me: A Global Equality Conference”, will be promoting the business and economic case for inclusion, Herbert added.
The economic cost of LGBTQ+ discrimination is estimated to run into billions of dollars in lost revenue every year.
The global LGBTQ+ market is huge, with research by Swiss bank Credit Suisse suggesting it would rank as the world’s fourth-largest economy.
“There is some evidence that openness actually leads to success. We want to marshal that evidence and deploy those the aims,” said Herbert.
Herbert said he was also focused on addressing the specific needs of LGBTQ+ refugees from Ukraine, particularly trans women being prevented from leaving the war-torn country and access to life-saving medications for people living with HIV.
“I have raised these issues with our new minister, Richard Harrington, who’s taking on responsibility for refugees,” Herbert said.
“Internally here, we’ve raised these issues and concerns at official levels about the position of LGBTQ+ people,” he added.
Herbert – the first Conservative Party lawmaker to be openly gay when elected in 2005 – said no specific initiatives were in place as yet, but that he and fellow LGBTQ+ envoys in the United States, Germany, Italy and Argentina were monitoring developments closely.
“We haven’t developed (the initiatives yet). It’s not analogous to Afghanistan where there was an identifiable need to do so because of the particular concern that people were at risk,” Herbert said, referring to 2017 reports of anti-gay purges in the deeply conservative region of Russia.
“But we are alive to these issues,” he added.
The “Safe To Be Me” conference gives Britain the chance to lead on LGBTQ+ rights, Herbert said.
“I want to see a global plan for action to promote LGBT+ rights,” he said. “We need to stand together for all those who need our help.”
Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh; Editing by Helen Popper.
GAY TIMES and Openly/Thomson Reuters Foundation are working together to deliver leading LGBTQ+ news to a global audience.