Paul Birrell: Should we give aid to countries which execute LGBT people?

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The Independent Online

As the Gay Liberation Front celebrates being a (relatively young) 40 years old, it’s easy to forget how far we've come in such a short space of time. All of the original demands they made have been achieved in some way or another. We have legal protection, civil partnerships (if not marriage) and we have a host of LGBT role models in public life from rugby players to captains of industry. I’m sure the few hundred brave GLF [Gay Liberation Front] members never imagined they’d see much of this in their lifetime.

But I’m disappointed. Disappointed that so much still remains to be done. Earlier this month, a duty manager at a central London pub refused to serve an LGBT group. A few months ago, the owner of a bed and breakfast refused to take in a gay couple, and Chris Grayling, then the shadow Home Secretary, was secretly taped suggesting people who ran B&Bs in their homes should “have the right” to turn away homosexual couples. Almost as surprising was another MP, David Laws, who felt unable to come out |until he was embroiled in an expenses scandal.

Welcome to an unequal Britain. Welcome to the reasons why a million people taking over central London for Pride still send a strong and necessary message. These smaller changes we want in the UK, though, pale into insignificance when you look at the story abroad. Homosexuality is still illegal in more than 70 countries, while in more than 40 countries lesbians, traditionally ignored in legislation as an improbability, are banned.

I remain shocked that, whilst we do have some of the biggest events (let alone Pride celebrations) in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, New York, Berlin, San Francisco and many more, LGBT people are being put to death no more than a few hours’ plane ride away. This is what inspired Pride London to bid to host WorldPride 2012. We wanted to be, indeed felt we had an obligation to be, a platform for the world.

As we stood on stage, to bid, we told the delegates about our vision. We argued that with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London almost three-quarters of the world’s population would be focusing on one city, and we wanted to use that for good. We know that the Commonwealth, in particular, which has many of the worst countries for LGBT rights, will be looking to London for its entertainment in 2012. You could almost see WorldPride as a “bait and switch”: now you’re here, let’s have a chat about your human rights’ record.

Pride events can often be seen as an easy sell. The very act of attending one probably means that you support the causes behind it, with the notable exception being a few zealous Christians picketing the parade to save my soul. Even the National Front have pretty much given up attending after they realised the short haircuts and tight jeans made them fit in more than it made them stand out.

So in preparation for World|Pride, I want you to start thinking globally. It’s relatively OK to be gay in London; it’s a lot less so in Lagos. Get angry, write to your MP, debate whether we should give aid to countries which still execute LGBT people. We want 2012 to be a truly global WorldPride. Let’s make sure we have something to be proud of.