LGBT rights: We’ve come a long way – but we’ve still got a long way to go

The British Parliament has more LGBT members than any in the world. Elsewhere, the challenges are huge

Chris Bryant,David Mundell
Saturday 20 February 2016 21:43

LGBT History Month is a good time to reflect on how far we have come and how far we still have to go in building a society with respect and equality at its heart.

When both of us were born, sexual relations between men were a criminal offence. Two years ago we both walked through the lobbies of the House of Commons to give same-sex couples the opportunity to get married. Within our lifetimes there has been a huge and welcome transformation in public attitudes towards equality generally, and LGBT issues in particular.

LGBT people in Britain now rightly have legal protections and freedoms which would have been unthinkable in the recent past. That did not happen by accident, but thanks to courageous campaigning by generations of LGBT activists and allies over many years.

It almost seems strange to recall that only a decade and a half ago we still had an unequal age of consent, you could be sacked or refused a tenancy, a meal or a hotel room solely because of your sexuality. We we now both sit in a Parliament which has more LGBT members than any in the world. The Rainbow Europe survey ranks the United Kingdom as the best place for LGBT rights in Europe because we embraced an old principle that everyone should be treated equally under the law.

But as we celebrate success, we also have to face up to the challenges we still face.

LGBT young people in Britain still face stigma and bullying. Rates of suicide and depression are significantly higher among members of the LGBT community. Discrimination in the workplace and wider society may be less visible but it has not disappeared.

There is much work still to do. The campaigning activities of groups such as Stonewall, Diversity Role Models and Schools OUT continue to make a vital contribution in changing attitudes and supporting LGBT people to live full and happy lives.

Looking around the world, the challenges are even starker. In many countries the human rights of LGBT people are still afforded no respect. Legal persecution remains common in many jurisdictions, and public attitudes in many societies are a long way from being accepting. The horrors of Islamic State’s treatment of LGBT people shows the extremes which still exist. Shockingly, as the Kaleidoscope Trust has pointed out, 90 per cent of those who live in the Commonwealth live in the 40 out of 53 countries with anti-gay laws.

Improvements in the lives of LGBT people in developing countries will depend on local attitudes changing and a greater political respect for human rights. The UK has a major international role to play, as a member of the Commonwealth, and as one of the leading donors of international aid, in doing all we can to improve the protections and freedoms of LGBT people around the world.

The simple fact is that LGBT rights are human rights. Everyone should have a right to freedom, safety and happiness, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. We have come a long way, and we have further still to go. But with a shared belief in equality, we can be confident that we can achieve more in the future.

Chris Bryant MP is the shadow Leader of the House of Commons; David Mundell is Secretary of State for Scotland

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