If you care about LGBT+ rights, you should be fighting for a second referendum

I have good reason to feel uneasy. As it turns out, MPs who back Brexit tend not to support LGBT+ rights

Kathryn Breitner
Saturday 16 March 2019 12:37 GMT
There are peoples futures at stake here This EU national says the Brexit debate-

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Louise Thomas

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“What the hell does Brexit have to do with LGBT+ rights?” This is a question I often hear. My answer? A lot.

Before the EU referendum in 2016, I wasn’t a campaigner. I followed the Brexit debate, but saved my opinions for the dinner table. After all, others who were far more experienced were on the case, and it was all going to be fine anyway, right?

Fast forward to last spring and my cosy complacency had vanished. I decided to actually do something – anything. In May, I joined the newly formed People’s Vote campaign.

Ten months later, as we teeter on the precipice of a potential departure from the EU, I’ll find myself on March 23 holding a rally in central London with Stonewall co-founder Michael Cashman, as well as MPs and activists including Peter Kyle and Seb Dance. Together, we will be calling as loudly as we can for a People’s Vote to protect LGBT+ rights and create a better future for us in the EU.

The economy. Trade. The NHS. The Irish backstop. These issues have all been discussed ad nauseam (as they should be – they’re pretty important). However it wasn’t until I came across the LGBT Brexit Impact Assessment report, published by Gay Star News, that I realised there were other issues.

One of the greatest concerns for LGBT+ people is the loss of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the only legally binding international human rights document that expressly protects against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. It makes clear that discrimination against gay men, lesbians and bisexuals violates human rights law. Wherever EU law is engaged the charter applies. Therefore, across the reach of all EU law, from asylum policy to health and safety, there can be no discrimination based on sexual orientation or sex. Leaving the EU and losing the charter will make LGBT+ rights significantly weaker. Currently, the government has nothing to replace it with. Even if they did, our parliament is sovereign, and any future government can undo the decisions of its predecessor.

As a woman who at the time was about to get married to her girlfriend, this made me concerned. So I set up LGBT+ for a People’s Vote to spread the word, both to the rest of the community and to everyone who does (or at least should) care about human rights.

“Hold on!” I hear many of the Twitter pundits cry. “Calm down – the government would never erode LGBT+ rights!” Listen, no sensible person is suggesting the current government is waiting until March 29 to show its true form as a ghastly homophobic regime hell-bent on purging the UK of queers. However, that doesn’t mean we should blindly trust the assurances made by the proponents of Brexit.

The more I hear Brexit-backing MPs contemplate risking LGBT+ rights by scrapping the charter, but also their “not to worry – you can trust us!” rhetoric, the more uneasy I feel.

I have good reason to feel this way. As it turns out, MPs who back Brexit tend not to support LGBT+ rights. Examination of the EU referendum voting intention for 636 MPs and their historical voting records on key LGBT+ bills shows a worrying correlation between support for Brexit and anti-LGBT+ sentiment.

On the other hand, pro-European parliamentarians are generally LGBT+ allies. The majority have voted to expand LGBT+ rights on all seven key issues we examined: same sex adoption; civil partnership; equal age of consent; freedom of discrimination on the provision of goods and services; same sex marriage in the armed forces outside the UK; enabling courts to deal with same sex divorce or annulment proceedings; and same-sex marriage.

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The track record of Brexit-backing MPs, combined with historical examples of the UK government eroding LGBT+ rights (such as Section 28, which effectively censored any discussion of homosexuality in schools, up until its repeal only 15 years ago) and recent talk of scrapping the Human Rights Act, is something we should pay attention to in an increasingly volatile climate.

I’ve been lucky. I grew up in the post-Stonewall generation. People like Michael Cashman had already fought for my rights. And I got to enjoy them, marrying my now wife in Spain last September, thinking progress is linear. So when I’m asked the question: “What the hell does Brexit have to do with LGBT+ rights?” I want to say, let’s not be complacent. It wasn’t that long ago that our predecessors were fighting for our rights. Let’s honour those hard-won rights by guarding them safely.

Kathryn Breitner is director of the LGBT+ for a People’s Vote campaign

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