The House of Lords has called for a stronger government stance against the mistreatment of gay men and women in the developing world.
Members of the British parliament’s upper house united in a debate led by Conservative peer Lord Lexden yesterday (25 October).
Speaking to a mostly empty chamber he stated that the Organisation for Refuge Asylum and Migration has this year estimated that more than 175 million people, nearly three times the population of the United Kingdom, live in circumstances where they are at risk of persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
He went on to list the shocking abuses the global LGBT community still suffers, claiming in at least 76 countries, consensual, adult, same-sex relations are criminal offences for either men or women, or in some cases both.
‘Punishment can be death in seven countries, including Iran, Sudan, and parts of Nigeria and Somalia,’ Lord Lexden said.
‘In six others, including Malawi and Malaysia, same-sex relations are punishable by hard labour or by corporal punishment.
‘Long terms of imprisonment, often far in excess of 10 years, can be imposed on homosexuals in 38 countries, including Jamaica, Barbados, Kenya, Gambia, Tanzania, Libya, Pakistan and Bangladesh.’
He stressed that even in countries where the anti-gay laws were ‘not enforced rigorously’ they were ‘grossly discriminatory’ and created ‘a climate of grave anxiety and fear for homosexuals’.
After giving case studies on the murders of a gay Ugandan man’s entire family and several other incidents of horrific violence against the LGBT community in the developing world, he said that such crimes against humanity were ‘inevitable consequence of laws which criminalize homosexuality’.
Lord Lexden was quick to point out his view of the origins of the problem.
He said: ‘As we grieve and as we protest at this state of affairs, we must also remember where the laws criminalizing homosexuals in many countries came from. They came from Britain.’
‘In my view there is no conceivable legal or moral justification for continuing in the 21st century to criminalize homosexual activity between adults,’ he stressed, demanding the government ‘make it clear’ what actions it’s taking to ‘help rid the world of laws which have sustained inhumanity and injustice for far too long’.
The speech and his call for the debate was widely praised and echoed by every member in attendance.
The Lord Bishop of Leicester, Reverend Tim Stevens, quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu to say that ‘there is not and cannot be any place for homophobia in the church.
‘All over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are persecuted. We make them doubt that they too are children of God-and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy.’
Lord Fowler called the debate ‘of crucial importance to the world’ but he was critical of its time and placement, saying ‘five o’clock on a Thursday evening in a short debate may not be exactly the best time to start this debate, but the public should be in no doubt of the importance of the subject.’
He pointed out that the discrimination is ‘by no means restricted to developing countries. The Culture Select Committee…said that it thought that homophobia in football was a bigger problem than racism’.
Baroness Nye was one of many people to highlight a disturbing statistic.
She said ’42 out of 54 Commonwealth countries’ criminalise homosexuality and called on ministers in attendance to ‘see [that] the Commonwealth do more to promote the rights’ of their LGBT communities.
Her concern was that discrimination is growing worse. She quoted a report from a Jamaican gay rights group J-Flag which said violence in the country against gays had ‘tripled since 2008’.
These fears were repeated by Baroness Brinton who cited a case study that showed family members of gay lesbians in Somalia arrange the woman to be raped in a ‘cruel attempt to alter their sexual preference’.
She also blamed the legacy of colonialism for the ‘spreading homophobia worldwide’, saying, ‘The time has come for the Government to help to replace a legacy of hate, which we condemn, with one of tolerance and acceptance that we strive for.’
Below are Lord Black of Brentwood’s four reasons why these foreign problems should ‘matter’ to the British people:
- The ‘legal discrimination is one toxic legacy of empire. It is our duty to help sort that out’.
- ‘[I]f we do not do anything to tackle the problem, it will manifest itself at our borders’ as ‘people persecuted on grounds of sexual orientation rightly seek asylum here’.
- ‘[T]his is not a problem simply confined to faraway parts of the globe. It occurs in countries that we regularly visit. Many do business in Russia, yet many regions in Russia, most notably St Petersburg, have introduced legislation to punish homosexual propaganda’. The 100 year banning of Pride in Moscow and the jailing of Pussy Riot members quickly comes to mind.
He ended with words that captured the sentiments ruling the debate.
‘Finally, we owe it to those who fought prejudice and legal barriers to equality in our own country to take their legacy, and apply it in those countries where intolerance and bigotry still exist,’ Lord Lexden concluded.
‘As a gay man who has lived his life in a tolerant, liberal atmosphere and who has never had to fight discrimination because my forebears fought that battle for me, I believe we need to act in gratitude and, sometimes, in memory of them. That is why we should care, and should help.’