Last week London Mayor Boris Johnson told gay people in Britain to vote to leave the European Union because LGBTI rights are under threat in countries like Poland, Romania and Hungary.
It is hard to take seriously anything that Boris Johnson says, but much more so on LGBTI rights. It is particularly galling that he should chose the issue of gay rights to attack the European Union; action at an EU level was instrumental in securing rights for LGBT people across Europe at precisely the time that Boris Johnson was dismissing them at home.
While the European Union was legislating to end discrimination in the workplace, Boris Johnson wrote that same-sex marriage could mean a union between ‘three men and a dog’.
While the European Union was advocating LGBTI rights around the world, Boris Johnson talked up the merits of Section 28 – Britain’s ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law, now repealed – and its ability to stop ‘leftwing local authorities to waste taxpayers’ money on idiotic and homosexual instruction’.
The EU has been a driving force for LGBTI rights at home and abroad, Here are five reasons why leaving would put UK rights at risk and diminish our ability to fight discrimination around the world:
1 The EU stops you from getting sacked
European laws protect workers from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Thanks to the EU, 500 million European citizens are legally protected from being sacked on the grounds of their sexuality. Contrary to what Boris Johnson says, every member state is free to exceed or ‘gold-plate’ these rules.
2 The EU guarantees our rights
Countries joining the EU must sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights, allowing discriminatory domestic laws to be challenged. Not only would Brexit do nothing to improve LGBTI rights in eastern Europe and other accession countries, it would take the UK’s leverage away to improve the rights in these countries away. So much for solidarity.
3 It helps equality in anti-LGBTI countries
In June 2013, EU foreign affairs ministers adopted binding guidelines to promote and protect the enjoyment of all human rights by LGBTI people. The EU must now promote and protect LGBTI people’s human rights in all its external action.
Given the EU is the world’s largest economy and biggest aid donor, the UK enjoys a hefty amount of clout when it comes to dealing with developing countries, where LGBTI rights are often tragically lacking. If we left, we would certainly lose influence.
4 It puts money behind this
The EU really does put its money where its mouth is when it comes to LGBTI rights. Up to 20% of European Social Funds – some £7 billion between 2014-2020 – can be used by Member States to combat discrimination on the basis of gender of sexual orientation.
5 Europe backs same-sex marriage
Boris Johnson might not be a fan of same-sex marriage, but Europe is.
The European Court of Justice has ruled that if you get a civil partnership you are entitled to the same benefits as heterosexual married couples. Labour MEPs are also leading and winning the fight to ensure same-sex marriages are recognised across the EU, including countries where they are not yet available.
If Britain left the EU, we would lose our ability to influence this process.
Seb Dance is Labour’s Member of the European Parliament for London. He lives with his partner Spencer Livermore, a member of the House of Lords.