Brexit and LGBT Rights
Today as the House of Lords again debates the EU Charter, and whether it should stay part of UK law post Brexit, three gay icon superheroes will be fighting for vital rights to protect the LGBTI community.
The EU Charter is the only international human rights law that expressly protects against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The UK government wants rid of it.
Earlier this year, a cross-party alliance in the Lords demanded that, post Brexit, EU human rights should be protected. For us, that meant LGBT rights would be safeguarded.
You can read about the rights the Charter gives us, in the Gay Star News Brexit report. It summarises the dangers the LGBTI community faces if Britain leaves the European Union.
Sadly, the government are determined to be rid of the EU Charter, regardless of the consequences.
Last week, in the House of Commons, Conservative MP after Conservative MP, voted to ditch the Charter. Naturally their comrades-in-arms in the DUP, voted against the Charter too. The DUP is the party blocking marriage equality in Northern Ireland.
LGBTI friends in House of Lords tried to save our rights
Just a few weeks ago, the House of Lords tried to save the EU Charter. Their efforts put EU human rights and LGBT protection at the heart of their proposed post Brexit settlement.
Observing Lord (David) Pannick in those debates was like watching a superhero at work.
David Pannick is the lawyer extraordinaire, who once took on the might of the bully-boy British armed forces. Until 2000, the British navy, army and air force sacked our lesbian, gay and bi service men and women for no reason.
But Pannick dragged the armed forces screaming and kicking to the European Court of Human Rights. And in that way David slew Goliath, Pannick brought the generals, the admirals and the air chief marshals to their knees.
In the end, they begged forgiveness. And now LGBTI people proudly serve across the forces and even march in uniform at Prides across Britain.
Pannick drew on all of his super powers as he sought to retain the EU Charter. Kapow! Of course, the Charter should be retained. Without it, our rights have no legal guarantee.
Why should Brexit be used to diminish human rights protection? Which Charter rights do the Government find so obnoxious that they want to be rid of them? Surely not the only express provision in international human rights law that protects against sexual orientation discrimination?
His speech revealed the lunacy of the Brexiteer mad hatters to the world. Taking away rights makes us less safe. Reason, sanity and rationality won the day.
Wonder Woman steps up to defend trans rights
Wonder Woman Kennedy then appeared as a vision of Lady Justice.
Baroness Helena Kennedy devoted her early career as a lawyer to upholding the dignity of gay men who were prosecuted for harmless, consensual sexual offences.
Even to this day she will weep at the harm the British state caused those persecuted men. But back then, in court defending them, she stood her ground.
All the odds may have been stacked against these men. They could not win. But she elevated them. They were victims. They were martyrs. She bestowed upon them a grace and an understanding that meant they should be honoured and not shamed.
Now was the time to defend the equal treatment of trans men and women. So it was Kennedy who stood shoulder to shoulder with trans people. She pointed out it is EU law, not the laws of the UK, that protect those who are demeaned and discriminated against because of their gender identity.
The House of Lords debate was a battle for the human rights of the UK. Kennedy understood that her powers of wisdom alone could not stop Brexit, but they could mitigate it.
She has done all she can to ensure a human rights compliant Brexit. Or so she thought. The vulnerable and marginalised will not be dispossessed by leaving the EU. Not whilst she’s around.
We need more protection, not less
And then, the Lords heard words of hope and courage. A silence descended across that chamber. Another superhero was on his feet, Lord Cashman.
Our very own Michael Cashman. From arts to activism, politics to power who has done more to further the LGBTI cause? And as he gently explained why rights and equality matter and why the EU Charter really matters, the noble Lords and Ladies listened.
We LGBT people have profound experience of inequality and discrimination, he explained. This means we need more protection and not less. And if there had been any doubt before, it dissipated as Cashman pleaded, as a gay man, to save the Charter.
The vote was won. Our superheroes sat back on their benches.
Why the Commons can overrule the victory
But alas, our superheroes battle had been fought and won in vain. The House of Commons is kryptonite to the will of the Lords. Under the UK system, the Commons can overrule the Lords’ vote. And the Hard Brexit government was determined to end the Charter.
Our superheroes could only look on aghast. Even Conservative Members of Parliament who are gay and lesbian trooped into the lobby to take away LGBT rights. Had any of them listened to Lord Pannick or consulted Baroness Kennedy? Why would you choose to ignore the insight of those who’ve spent their professional lives establishing and defending our rights?
Even attempts to serenade those MPs failed. Outside Parliament LGBTI choirs sang in the hope that the power of song would convince those elected to listen and to uphold our rights.
But even music could not transcend the wilful desire to deny rights. Their songs fell on deaf ears.
Today, the House of Lords is reviewing the Brexit legislation again. But whatever way they vote, practically there is little they can do to save the Charter at this stage. Under the UK system, the Commons will get their own way – a hard Brexit, without the safeguards on LGBTI rights.
Brexit is not inevitable
But even now, it isn’t over.
The mad hatters and the jokers may gloat and make merry with our rights for the time being. Our superheroes may be down but they are not out!
Those that want to deny rights may have won this particular battle, but they won’t triumph.
We all know that superheroes prevail. Rights are right. And now that those rights-deniers have revealed Brexit for what it is, an excuse to take away rights, they may have put Brexit itself beyond their reach.
Like the comic book villains that they are, their vanity will be their undoing. Our superheroes will fight on, aided by other human rights heroes, like Baroness Liz Barker. They can still win the battle to protect our human rights – with our support.
We may not have the powers of our superheroes. But we can insist on a People’s Vote to ensure we have the last say on Brexit. Nobody told us what Brexit would really mean. So it should be up to every voter in the country to decide whether the final deal is what they still want.
We may not be able to trust this Government with our rights, but if they are given a chance, the people won’t let us down.