Lindsay Northover writes…The Lib Dem record on LGBTI rights around the World

Today Paul Scriven has tabled a debate in the Lords on the treatment of LGBTI citizens around the World. The Lib Dems have a proud record on human rights, and support for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) has always been extremely strong both in the UK and across the wider World.

It was after all my Lib Dem colleague in the House of Lords, Anthony Lester who initiated civil partnerships with his private member’s bill, and then persuaded the then Labour government to take his policy forward, leading to the Civil Partnership Act (2004). And of course it was my then Commons ministerial colleague, Lynne Featherstone, whom I am delighted will shortly join us in the Lords, who took this a major step forward, with the Equal Marriage Act. She stood back to allow the Conservatives to lead in the interests of the bill: so many Tories were opposed that Lib Dems leading would have been a red rag to a bull. But it was Lib Dem policy and it was her initiative to implement it.

It is therefore not surprising that when Lynne moved from the Home Office to DFID she took up the rights of LGBTI people worldwide. Struggling against Tory resistance, she got DFID to produce a strategy as to how they would take this forward.

When I replaced Lynne at DfID in November 2014 this strategy had been agreed months before, but there was no Tory sign-off to publish it, despite Lynne’s efforts. I found that officials within DFID were extremely enthusiastic. They recognised that development could not be effective if certain sections of the community were excluded.

We know only too well that discrimination can lead to terrible mental and physical abuse. It can lead to exclusion from education, health care, and economic activity. Yet of course aid must be impartial and not based on nationality, race, religion, political point of view, or sexuality. It must be based on need alone.

Ensuring that international protection of human rights is of course an important start. But we also know that what we do must not expose individuals to even greater danger. So we need to work closely with those in countries where they are facing particular discrimination – when is lobbying governments dangerous, not helpful. Supporting civil society organisations, working through the corporate sector, to whom Governments often listen closely, play their part.

We sought to map what was happening and who was active in the countries in which DfID worked. We helped to get LGBTI Rights on the agenda of the World Bank, who are becoming very supportive in ensuring that development is inclusive.

We initiated research at the Institute for Development Studies at Sussex University on Sexuality, Poverty and Law as we sought to underpin and sustain action by the UK Government into the future.
We supported the Robert Carr Foundation which in turn supports civil society organisations.

The new Sustainable Development Goals insist that no one should be left behind. That commitment must now be harnessed to support and protect those who would otherwise be excluded because they are LGBT or I.

I met some amazingly brave campaigners, who knew their lives were at risk, not only because of their sexual orientation, but also because of their campaigns. I heard terrible stories.

But for me some of the governmental challenges we face were summed when I was attending a meeting on child marriage at the AU summit earlier this year. This was on child marriage. This was not on LGBTI rights, I would have you note. The President of a particular African country, in his concluding remarks, stated “I oppose child marriage”. Gentle applause. “But”, he said, in a total non sequitur, on a subject totally unconnected, “I do not support same sex marriage!” Wild applause. It illustrated for me quite how high a mountain we had to climb. Today, alongside Paul, I will push for us to scale the next cliff face.

* Lindsay Northover was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for International Development, 2014-15, and is Liberal Democrats Spokesperson on International Development in the House of Lords.

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  • Simon McGrath 17th Sep '15 - 11:19am

    Very good to see this. Should we be telling Government of countries where homosexuality is illegal that we will cut off their aid unless they change their laws?

  • Richard Underhill 17th Sep '15 - 11:42am

    The Prime Minister of Malaysia was interviewed on the BBC. The EU Trade Commissioner was Peter Mandleson, former MP, not at that stage, a peer.
    Asked what would happen if the EU Trade Commissioner arrived at Kuala Lumpur for a negotiation the Malaysian PM said he would be refused entry, but if he persisted he would be arrested.
    Did PM ever meet that PM? perhaps

  • Richard Underhill 17th Sep '15 - 11:43am

    Did Peter Mandleson ever meet the Malaysian Prime Minister? Perhaps somewhere else?

  • Zoe O'connell 17th Sep '15 - 1:13pm

    It’s worth noting that we did not get an Equal Marriage Act in the last parliament. It was accurately titled the “Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act”, delivering as it did only for some members of the LGBTI community. The UK has also fallen behind other traditionally more (small-c) conservative countries like Ireland when it comes to areas such as gender recognition, so whilst international work is essential and to be praised we should not get too complacent – work still remains to do at home as well as abroad.

  • Grand to see this, though I did think that for an “LGBTI ” debate the discussion was quite LGT.

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