OUT AND OUT

BREXIT MEANS BREXIT, SO WE’VE BEEN TOLD. BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR LGBT+ PEO­PLE, WON­DERS ANDY WASLEY

Pride Life Magazine - - FEATURE -

In the weeks fol­low­ing Bri­tain’s vote on 23 July to leave the Euro­pean Union, the me­dia re­ported a wor­ry­ing rise in hate crime against peo­ple per­ceived to be “im­mi­grants”. This, it was sug­gested, tapped into im­mi­gra­tion as per­haps the key con­cern of Brexit vot­ers. In­tu­itively, it seemed un­likely that this should di­rectly af­fect LGBT+ peo­ple out­side those who be­long to the black or mi­nor­ity eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties, so often con­flated whole­sale with “im­mi­grants”.

But in Oc­to­ber the LGBT+ sup­port char­ity Galop re­leased a re­port sug­gest­ing anti-LGBT+ hate crimes had risen sharply. In the three months since the vote, the char­ity sup­ported 187 LGBT+ peo­ple who had suf­fered hate crimes, com­pared with 72 in the same pe­riod in 2015 – a rise of 147%.

Stonewall’s Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, Ruth Hunt, thinks so. “Cer­tainly there were some peo­ple that voted for Brexit be­cause they were con­cerned and anx­ious about those who are dif­fer­ent. It’s un­de­ni­able. Any cul­tural shift to­wards a sit­u­a­tion where we can per­se­cute peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from us en­dan­gers all of us. And that in­cludes LGBT+ peo­ple.”

If some vot­ers’ ig­no­rance might be a threat to LGBT+ peo­ple’s safety, LGBT+ rights them­selves face per­haps a deeper threat from Brexit. EU law is up­held through the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice (ECJ), which will cease to have ju­ris­dic­tion in the UK af­ter Brexit.

Al­though the vote in June was strictly about the Euro­pean Union, mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights (ECHR) – which is not an EU in­sti­tu­tion – was also talked up as a mat­ter of con­cern for Brexit vot­ers. Both the ECJ and the ECHR have played sig­nif­i­cant roles in ad­vanc­ing and de­fend­ing LGBT+ equal­ity in Bri­tain, but with­drawal from both courts is the po­lit­i­cal goal of a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Brexit-sup­port­ing MPs and MEPs.

The high­est-pro­file vic­tim of this in­creased hos­til­ity to Euro­pean hu­man rights pro­tec­tions might well be the Hu­man Rights Act, which en­shrines the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights into UK law. The Act has been in­stru­men­tal in pro­tect­ing LGBT+ peo­ple in ar­eas as di­verse as ten­ancy rights, ser­vice in the armed forces and gen­der recog­ni­tion – but the gov­ern­ment has a man­i­festo com­mit­ment to re­place the Act with a Bill of Rights.

Heavy­weight hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions like Amnesty, Hu­man Rights Watch, and Lib­erty are united in con­demn­ing the plan. But it seems un­likely the gov­ern­ment will bow to pres­sure now that it has a per­ceived man­date to fur­ther di­min­ish Euro­pean in­flu­ence on British courts.

Ruth Hunt says re­peal of the Hu­man Rights Act might have a sig­nif­i­cant neg­a­tive ef­fect on the way the UK is per­ceived by LGBT+ peo­ple abroad – not to men­tion gov­ern­ments that are hos­tile to LGBT+ equal­ity.

“The Hu­man Rights Act sends a very clear mes­sage to other coun­tries that Bri­tain abides by core prin­ci­ples,” she says. “Try­ing to ex­plain that we do sup­port hu­man rights but through a Bill of Rights that we’ve writ­ten our­selves, which is al­most the same but not quite, will sound less com­pelling.”

This would seem to be com­pounded by the way LGBT+ rights are treated by se­nior min­is­ters in Theresa May’s post-ref­er­en­dum cab­i­net. David Davis, Liam Fox, Boris John­son and Philip Ham­mond, in par­tic­u­lar, have che­quered his­to­ries when it comes to their at­ti­tude to­wards LGBT+ equal­ity. Fox and Davis voted against equal mar­riage and Ham­mond – who has com­pared gay re­la­tion­ships to in­cest – ab­stained. John­son did vote in favour, al­though he once com­plained equal mar­riage could lead to le­galised bes­tial­ity.

Cab­i­net views on equal­ity have al­ready had an im­pact in­ter­na­tion­ally. As David Cameron’s for­eign sec­re­tary, Philip Ham­mond banned British em­bassies from fly­ing the rain­bow flag dur­ing Pride events.

In one of Boris John­son’s first acts as the new for­eign sec­re­tary, he re­stored that right. If this seemed pro­gres­sive, Liam Fox had a Brexit counter-punch: in the wake of North Carolina’s con­tro­ver­sial ef­forts to le­galise dis­crim­i­na­tion against LGBT+ peo­ple and to deny trans peo­ple the right to use bath­rooms that match their gen­der iden­tity, Fox an­nounced that the UK would open an international trade of­fice in the state’s cap­i­tal, Raleigh.

It seems un­usual, given Bri­tain’s re­cent stance on cham­pi­oning LGBT+ rights abroad, that the is­sue is sub­ject to such kick-abouts at cab­i­net level. Even mat­ters as seem­ingly cos­metic as the rain­bow flag send a mes­sage about com­mit­ment to equal­ity when they are sub­ject to min­is­ters’ whims.

This is, how­ever, the post-Brexit re­al­ity: a con­fused po­si­tion for British in­flu­ence world­wide, in­creased hos­til­ity to­wards “dif­fer­ence” at home, and an un­cer­tain fu­ture for LGBT+-friendly laws and in­sti­tu­tions. And this is to say noth­ing of Brexit’s as-yet un­clear di­rect im­pact on res­i­dency for LGBT+ EU cit­i­zens liv­ing in the UK, or on LGBT+ Brits liv­ing in other EU coun­tries.

Time and again to­day we are told that Brexit means Brexit. As LGBT+ peo­ple face an un­cer­tain fu­ture, many will be won­der­ing pre­cisely what Brexit means for them.

“Can it re­ally be that the Brexit vote led di­rectly to this ap­par­ent spike in an­tiLGBT+ crimes?”

RUTH HUNT

BORIS JOHN­SON

LIAM FOX

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