Speech by Ian
McCartney MP to UNISON LGBT Conference, Manchester, 18
McCartney is minister for trade at the Foreign &
" Outlawed, persecuted and killed
for advocating their rights. That is the history of
trade unionists in most countries.
It is still the case in countries around the world like
Burma, North Korea and Zimbabwe.
And it is also the reality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual
and Transgender people in most of the world.
Over the last few years Labour Ministers will have
spoken to you about the efforts of Labour to tackle
discrimination against LGBT people here in the UK.
I think it is worth remembering how far we have come
We have removed discrimination in the criminal law,
- in the armed forces
- and at the workplace.
We have introduced civil partnership for lesbian and gay
couples and equal rights to adoption.
The law now recognises the acquired gender of
We have changed immigration rules to allow long-term
same sex couples to settle in the UK.
We abolished section 28.
And next year we will introduce regulations to outlaw
discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and
services on the grounds of sexual orientation.
We have achieved so much together over the last few
I pay tribute to the work of the equality campaigns
within the Labour Movement and the work of the Labour
Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights over the last 30
It is not just that you campaigned to change the law.
You have changed attitudes, you changed the culture.
Just a few years ago David Cameron voted against
allowing gay couples to adopt and complained that the
Labour government was obsessed with a "fringe agenda...
including deeply unpopular moves like repealing Section
28 and allowing the promotion of homosexuality in
Today even the Leader of the Tory Party says he is in
favour of Civil Partnerships.
But let's look beneath the veneer and see what David
Cameron's Tories really think.
Just this week George Osborne, Tory Shadow Chancellor,
launched 'the campaign for enterprise' a Tory
organisation with a manifesto that recommends:
- abolishing tax credits for working families
- opposing all of Labour's family friendly legislation
- and removing protection for sacked workers
The group also proposes giving employers something they
describe as 'the right to choose' their own workforce
saying, and I quote: "discrimination is not a dirty
Scratch the surface and it's the same old Tories.
So many of the founding aims of the gay rights movement
have been fulfilled under this government
So much so that some people say that the campaign for
equality is nearing an end.
I am not one of those people.
When we still see Tories on Bromley council trying to
ban gay marriage
Or when the Tories in Westminster council tried banning
the rainbow flag in Soho;
When gay students are still taunted and bullied;
And when gay workers are victimised by their employers
We still need a campaign that promotes equality and
With so much achieved it is understandable that there is
a vibrant debate about what there is left to campaign
Today I would like to suggest that the next great
challenge for those of us committed to equality is to
expand our campaign against injustice beyond our own
As we celebrate our achievements we should pause to
remember that the majority of gay people around the
world still live in countries where simply being
themselves is a crime.
Consensual same-sex relationships are still outlawed in
over 70 countries.
In 9 countries they are still punishable by death.
At the new UN Human Rights Council, Special
Representative on Human Rights Defenders (Ms Hina Jilani)
drew special attention to a variety of homophobic acts
over the past year.
- the murder of Steve Harvey, an HIV/AIDS activist in
- the obstruction of LGBT equality marches in Eastern
Europe, involving harassment and intimidation by police
and nationalist extremists;
- the murder of Nadia Echazu, a defender of transgender
rights in Argentina;
- threats and attacks against LGBT groups and
individuals in Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador,
Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nepal and Venezuela.
These are only a fraction of everyday violations of
For example, on average in Brazil one LGBT person is
murdered every three days, with fewer than 10% of the
murderers convicted and punished.
In Colombia, the paramilitary groups engage in "social
cleansing" of homosexuals with impunity.
Dealing with these issues on an international basis is
At the last meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, the
UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings
condemned both State-condoned and State-sanctioned
killing of LGBT people.
But Nigeria defended the stoning to death of so called
"unnatural sexual acts" such as homosexuality and
lesbianism as an "appropriate and just punishment".
However Labour is determined to bring the same
determination to international gay rights issues as we
have done at home.
International human rights law is clear. Since 1994, the
UN Human Rights Committee has ruled that outlawing
consenting same-sex relations is a breach of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We
are clear that sexual rights are human rights.
We have been active in promoting the rights of LGBT
people in many international organisations.
At the UN we have been working with Brazil in its
efforts to call on states to promote and protect the
human rights of all their citizens, regardless of sexual
But the strength of opposition has been too great to
even get the matter discussed in the last couple of
Through the EU we have tried - so far in vain – to
persuade the Economic and Social Council of the UN known
as ECOSOC to grant consultative status to NGOs
representing LGBT people.
Countries that practise discrimination against LGBT
people have systematically blocked this.
The UK will be a member of the ECOSOC panel in 2007 that
grants consultative status and we will use our position
to argue strongly in favour of non-discrimination.
Working with our European partners we have been raising
with individual countries the cases of people arrested,
tortured or killed on the grounds of their sexual
In recent months we have protested to Nigeria about the
current Bill before the Nigerian Parliament that not
only prohibits gay marriage, but also punishes
membership of an association advocating LGBT rights with
a maximum of 5 years' imprisonment.
At the Organization for Security and Co-operation in
Europe, the OSCE, the UK has been at the forefront of
efforts to ensure that the rights of LGBT people are
respected in member states. It is unacceptable that two
member states, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, continue to
criminalise consenting same sex relationships.
We have supported LGBT groups in raising their voices
and we will continue our efforts to ensure that sexual
orientation is included in the OSCE work programme on
tolerance and non-discrimination, including on hate
In the end, all the issues involved in the rights of
LGBT people boil down to the simple issues of fairness,
equality and justice.
Human rights belong to everyone. Sexual orientation is
not a qualifying factor. Cultural differences do not
excuse the abuse of basic human rights.
Where governments discriminate in denying rights to LGBT
people, they are almost invariably in breach of their
Many of the world's worst human rights abusers are
particularly virulent in their hatred of homosexuals.
Robert Mugabe sent a chilling warning 10 years ago to
LGBT people in Zimbabwe saying:
"Let them be gay in the US, Europe and elsewhere....
They shall be sad people here."
Since then the gay community has suffered alongside
trade unionists, feminists, political opponents and the
rest of Zimbabwe.
The story is much the same in dictatorships around the
world. Attacks on the human rights of the gay community
are often part of, or a precursor to, a wider assault on
a people's freedoms.
And where LGBT rights are under fire, so too are the
rights of workers to organise.
Brothers and sisters, across the world millions of our
fellow citizens are frightened to simply be themselves
for fear of imprisonment, torture or death.
They live in societies still blighted by stigma,
prejudice and shame. Their suffering is unseen and
unheard, they suffer in darkness. Our solidarity can
shine a light on their cause.
When they have the courage to speak up and speak out we
must stand beside them. And when they have no voice, we
must break the silence.
I am proud to be a member of a government that has
fought injustice at home, and I am determined to do what
I can to fight it on behalf of my fellow human beings
around the world.
We can only do it together. "