After a weekend of glitter, glamour and camp innuendos, the publication of a new global report on the state of LGBT rights was perhaps the signal that the Eurovision party was well and truly over. The research by International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) found that same-sex relationships are still banned in 72 nations – using the membership of the United Nations as a reference – that means over one-third of countries in the world criminalise same-sex couples. And the death penalty for same-sex activity still applies in eight nations. These statistics shouldn’t just make us angry, they should make the LGBT community here in the UK sit up and take action.
Last Saturday, I donned my best Eurovision fancy dress, complete with face paint and an array of flags. I tweeted about swooning over the male singers and I finished the evening dancing in a gay night club. Not one minute of that whole night did I feel threatened, scared or encounter harassment because of my sexuality. This annual song contest is often dismissed with eye-rolling among the UK’s music elite, or even described as “corrupt and borderline racist”. And whilst I accept the limitations of a near four hour music programme, it provides a shining beacon of how LGBT culture, voices and acceptance can be interwoven throughout one of the world’s biggest television spectacles. Fact is, I shouldn’t describe myself as being lucky, but placed within the context of the global situation of LGBT rights, our freedoms in the UK are the envy of millions elsewhere.
Across the world, even basic human rights and the democratic rule of law are being eroded away to facilitate politics of hate and populism. LGBT issues are being positioned as political weapons, used to divide communities. In the recent Dutch elections we saw far-right candidate, Geert Wilders used gay rights as a means of pitting LGBT people against the Muslim community. Similarly in France, Marine Le Pen cunningly crafted a message designed to appeal to the nation’s gay community that saw one in five gay men throw their support behind this populist candidate. Of course these acts of political skulduggery, have been eclipsed by the horrors of 100 men being abducted in Chechnya on suspicion of being gay, as part of a coordinated government campaign. This southern Russia republic is also home to so-called ‘honour killings’ with gay men at risk of being killed by their own families. The Chechnya leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has even tried to airbrush gay people out of existence in the region by labeling them as “fake” Chechans.
Our hard fought rights in the UK have not come easily and whilst we now enjoy some of the best protections in the world, we must never turn our backs on the global struggle for equality for every single member of the LGBT community. This year marks the 50th anniversary since homosexual activity was decriminalised in England and Wales and is a reminder of what equality victories that have been won at home. This historical milestone should also act as a moment to galvanise, to sit up and take a stand against the LGBT oppression that continues to blight so many parts of the globe. It must also remind us to never allow our precious rights to become the plaything of divisive politicians seeking to pit one minority against another.
This summer the UK’s towns and cities will be splashed with the colours of the rainbow as Pride season commences. These events have been criticised for becoming more commercialised and less about activism. However, as our community evolves and adapts, so too should Pride. Irrespective if companies choose to wave the rainbow flag on top of their headquarters, Pride creates a moment of solidarity within our diverse and wonderful community. Images and videos of Pride in London and our other major cities are beamed across the world through social media and become a beacon of liberty and decency. We should never underestimate the power of this connectivity to provide a message of hope to the global community.
The rights of LGBT people to live free from, discrimination and fear are far from won. Visibility is our strength in challenging discriminatory attitudes both at home and overseas. The fight for justice continues and with that so should our sheer determination to do something about it. In the words of Conchita Wurst, “We are unity and we are unstoppable”.
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