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UK’s Record on LGBTIQ Rights Under Fire Alongside Russia, Hungary and Poland

A new report from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe takes aim at hate speech, vilification and scapegoating of LGBTI people in the UK

Boris Johnson leaves a Downing Street decorated to celebrate LGBTIQ Pride Month. Photo: Mark Thomas/Alamy

UK’s Record on LGBTIQ Rights Under Fire Alongside Russia, Hungary and Poland

A new report from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe takes aim at hate speech, vilification and scapegoating of LGBTI people in the UK

The UK has been listed alongside Hungary, Turkey, the Russian Federation and Poland as a European country where LGBTIQ people face “extensive and often virulent attacks” in a new report adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe (PACE).

The damning report comes in advance of the UK’s plans to host the first ever global LGBTIQ rights conference in June, called Safe To Be Me

Although the report authors group the UK with the Russian Federation, Hungary and Poland, it only includes specific allegations against, and recommendations for, the latter three countries. 

The Government disbanded its LGBTIQ advisory council last year, after three members resigned, including the Christian LGBTIQ-rights activist Jayne Ozanne. She accused the Government of creating “a hostile environment for LGBT people among this administration” and hit out at an “increasing lack of engagement” with ministers acting “against our advice.”


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The UK Picture 

LGBTIQ rights in the UK have improved since the late 1990s. However, in recent years there has been concern that progress has stalled, with delayed or cancelled legislative changes, and rise in LGBTIQ hate crimes. Reports of the latter increased during the pandemic – between January and August 2021 at least 14,670 homophobic hate crime offences were recorded, compared with 10,817 in the same period in 2019. 

This upward trend may also reflect more people coming forward to the police. 

Trans rights in particular have become a central pillar in the Conservative Government’s culture war, after plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act – the law which allows people to legally change their gender – were cancelled.

The long-anticipated ban on conversion therapy has also been in the spotlight, with the Government’s equalities officials secretly meeting so-called “ex-gay leaders” from the Core Issues Trust before launching a consultation on the proposed ban. Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch has said the Government does not “intend to stop those who wish to seek spiritual counselling as they explore their sexual orientation”. This proposal means the law is expected to fall short on other conversion therapy bans in Europe. 

PACE specifically condemned the “highly prejudicial anti-gender, gender-critical and anti-trans narratives which reduce the fight for the equality of LGBTI people to what these movements deliberately mis-characterise as ‘gender ideology’ or ‘LGBTI ideology’.”

While the majority of people in the UK support the rights of trans people to identify as they wish, free from discrimination, fear and violence, hostility towards the trans community appears to be on the rise. In January to August 2021, police recorded 2,129 transphobic offences – well above the 1,606 offences in 2020 and 1,602 in 2019.  

Religious and far-right actors have taken aim at trans rights, with anti-LGBTIQ organisations condemning what it calls “transgender ideology” in schools and the “grovelling atmosphere of Woke dictated LGBT+ enforcement”. Individuals linked to religious-right organisations from the US have also got involved. These groups misrepresent LGBTIQ-inclusive education, use transphobic language, and portray trans people as a threat to children and women, echoing the stigmatising language that was once commonly used against gay men and lesbian women. 

Alongside the right-wing attacks, various feminist groups and individuals have raised concerns over the impact of “self-identification” legislation on women-only spaces, such as prisons and refuges. Some of these groups have aligned themselves with the religious and far-right.

Part of the feminist argument focuses on fears that loopholes in self-identification could allow predatory individuals to claim they identify as a woman in order to access these spaces, with cases such as Karen White’s – a serial rapist housed in a woman’s prison who went on to sexually assault fellow inmates – highlighted as an example. 

Other feminists have been accused of misgendering trans and non-binary people, of questioning the concept of “gender identity”, and undermining trans people’s “right to exist.”  

Turning East

The other countries mentioned by name in the PACE report are Hungary, Poland, the Russian Federation and Turkey. 

In April this year, Hungary will hold an anti-LGBTIQ referendum that includes questions on sex education in schools and availability of information for children about gender reassignment. It follows a raft of anti-LGBTIQ measures that includes banning depictions of LGBTIQ people in children’s media, a ban on same-sex couples adopting, and an end to legal recognition of transgender people. 

The referendum will take place on the same day as the national elections, to save money. It is one of many LGBTIQ rights votes to happen in Europe over the past decade, including in Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Ireland and Slovenia. 

Poland’s far-right Law and Justice Party has also banned same-sex couples from adopting, while its notorious “LGBTIQ-free zones” have been roundly condemned by the European Union. As in Hungary, transgender people are not permitted to legally change their gender. 

PACE demanded that “the Polish authorities support stronger anti-hate and anti-discrimination legislation in Poland, to ensure that it is effectively applied, and to work to overturn all declarations and charters contrary to the rights of LGBTI people adopted at local, county and regional level.”

Laws against media depictions of LGBTIQ people take inspiration from Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda laws” which had a stifling effect on access to affirming education and support services, with harmful consequences for LGBTIQ youth.

The PACE report also highlights the violent discrimination against LGBTIQ people in Chechnya, part of the Russian Federation, where “anti-gay purges” were carried out and LGBTIQ people were beaten, tortured and unlawfully detained. 

PACE urged the Russian Federation to “redouble its efforts to prosecute and punish the perpetrators and provide reparation, including compensation, to victims, in order to put an end to the persecution of LGBTI people in the Chechen Republic and ensure that there is no impunity for the perpetrators of such human rights violations.”

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