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Lord Herbert’s vision for the Safe To Be Me conference

With 100 days to go until the Safe To Be Me conference, Lord Herbert, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on LGBT+ Rights, sets out why he thinks it has the potential to be a groundbreaking moment that will bring positive change to LGBT+ communities across the globe.

Should we be optimistic that LGBT+ rights are steadily being advanced across the world, or worry that they are in retreat? The truth depends on where we look. Some countries have made great progress over recent decades to secure rights and freedoms, while others have stood still or, more worryingly, have actually gone backwards.

There are too many parts of the world where people are still not accepted for who they are or who they love, where they face serious discrimination, and at worst, where they are harassed, attacked, or even killed.

So the work of securing equality is far from done, and the cause of promoting LGBT+ rights today remains essential. Even in those countries which have made the most progress towards equality there is obvious work to do, the UK included. Yes, attitudes have changed for the better in societies like Britain, but there are still issues to tackle: the bullying of children in schools, the lack of role models in key sports such as football, or the treatment of transgender people, to name but a few.

So, the case for equality needs to be made in every country, and that requires leadership. I set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT Rights in the UK because I saw that politicians could achieve more in the fight for equality by working together and organising better, and I then launched the Global Equality Caucus, linking parliamentarians around the world so that we could exchange experiences and support those who need help.

It is this spirit of learning from each other, working together and supporting those who need our help, that I want to capture in the Safe To Be Me Conference, to be hosted in London this summer.

I am proud, as the UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on LGBT+ Rights, to be chairing this event which I believe has real potential to make a difference to the lives of LGBT+ people around the world.

The Conference, to be held in London from 29 June to 1 July, will be the UK Government’s first global conference dedicated to LGBT+ rights. It will be a major event, bringing together governments, businesses, parliamentarians, faith leaders and civil society. It won’t just be a talking shop: its aim will be to create an inclusive space for genuine debate, and an opportunity to agree concrete steps to protect LGBT+ people and support human rights defenders.

Safe To Be Me will focus on four key areas:

  • First, we want to tackle violence and discrimination. It is fundamental that no one should live in fear because of who they are. We aim to bring communities, activists, businesses and leaders together, to build understanding around different interventions, identify new measures to combat the problem and target funding to secure change.
  • Second, we want to advance legal protections by accelerating progress on legislative reform and creating the conditions for greater equality globally. 71 jurisdictions around the world criminalise consensual same-sex acts, of which 35 are in the Commonwealth. 11 countries punish this with the death penalty. Many more repress LGBT+ people from living their lives openly even without such laws. We’ve seen some progress in reversing outdated laws, most recently in Botswana. But we’ve also seen hideous new legislation attacking LGBT+ people being promoted in Ghana. More work must be done to encourage steps in the right direction.
  • Third, we want to ensure inclusive access to public services, including in relation to health programmes where discriminatory policies are damaging the delivery of essential healthcare such as HIV/AIDS medicines.
  • Fourth, we want to make the economic and business case for inclusion. We will identify best practice, strengthen advocacy and support businesses to take up the mantle of change. This includes ensuring that international standards on LGBT+ inclusive practices are upheld. There is good evidence that countries that are more inclusive are wealthier, just as we know that businesses that take diversity in their workforces seriously are more successful. So, there is an economic case for change.

But of course, there is a moral case, too. LGBT+ rights are fundamental human rights. Those who happen to have a different sexual orientation or gender identity are not asking for special rights: they are simply asking for the same rights as everyone else. Every person should have a fair opportunity in life, no matter who they are or where they come from.

When I was born, homosexual conduct was a crime in the UK. Today I am able to marry the person I love.

I know there is further to go, and that there is more to do, but the UK has a proud record in creating a safer and more inclusive society for LGBT+ people. Indeed, we have one of the most comprehensive legal frameworks in the world providing protection against discrimination.

The reforms we brought in didn’t happen all at once. At every point some resisted change, while others wanted us to go further. There is a lesson here as we seek to support other nations.

Every country is on its own path to equality. We cannot expect all to move at the same pace or complete the journey in one bound. None of us is perfect and no one should lecture, but history tells us that with patient and determined work, equality can be moved forward.

The UK recently took a strong stance in offering safety to LGBT+ people being evacuated from Afghanistan. These are the values of leadership, cooperation and practical support that I want to bring to our global equality conference. Safe To Be Me is not an end goal, but it is an important moment to press for change in LGBT+ rights in many parts of the world. That is why I hope governments, civil society organisations, business leaders and parliamentarians from across the globe will attend. When others are trying to divide us, we should stand together, because the fight for equality must continue.

The ‘Safe To Be Me: A Global Equality Conference’, will take place in London on 29 June to 1 July 2022.

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A blog about the work of the UK Government Equality Hub and what government is doing to remove barriers to equality and help to build a fairer society for everyone.

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