Conservatives reject proposals to appoint an LGBT rights envoy

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Tory minister David Lidington has rejected proposals to follow the United States in appointing a specialised LGBT rights envoy.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry appointed diplomat Randy Berry to the newly-created post of LGBT rights envoy last month – to lobby for LGBT rights on behalf of the US around the world.

The Labour Party has pledged to create a similar role in the UK for gay rights activist Lord Cashman, and the Scottish National Party has also backed plans for an envoy – but this week the Conservatives shot down the proposal.

Responding to a parliamentary question from the SNP’s Eilidh Whiteford, Tory MP David Lidington said: “We do not believe that appointing a UK special envoy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people would be the best way to protect their rights.

“Given the difficulty of tackling this issue in many countries, an envoy with such a designation would most likely be unable to secure access in the very countries where the problems are most severe.

“We consider that it is more effective to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people through the regular engagement of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers and our Embassies and High Commissions overseas.

“This reflects our firm belief that all human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people.”

Responding to a separate question from Labour MP Douglas Alexander about the creation of a ‘religious freedom’ envoy, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “Our general approach is to try to get things done using the mechanisms we have.

“We have an extensive diplomatic network around the world, and we have large amounts of soft power at our disposal, including the leverage that our large aid budget gives us.

“I do not think simply creating new posts and ticking a box delivers in the way the right hon Gentleman and the previous Government seem to think it will.”

Dr Whiteford said: “It is deeply disappointing that Foreign Office Minister David Lidington has rejected proposals for the creation of an LGBTI envoy.

“As the First Minister stated last month, there is cross-party support for an envoy – just as there is support for such a post in the United States – and the SNP is prepared to work across party boundaries to ensure the role is established.

“For Mr [Hammond] to refer to the role as a ‘ticking a box’ is extremely insulting.

“Too many LGBTI people in too many countries still face the most extreme forms of prejudice and hate – our voice must be one of those arguing and advocating for equality, tolerance and love.

“That is why a team of SNP MPs elected in May will continue to push the case for the establishment of a special envoy – a diplomatic post within the Foreign Office – to promote the rights of LGBTI people throughout the word, as an integral part of UK foreign policy.”