Loudly championing LGBT rights could spark a backlash, International Development minister warns

PinkNews logo with white background and rainbow corners

PinkNews Exclusive
The Junior Minister for International Development has warned against the UK “loudly championing” LGBT rights internationally – as it could spark a backlash.

Lib Dem peer Baroness Northover made the claims to PinkNews after a speech to the Sexuality, Poverty and Law Symposium in Brighton outlining the government’s approach to LGBT issues in developing countries.

In the speech, she said in part: “Recent experience has shown that there are increasing risks from loud championing of LGBT issues by the global North, stimulating a backlash on wider rights issues. The first principle of UK engagement must be to do no harm.”

“Experience from the significant recent progress on [female genital mutilation] has shown that supporting change to deeply sensitive issues requires first supporting Southern leadership and voices for change Our efforts will focus primarily on catalysing a similar movement for LGBT.”

Expanding on her comments, she told PinkNews: “That’s what we hear from groups in countries.

“Sometimes [championing rights] is exactly what they want us to do, and sometimes they want us to mute what we say, because if it’s portrayed as coming from the North or the West, then that can play into the hands of their opponents.

“They cannot be who they actually are in that circumstance. That’s why we have to be very much directed by those in the countries in question.

“I think that’s something that is shared quite widely, talking to various groups within Stonewall and others.

“What is important is that we must make sure that anybody who’s discriminated against is protected. How we do that may vary.

“For example, in one particular case – I won’t name the country – it was felt that governments protesting would be counter-productive.

“What was useful was for our government to be putting pressure on a big multi-national company that it British based but also working in the country in question to speak out, and to say they might consider pulling out. That had a very great effect.

“From DFID, we very strongly feel that it’s important to work with Southern groups on this. If we are highlighting this, we can endanger people. It must be led by groups within the relevant countries.”

Elsewhere in the speech, Baroness Northover pledged funding to research the between poverty and LGBT rights.

She said: “[The Department for International Development] will work centrally and at country level to build linkages and to understand opportunities for leverage, including working with different voices to effect social change, and to build more constructive dialogue on LGBT rights within national and international politics.

“The focus of the UK Government’s work on these issues is to: Hold the line on LGBT issues in international negotiations, including principles of equality and non-discrimination, while continuing to press for a broader rights focus, especially for vulnerable groups, and working to facilitate a developing-country-led LGBT rights movement in the longer term.”

She told PinkNews: “DFID is extremely concerned about those who are most marginalised and likely to be the poorest in developing countries. As you will know, that may very well include those who are discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality.

“It’s because we recognise that that we have funded the first pieces of research which actually looks at the effect of that discrimination on poverty and development.

“We made a grant of just over £11 million to the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, to research the effects of discrimination against LGBT people, and what the effect is in terms of poverty in developing countries.

“Everybody should be included in development, whatever their background or sexual orientation. what we are very concerned about is even when you’ve got legal protection – you don’t necessarily have rights implemented.

“The Symposium is looking at how law does protect, and what actions we need to take.

“Those who I met at the Symposium included academics and lawyers working on this, both in the United Kingdom and also further afield.

“A number of African countries in particular, incredibly brave who know that their lives are on the line. I met one outstanding advocate on this from Cameroon, Alice Nkom.

“She’s a lawyer who’s been defending people who have been victimised because of their sexuality – and knows that she herself is at risk.

“I know from talking to a number of those who are attending the Symposium that they are in very dangerous situations.

“What we have to do is try to work out how we best support them and that’s why we’ve invested in this research which the Institute of Development Studies is taking forward, to try to learn how we best can do that.”