Labour’s Nia Griffith: We can’t turn our back on LGBT people across Europe

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Labour’s Shadow Welsh Secretary Nia Griffith writes for PinkNews to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia – after publicly coming out as a lesbian earlier this year.

Every year on International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia we remember just how far we have come in securing LGBT equality, as well as all the progress that still remains to be made.

In my lifetime we have gone from a situation where homosexuality was criminalised to full legal equality; equal adoption rights, the Gender Recognition Act, anti-discrimination protections and finally equal marriage.

As well as changes to the law we have seen a transformation in society’s acceptance of LGBT people.

Today more and more sport stars and public figures are able to come out without worrying that their careers will suffer, and there are now more and more gay people in our political life too.

I am one of 32 out LGB MPs in this Parliament, the majority of Scotland’s political leaders are gay or bisexual, and we recently had our first three out gay members elected to the Welsh Assembly.

Visibility matters, and it makes it easier for young people in particular to know that they can go just as far whether they are gay or straight.

But we still have a long way to go. Homophobic and transphobic bullying are endemic in many schools; hate crime, particularly against trans people, is still all too common; and we know that LGBT people face persecution and extreme violence in many countries around the world.

In fact in some places things are getting worse not better. The most recent Rainbow Map from ILGA-Europe showed that progress was stalling in many Eastern European states because of rising homophobic rhetoric from political leaders and the introduction of anti-gay laws.

But instead of despairing or feeling complacent about our own progress, we need to work with partners on an international level to lobby for change. The European Union has a strong record of advocating for LGBT rights amongst member states and British Ministers and MEPs can use their voices to push for greater freedoms across the EU.

The simple fact is that gay people in countries like Poland or Latvia are more likely to see their rights protected by EU-wide legislation, than by their national governments. And by keeping Britain’s seat at the top table, we can act to make that happen.

Because when LGBT activists are being beaten and spat at in Pride marches in Warsaw and Riga, our response should be to stand with them, not to turn our back.

Staying inside the EU is a strong show of solidarity with gay people across the EU, but it is also a concrete way of achieving change.

I hope that LGBT people in Britain will join me in voting to remain in the EU so that we can continue to push for equal rights across Europe.

It was the EU that outlawed discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation back in 2000, and the European Court of Justice which told countries that offer civil unions that they must give gay people all the same rights as married couples.

Equality for LGBT people is explicitly recognised in the EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, meaning that all member states must offer a basic level of protection to gay and trans people.

The EU is a progressive force in today’s world and a real ally to equality. So I hope that LGBT people will agree, that while we’re proud to be out, we’re better off in.

Nia Griffith is the MP for Llanelli and Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.