Tributes flood in for tireless defender of LGBT+ rights, Jonathan Cooper, after his sudden death

Jonathan Cooper OBE

Tributes have been flooding in for human rights lawyer, “wonderful human being” and “defender of LGBT+ people around the world”, Jonathan Cooper OBE.

Cooper, an international human rights lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers and former director of the Human Dignity Trust, passed away suddenly on Saturday (18 September), while walking in Scotland with his husband, Kevin.

Throughout his long and varied career, Cooper fought tirelessly to defend the global LGBT+ community against criminalisation and discrimination.

Among his achievements: he represented a lesbian couple in their long and ongoing battle to legalise same-sex marriage in the Cayman Islands, fought against horrific homophobic legislation in Uganda, and pushed for LGBT+ inclusion in the Church of England, among many other achievements.

Cooper was behind the 2012 landmark case that challenged Jamaica’s colonial-era “buggery” laws in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. He was able to see the court finally make a decision in the case this year, when it called on Jamaica to repeal the laws.

According to Doughty Street Chambers: “His ground-breaking work in challenging discrimination against same-sex couples was immense.

“Together with Tim Otty QC, Jonnie was the moving force behind the Human Dignity Trust which successfully challenged laws criminalising gay sex throughout the Commonwealth. Jonnie was also the Trust’s first inspirational director.

“He championed the cause of gay couples who wanted to establish their equal right to marry and found a family in the Caribbean and elsewhere.”

A PinkNews contributor, Cooper was called to the Bar in 1992 and joined Doughty Street Chambers as an openly gay man, which was unusual at the time.

In an interview with Queer Lawyers of Tomorrow, describing his work for LGBT+ rights, he once said: “Whether we like it or not, we are part of a group who are persecuted… our Sisters and Brothers across the globe are persecuted. It’s important to remember that.

“We are part of a bigger picture and we need to support each other… We are part of a big global movement and to be honest, whilst LGBTQ+ people are being persecuted across the globe, it undermines us all.

“When something happens in Russia, it affects us in the United Kingdom as queer people.”

In 2007, he was awarded an OBE for services to human rights.

Veteran LGBT+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said in a statement: “I’m heartbroken by the sudden, unexpected death of esteemed human rights lawyer Jonathan Cooper.

“He did important and distinguished legal and lobbying work for LGBT+ rights in the UK and internationally for many decades. He helped countless activists and advised political parties, governments and campaign groups, as well as devising human rights training programmes. Only last week, he offered to explore a potential legal challenge to the draconian new anti-LGBT+ bill in Ghana.

“Jonathan showed kindness and support to everyone in need of legal help. He was a wonderful human being. I will miss him. I send my sincere condolences to his partner and loved ones.”

Jayne Ozanne, director of the Ozanne Foundation, told PinkNews: “Jonathan was a giant in the field of human rights, to whom millions owe a deep debt of gratitude. He was one of the most kind, caring, wise and humble friends I have ever had the privilege to know, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the world a significantly better place, particularly for LGBT+ people.

“He was generous to a fault and gave constantly his time and expertise to so many critical causes – including how to ban conversion practices, on which I worked with him closely.

“The world has lost a true LGBT+ legend, and we are all very much the poorer for it.”

Nancy Kelley, chief executive of Stonewall, wrote on Twitter: Very sad to hear of Jonathan Cooper’s death.

“He was at the *heart* of defending the rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world, with passion and talents beyond question, as well as a deeply kind and generous man.”

Politician, actor and LGBT+ rights activist Michael Cashman added: “You will always be here. In every demand for equality, in a life lived without discrimination. Because of you, we are.

“You had determination and the courage of legions. Jonathan Cooper changed the world. Kevin [and] you did it together and will always be together.”