Stonewall chair blasts foreign secretary James Cleverly’s advice to LGBTQ+ fans at Qatar World Cup

Iain Anderson wears a black shirt and brown jacket as he does an interview with Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC

Stonewall chair Iain Anderson said it’s “wrong” for foreign secretary James Cleverly to ask LGBTQ+ people to “compromise” with Qatar ahead of the World Cup.

Human rights activists, LGBTQ+ advocates and athletes have criticised FIFA’s decision to host the World Cup in Qatar due to its treatment of LGBTQ+ people, women and migrant workers. 

Cleverly asked LGBTQ+ fans to “compromise” with Qatar as he said it is an “Islamic country with a very different set of cultural norms”. His comments were met with swift backlash from campaigners, and Labour MP Nadia Whittome rightly pointed out that queer people can’t “compromise” when it comes to their safety. 

Anderson, who was a top LGBTQ+ adviser to the Tory government, was questioned about his thoughts on Cleverly’s statement that LGBTQ+ fans should ‘show respect’ to Qatar during an interview on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.  

“I noticed as well that Number 10 Downing Street very, very quickly shall we say corrected the foreign secretary’s position,” Anderson said. “It was the wrong thing to say.”

He continued: “For me, we’ve seen this in countless examples of countries around the world that are looking to liberalise their laws – their really disruptive laws – around LGBTQ+ people.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and queer Qataris face imprisonment and hefty fines for living as their authentic self. In some cases, under Qatar’s Sharia law, the punishment for queer people engaging in same-sex activity could be the death penalty

A damning report by Human Rights Watch revealed that LGBTQ+ people in Qatar have been arrested, subjected to verbal and physical abuse and harassed by authorities as recently as last month. 

Yet, the Football Association has tried to assure the public that the World Cup would be safe to attend for queer fans. Qatar’s ambassador to the UK said LGBTQ+ fans visiting the country can “hold hands” but should be “mindful” of “public displays of affection” at the World Cup.

Iain Anderson went on to explain that he resigned from his role as the UK government’s LGBT+ business champion in April because the Tories weren’t “pushing forward with its manifesto commitment”. 

Iain Anderson wears a black shirt and brown jacket as he does an interview with Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC

Iain Anderson resigned as the UK government’s LGBT+ business champion because the Tories weren’t “pushing forward” with their commitments to championing LGBTQ+ rights. (BBC)

In its 2019 manifesto, the Conservative Party vowed to “vigorously combat harassment and violence” against LGBTQ+ people. It also promised to “support marginalised communities in the developing world, hosting the UK government’s first ever international LGBT conference”. 

At the time, Anderson said that “trust and belief” in the government’s “overall commitments to LGBT+ rights” was damaged after Boris Johnson dropped long-promised plans to ban conversion therapy in the UK. Johnson later backtracked and decided to bring forward legislation to ban conversion therapy – but such protections would exclude the trans community

The Tory government’s LGBTQ+ conference was cancelled in April after over 120 LGBTQ+ rights and HIV advocacy groups pulled out due to Johnson’s refusal to protect trans people from conversion practices. 

Anderson told BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that the conference “should have been an opportunity” for the UK government, businesses and civil society to “be able to push forward reform”. 

Kuenssberg questioned Anderson, who has been appointed to Stonewall’s chair of trustees in October, about his thoughts around the toxic discussions on the lives of trans people in the UK.

Anderson said he wanted to “stop debating people’s lives” and get “everybody to come together again”. 

“Anybody that knows me knows that I believe in a big tent,” Anderson said. “I’ve engaged with the Labour Party so far. I’ve met actually government ministers in the previous administrations who’ve given commitments that they’ll push forward on a ban on conversion therapy.”

He continued: “What I want to do is talk to women’s groups. I want to talk generally, Laura. I want to get this conversation off Twitter. 

“I want to stop debating people’s lives and get everybody to come together again. Less shouting and more conversations and more policy action.”