There was crushing news from Bermuda yesterday. It has become the first country in the world to first legalise and then repeal same sex marriage legislation. Lesbian, gay and bi people in Bermuda who last week enjoyed an equal right to get married to their life partner are now denied it. If you, like me, felt your stomach drop as you read that news, then it’s time we started to lose our own sense of comfy complacency, and start to get active.
Global LGBT rights aren’t just failing to make good progress at the moment: in many cases they are under threat of going backwards. We have an American president who is attempting to stop trans people serving their country in the military, who happily addresses conferences that are openly against LGBT rights. The message that sends out – in tweets, in speeches - from the most powerful country in the world is important. It’s a green light to people across the world who see our basic rights as an affront to their views. In an interconnected world, events in one country have a profound impact on many others. The fight for equality in one place becomes the fight for it everywhere.
Here in Britain, 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the introduction of Section 28 – a nasty piece of legislation that banned local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality’ and effectively stopped teachers from talking about LGBT issues, or properly supporting LGBT pupils. The struggle to repeal it took years – it only left the statute books in 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in the rest of the UK. That’s recent. A lot of us are guilty of short memories: our rights aren’t quite as perpetual as some might think.
The news from Bermuda is deeply, deeply alarming. It shows how fragile our hard-won rights can be. Just because progress towards equality has been made doesn’t make it permanent. Here at home we already have the Democratic Unionist Party – a party that has voted down same sex marriage in Northern Ireland five times – holding the balance of power for the government in major votes. I am not saying this to whip up anxiety or to scaremonger, I’m saying it to make the case that we need to be vigilant and we need to be noisy about our rights – at home and abroad. We cannot be complacent.
We need the British government to be vocal in defending equality for LGBT people around the world. As individuals and as organisations we need to be allies to campaigners in other countries. What that support looks like needs to be led by the campaigners on the ground, not us, but we need to be primed and ready to respond. In this connected world, where a single action in one country can lead to a landslide in others, more than ever we need to understand that their fight is our fight too.