You, me, us, we: How parliamentarians can build LGBT+ inclusive democracies

Pride flag in front of the big ben

You, me, us, we: How parliamentarians can build LGBT+ inclusive democracies

To foster LGBT+ inclusive democracies, parliamentarians need to listen to LGBT+ voices, as well as access to more and better information. WFD is focusing on addressing these issues.

It has been difficult to celebrate the major milestones in the calendar year with COVID-19 restrictions in place. However, it is important to recognise, be an ally and celebrate them – even through the virtual space.

This weekend, 27-28 June, London will celebrate a virtual Pride march with similar virtual events occurring around the world. Pride commemorates the Stonewall uprising in 1969 and the collective efforts of LGBT+ activists and allies to combat the discrimination and stigmatisation of LGBT+ persons and to effect formal legal and social change. While Pride has been commemorated in the US in various forms since 1970, and in the UK not long after, global Pride events have been held in environments that are both supportive of and hostile towards LGBT+ rights. In some countries, holding a Pride event in itself has become a political act. For example, last year North Macedonia held its first ever Pride march with counter-rallies also held to oppose the march.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted political priorities and drawn the attention of lawmakers and others who have a duty to uphold human rights to response and recovery efforts. Furthermore, organisations that work to promote and protect the rights of LGBT+ people are vulnerable to having their funding cut during this time. Nonetheless, positive news came this month from the US Supreme Court, which upheld protections for LGBT+ persons against workplace discrimination. The ruling confirmed that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is unlawful.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy recently led the Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy programme, a two-year UK Government-funded programme that focused on advancing inclusive and accountable democracies. As part of this work, we brought together parliamentarians and civil society activists to talk through the strategies that can lead to successful legal recognition of gender identities and moves to remove discrimination against LGBT+ persons.

Parliamentarians need to listen to LGBT+ voices and have access to better information

We also discussed the barriers to protection from violence, bullying and harassment, access to education, access to justice and – importantly – the right to self-identify. What emerged from these conversations was the realisation that lawmakers have inadequate access to substantive information on the nuances of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics. Contributors from diverse backgrounds recognised that lawmakers need high-quality briefing materials and data sets, suitable to their cultural contexts and local languages,  in order to make fully-informed decisions on policy affecting the well-being of LGBT+ citizens. Critically, they also need to hear directly from LGBT+ activists.

WFD is working to address these findings. We recently expanded our own efforts to work in partnership with others to build democratic societies that listen to, respect, recognise, and celebrate LGBT+ people with pride.

For example, we are developing an briefing document for parliamentarians that addresses some of the definitions and key common themes that arise in debates on LGBT+ equality issues during parliamentary proceedings globally. Our aim is that this can be used to begin a larger discussion amongst parliamentarians on ways that they can exercise allyship with the LGBT+ communities in their countries.

Finding ways to bring LGBT+ voices into the law and policy-making processes is more necessary than ever, as we know that emergency measures around COVID-19 disproportionately affect marginalised groups worldwide. Groups like the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights, a cross-party group of UK MPs dedicated to promoting LGBT+ rights in the UK and across the world, and the Global Equality Caucus an international network for parliamentarians to tackle homophobia and LGBT+ discrimination, play an important role in building the bridge between parliamentarians and LGBT+ activists and civil society. We are equally learning and testing ways that we can play a role in our work as allies.

Our next challenge is to continue the work that Pride commemorates – particularly in countries that still criminalise and discriminate against LGBT+ citizens – through our global work with parliamentarians and decision-makers.