What Brexit means to the LGBT community
There has been a lot of discussion from across the pond about United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, also known as ‘Brexit.’
With the withdrawal referendum achieving a 52-48 percent margin, the Brexit result has already made itself felt economically and financially in the UK.
However, global LGBT activists are more worried about what will happen to the EU, which is a major proponent of the promotion of LGBT rights worldwide.
Brexit, EU, and LGBT rights
Supposedly, Brexit may weaken the bloc and leave it ineffectual. Moreover, countries on the European continent and beyond who have anti-LGBT initiatives may start ignoring the organization.
“(A)nything that puts a hold on European progress causes concern about advancement for rights for LGBT people, especially in countries that are lagging behind,” Brian Sheehan, co-chair of the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, told Buzzfeed.
One example is Ukraine, which has been trying to meet basic LGBT rights requirements for affiliation with the EU. These include an employment non-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation.
“The EU is still (the) only instrument to push on our government to at least somehow protect LGBTI people and not to adopt same harmful legislation like it was done in Russia,” Olena Shevchenko of the Ukrainian LGBT rights group Insight said in an email to BuzzFeed.
“If Ukraine understands the EU can be beaten, I think we will have lost our chance to push on our government,” Shevchenko said.
The EU is also one of the major groups that can pressure countries across the world that have adopted anti-LGBT initiatives, like Uganda, who are seeking donor support.
“I am very concerned. We want strong advocacy for collective leadership on response to LGBTI rights within (the) EU. This is definitely going to be difficult,” said Frank Mugisha of the group Sexual Minorities Uganda.
Brexit, immigration, and LGBT asylum seekers
Another issue that Brexit may affect involves immigration and LGBT people seeking asylum in Europe.
“Many LGBT refugee and asylum seekers talking to me are worried about how they will be treated with this outcome,” Davis Mac-Iyalla, told the Washington Blade. Mac-Iyalla is a gay Nigerian man who received asylum in the UK.
In 2013, the European Court of Justice ruled that those fleeing persecution from their countries of origin because of their sexual orientation can receive asylum in the EU.
Likewise, the same EU high court ruled in 2014 that EU nations cannot require gay asylum seekers to prove their homosexuality.
Unfortunately, in the lead up to the Brexit referendum in the UK, the anti-immigrant rhetoric became more heated due to an influx of refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq, and other countries into Europe.
It didn’t help that the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibilities for a series of terror attacks in Paris last November. Those attacks left 130 people dead.
Meanwhile, the Sunni militant group took credit for attacks at the Brussels Airport and the Belgian capital in March that left 32 people dead.
Geoffrey Ross, a gay British man living in Paris, told the Washington Blade: “It could get worse because there’s an overwhelming climate of it’s all the immigrants’ fault. That might also spread to LGBT asylum seekers.”
Prominent LGBT activist Peter Tatchell warned that the referendum results are “a victory for the right,” given the support by British conservative lawmakers to the “leave” campaign.
“We could see more restrictions on refugees being given asylum in the UK, including LGBTI ones fleeing persecution in countries like Syria, Belarus, Iran and Uganda,” Tatchell told the Washington Blade.
Brexit and EU consensus on LGBT rights
Sadly, the Brexit came after the 28 EU member-states recently reached a consensus on LGBT rights for the first time in European history two weeks earlier.
Debating on a Netherlands-backed agreement concerning women’s rights, gender equality and the protection of LGBTI people across the EU, the Council of the European Union had agreed to work against “any discrimination” against LGBT people
Coming in the wake of the Orlando attack, the member-states also promised to ramp up pan-European efforts on equality.
“European cooperation is essential to efforts to fight global homophobia and strengthen women’s rights. With the dreadful attack in Orlando still fresh in our memories, I don’t need to explain why it’s so important for the EU to take a clear stand,” Dutch equalities minister Jet Bussemaker said.
“It is very important that we now have a common European vision and goal that ensures collective action against countries and organisations that infringe gender equality, the rights of women, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender and intersex persons,” said Lodewijk Assche, President of the Council.
Ironically, during the lead-up to the Brexit referendum, Boris Johnson– one of the major proponents of the ‘leave’ campaign– had argued that the LGBT community in Britain were better off without the help of the EU.