Homophobia and transphobia are certainly not concepts known only to Britain. Whilst it is easy to see areas in which our Government does not act sufficiently in promoting the rights of LGBT+ people, one thing we can at least say with confidence is that they do not actively work against them. We are lucky as British citizens to have a certain amount of protection from discrimination. No, this does not often go far enough, and societal attitudes are still far from completely accepting, but we have at a minimum a legal safety net.
In places such as Chechnya, where more than 100 LGBT+ people have fled following the violent purge based on sexual orientation by local authorities, and yet over a year on, LGBT+ people are still being persecuted. In places where they still allow ‘gay cure therapy and where it is illegal to ‘promote homosexuality’. Places which still deny that LGBT+ rights are human rights. These are the areas our foreign policy should be focusing on. To live under such conditions as an LGBT+ person is something which few of us in Britain could begin to imagine.
To ignore LGBT+ rights is to ignore human rights. And if we do not do anything to stop this, then we as a country are in part responsible for the continuation of this persecution.
The Government should not see its role end at the English Channel. As an advanced nation with the ability to influence other countries, we have a role in deciding whether or not we use this power. And as a progressive society, which values human rights above all else, we have the means to spread our message of equality and tolerance, and the need to ensure the protection of minority groups. To suppose that our only battle in the fight for LGBT+ rights happens within our borders is both insular and dangerous.
But there is a line to be torn. As a country we are rightly sensitive of our colonial past: we do not want to be seen as holding an economic gun to the heads of other sovereign states. However, with the responsibility of being one of the largest economies in the world, comes the expectation that we should protect those individuals who are subject to human rights abuses. This I think, is where the difficult balance comes in, between allowing other nations act as human rights abusers, and ourselves abusing our powers on the foreign scene. It is the age-old question of interventionism which has lead to the downfall of many great British political leaders – politicians who are forced to make the difficult decision between allowing the continuation of harsh dictatorial regimes, or themselves turning to military intervention.
Then, perhaps a way to push for LGBT+ rights across borders is to avoid military means, and instead use our place in the world economy to create both economic incentives for countries to protect human rights, and economic sanctions if this does not work. Current research in international relations has shown that we are at a point in world history where violence between countries is comparatively small, and the few recent conflicts that have occurred have resulted in an increased consensus that armed conflict just doesn’t work. Whilst this isn’t a blanket assumption, and politicians rightly or wrongly sometimes have to make the decision to enter combat, human rights abuses such as those seen against LGBT+ people, should at the least see an attempt to be solved first through economic means. This applies particularly in the Middle East where LGBT+ people suffer a huge amount, but the political situation is so complicated that there does not simply exist one “bad guy” and one “good guy” such that a war against one will lead to political peace and stability in the Middle East under the rule of the other. This inevitably leads to a power vacuum, and often results in further rule by leaders who are not the ideal that interventionist countries such as America seem to expect. If military action is to ensue, then a sensible diplomatic policy needs to occur afterwards to ensure this vacuum is not just filled by more dictatorial leaders who will further their countries’ bad records on LGBT+ rights. How this can happen, I simply do not know. And whilst I am far from an expert in the topic, I am not sure if anyone yet knows.
We now live in a world where our place is determined not by the size of our military, nor even by the size of our industry, but instead by our ability to act as diplomats on the world stage. We may have even moved away from flaunting our economic appendages.
We must therefore, for the sake of LGBT+ people living in persecution across the globe, use our diplomatic means in a way that will influence countries which do not value LGBT+ rights. For, to ignore LGBT+ rights is to ignore human rights. And if we do not do anything to stop this, then we as a country are in part responsible for the continuation of this persecution. This means us enacting foreign policy which is not militarily interventionist, but instead economically interventionist. For the sake of our LGBT+ brothers, sisters, and siblings who do not identify as one fixed gender, across the border.