The Tories' and UKIP have failed to stand up for LGBT people
This week, in a landmark vote, the European Parliament demanded that the EU adopt a strategy to combat homophobia and promote LGBT rights. Yet Conservative and UKIP MEPs voted against these calls, with one Tory MEP claiming they amounted to “social engineering” from Brussels.
This is a fundamental misreading of the facts. EU anti-discrimination laws don’t dictate to individual governments how they should organise their societies. Instead they put in place minimum standards across the board that protect LGBT people from abuse and discrimination, including British citizens travelling abroad in the EU.
As we all know, the fight against homophobia in Britain is far from over. Yet in many parts of Europe it has scarcely begun. In 2013 a survey found that a quarter of gay people in the EU had suffered homophobic attacks. In a number of Eastern European countries the situation for LGBTI communities remains bleak; Latvia has introduced a series of anti-gay propaganda laws and in Hungary children as young as 10 were recently being taught that homosexuality is a ‘deadly sin’.
It is in this context that EU legislation defending LGBT rights is particularly important. EU laws already prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the area of access to employment, meaning LGBT people cannot be discriminated against when applying for a job.
But a stronger law, blocked by a number of EU national governments since 2008, would extend these protections to education and the buying of goods and services. This week the European Parliament issued a strong demand that this legislation should be put back on the table and called for a coordinated EU strategy to tackle homophobia.
For UKIP to oppose these calls is not surprising. They are hardly known as a party that espouses tolerance, openness and international cooperation.
Yet the Tories’ failure to stand up for EU legislation that protects LGBT people from discrimination is more worrying. It is time for them to acknowledge that this is not about pesky interference from Brussels, it is about defending the rights of millions of LGBT people across Europe who face fear and discrimination.
Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat MEP
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