Responding to the UK parliamentary report on global LGBT rights

16 May 2016

Last month, those of us seeking to engage and hold the UK Government accountable on international LGBTI rights had some cause for celebration. Soon after its formation, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT Rights (APPG LGBT) published its first wide-ranging report on the UK Government’s thinking and their proposed activities to address a complex and at times intractable subject.

To mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on 17 May 2016, I felt it would be useful to try and draw out some of the promising developments within the report and also highlight areas where we need a further push for clarity and practical action.

Establishing a firm foundation

Where the report really succeeds is in examining the issues facing sexual minorities from a variety of different angles, such as criminalization, violence, asylum policies and impacts on health outcomes. As an advocacy tool for why this work is vital, the report is incredibly compelling and sets a direction of travel that advocates and politicians alike can coalesce around. Our team at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) was particularly heartened to see our submission around the linkages between sexuality and poverty that emerged from our Sexuality, Poverty and Law programme are prominently featured, underscoring recent success in bringing an economic analysis to bear on sexual marginalisation.

Even more importantly, there has been an explicit acknowledgement that any activity from Parliament, Government, or private and civil society sectors must take its lead from local LGBTI communities, which has been a consistent concern from our networks of partners in the Global South. The report does not shy away from giving voice to constructive critiques of the UK Government from a number of the principle UK organisations working on international LGBT rights either, especially in cases where they highlight disparities between political rhetoric and the realities of cross-government consistency in approaching LGBT issues.

Where do we need stronger advocacy and accountability?

A realistic picture of the challenges facing LGBT NGOs in developing contexts is sketched out in the report and there seems a consensus in acknowledging that these organisations need longer-term funding to be able to move out of responsive modes and towards long-term sustainablility. For those countries where NGOs are not permitted to operate, finding methods by which they can be funded is exceptionally problematic, compounding issues of resourcing further. Unfortunately, this means the UK Government must sometimes take a risk on small organisations where it is hard to quantify impact in the medium term or be confident in predicting value for money. 

Worryingly, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has so far not confirmed that there will be any significant ’new’ money for LGBT programming. There does need to be formal clarification of how DFID's commitment to facilitating the inclusion of Southern voices into strategy development for LGBT equality can take place without these two issues being addressed convincingly. Transformational as proposals to mainstream LGBT across DFID activities and programming might be, they will not be sufficient alone if the requisite investment in civil society doesn't take place in parallel.

The APPG report is candid in acknowledging that their focus on LGBT rights has excluded intersex issues, arguing not unfairly that the concerns of this group (whilst overlapping at times) can be distinct from those of the wider LGBT rights movement. Although the door hasn't been closed to revisiting this decision, I think we need as allies to keep up pressure on the APPG to take some responsibility in working with the intersex community to find the right space by which these can be taken forward.

We also need to ensure that some of the more promising recommendations, such as those about investing in internal capacity-building and training for DFID advisors (with implications for the inclusion of LGBT equality within monitoring and evaluation work, Terms Of Reference for new projects and Sub-Contractor contracts) are reported upon regularly and not forgotten in the coming months. There is a singular absence of practical, measurable commitments or timelines in the APPG report for stakeholders to get their teeth into.

As a basis to start a more nuanced and engaged conversation with both the UK Government and politicians across the spectrum, this report has put in place a firm foundation from which to move forward. We particularly welcome the commitment to a stakeholder steering group that will be charged with assisting in the development and implementation of the UK Government's cross-government strategy. For those of us who are stakeholders and actors, I think this timely report incentivizes us to develop existing conversations, respond to positive developments like this report and advocate for rapid, measurable and well-resourced action.

Stephen Wood is a Research Officer in the Gender and Sexuality cluster at IDS. He can be found on Twitter at: @StephenWood_UK 

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