Brexit must not mean we slide back in time on gay rights

PUBLISHED: 11:19 21 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:19 21 August 2017

PA Archive/PA Images

PA Archive/PA Images

PA Archive/PA Images

When Brexit-backing millionaire Arron Banks described homosexuality as a “lifestyle choice” Twitter reacted with horror. Here’s why Britain must not return to the dark days of Section 28

When the self-proclaimed “bad boy of Brexit” Arron Banks tweeted that homosexuality was a “lifestyle choice” the shadow or long-gone dark days re-emerged.

We’ve actually come a long way in the 50 years since the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales.

Though there’s still much more to be done, especially in terms of rights for transgender and non-binary individuals, the long fight for equality for LGBT+ communities has seen a number of important victories.

I, as a gay man, am now as near as I’ve been in my whole life to being fully equal under the law.

I can’t tell you what that means to me and millions of other people like me.

But, let’s not deny it, there are some individuals who would roll back all of those hard won rights and protections for LGBT+ people, if they had their way.

There’s others who, while they might grudgingly accept the status quo, are certainly not happy about it.

While, of course, there are many reasons that more than 17 million people voted for Brexit last June, some at least hated the modern, cosmopolitan, diverse, multicultural, open, tolerant, celebratory of difference, country that our country has become.

They want to take us back to a perceived rose-tinted version of the 1950s, where everyone went to church on Sunday’s and families consisted of mum, dad and 2.4 children.

Not that there is anything wrong with either of those two things, but we, or at least most of us, love the fact that Britain today is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, sexualities, genders, family-types, and so on.

That is what puts the Great into Britain.

Not some harking back to the rotten days of empire, but a new, vibrant Britain, whose place – I certainly believe – is as a steady bridge between our friends in the European Union and our allies in the United States.

At least one leading Brexiteer is, if a recent tweet is anything to go by, not wholly happy with the status quo when it comes to LGBT+ rights.

Banks, formerly a large donor to UKIP, and a leading force behind the Leave.EU campaign recently tweeted, “everybody has accepted homosexuality. Doesn’t mean we need our kids persuaded that it’s a great lifestyle choice!”

Firstly let me say that the second sentence in that tweet completely undermines the alleged good intentions of the first.

Second, Banks either doesn’t know or doesn’t care how offensive his suggestion is that being gay or bisexual is a ‘lifestyle choice’ when, I can assure him, I was born gay it wasn’t something I chose.

Thirdly, Banks clearly wants us to go back to a time, in the 1980s, when, under the hugely discriminatory and disgraceful Section 28, it was illegal for teachers etc to ‘promote’ homosexuality in schools.

What this meant, of course, was that they were unable, under the law, to offer support, guidance and advice to young people who were coming to terms with their sexuality or had questions about it.

We must never, ever go back to such times.

The European Union has been one of the great protectors of minorities.

In Articles 10 and 19 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU, provisions are made for combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Also, Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights asserts that “any discrimination based on any ground such as ... sexual orientation shall be prohibited”.

Though all major and mainstream political parties are, rightly, broadly committed to LGBT+ rights and have all played a part in furthering them, I can’t help but worry that our leaving the EU must put some of our rights and equalities in jeopardy.

It is yet another reason why, even at this 11th hour, the British public must be given a vote on any final deal ... so if, as is all but certain, it falls short of our current arrangements, we are able to vote it down and to remain a member state of the European Union.

Our rights and equalities must never be a bargaining chip.

Those of us who care passionately about them, may be about to enter the fight of our lives.

Mathew Hulbert is an LGBT rights campaigner and a former Lib Dem councillor in Leicestershire

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