Today is a momentous day for the UK. Teresa May has triggered article 50, which means that in two years time, if not sooner, the UK will have officially left the EU. Much has been written about Brexit (indeed it seems that the UK media will write about little else), however I want to take a look at LGBT rights in the EU and the UK following Brexit.
I should say first, and outright, that the EU and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has generally been a force for good for LGBT people (although less so for the Ts). One aspect, which is a condition of membership to the EU, is non-discrimination against people in the workplace due to their sexual identity. This means that any country which wishes to join the EU must follow these anti-discrimination laws. EU countries are also steadily (although with some hiccups) introducing more and more laws to protect LGBT EU citizens. In the image below (taken from wikipedia) it’s clear that a lot of EU countries still have a long way to go before they will be able to offer comprehensive LGBT rights to people who live in their countries. However, due to ECJ rulings, all of them have to ensure anti-discrimination laws are upheld and that LGB (not T) can serve in the military. After this there is a range of discrepancies between the different member states on what they do. The majority recognise some form of same-sex unions and that attacks on LGBT people should be ruled as hate crimes. Adoption is also a right for same-sex couples in a majority of the EU. The EU also puts money towards fighting discrimination, and supports Pride festivals, even when the member states themselves do not support the Pride festivals in their own country.
So how might this affect the UK if it leaves the EU and the ECJ? And how might the other countries be affected by the UK leaving? The answer to both of these questions is not clear. Historically LGBT people in the UK have benefitted from EU and EHJ membership. Originally gay people were not allowed to serve in the UK military, until a court case from the UK was brought to the ECJ (after it had lost in the UK) and the ECJ ruled that gay people should be allowed to serve in the military (and this ruling then meant that all EU countries had to allow LBG people in the military). So historically there is a case where the UK law system was anti LGBT rights, but the ECJ ruled against them, and it had a wider benefit. I can’t find anything that goes the other way around (the EU or ECJ ruling against LGBT rights), except possibly in the case of trans* people.
From that logic is seems LGBT people in the UK, it would be better if the UK had voted to remain. In the opposite direction, purely from a numbers perspective, the UK has a lot of LGBT people who would have been able to lobby for change on behalf of all EU citizens. So it could be that both LGBT people from the UK and those from the rest of the EU (the UK hasn’t left yet) will be worse off as a result of Brexit in purely civil rights terms. Economically (if predictions hold) both the EU and the UK will be worse off as a result of Brexit. LGBT people are more likely to be poor, so life could also be worse for them economically. Increased poverty also lowers life expectancy and increases chances of ill-health. So the future could be bleak for LGBT people in both groups.
If we focus on the UK, there is also another worry. The ruling party in the UK has swung to the right (not quite as bad as Trumpism, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility). Every so often there is a news story in the UK about some baker or B&B owner who refuses to serve LGBT people due to religious reasons. It then goes to court where they argue that their religious rights should be respected. This is nonsense because they are selling goods to the public. You cannot discriminate on who you sell things to if you’re selling to the general public (unless you sell guns or something of that nature where you discriminate against people who are unfit to own one.) The argument continues that LGBT people are walking over the rights of religious people. This is nonsense. LGBT people would be walking over the rights of religious people if they owned a cake shop or B&B and refused to serve a customer of some sort of religious denomination because of their religion. The same rules apply whoever is selling something – you cannot discriminate against your customers.This is something that is misunderstood and my worry is that, if LGBT rights do get rolled back in the UK, this is where it may start (some sort of religious freedom bill, as you see in the US).
Another area of concern is Teresa May’s belief that there should be a British Bill of Human Rights, because the current Human Rights Act (apart from offering many protections to LGBT people) makes it difficult to extradite terrorists to countries where they may be tortured. There is no guarantee that a new bill of Human Rights will have the same protections for LGBT people. Incidentally the current Human Rights Act does allow the government to discriminate against LGBT people on the basis of blood donations (a hangover from prejudice towards LGBT people resulting from the AIDS epidemic). Which is why in the UK if you’re gay and want to donate blood you have to be celibate for a year. So it would be nice to change that aspect of the current Human Rights act so that this is no longer the case. However, in the current political climate I doubt that this would be a priority. The name British Bill of Rights suggests that the focus would be on allowing further discrimination against non-UK citizens, which would include LGBT people in the UK who are not British citizens.
As for the EU, there is not much that can be said for certain. Hopefully it will continue on the path to granting more rights to LGBT people within the EU, and working to reduce overall discrimination. However, the by losing the UK, the EU will have lost an ally that is one of the most pro-LGBT rights within the EU, which will make it more difficult for the remaining pro-LGBT member states to enact pro-LGBT legislation that will affect all of its members. The only thing that is clear from all this is that if you’re in a position to lobby for the safeguarding of LGBT protections either in the UK or in the EU for post-Brexit, then you should do so, because there is no guarantee that they will be kept in place.