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UK: Keep calm and respect diversity, says UN expert

11 May 2023

LONDON (11 May 2023) – Abusive rhetoric by politicians, the media and social commentators has trickled down to produce increasingly abusive and hateful speech against LGBT persons in the United Kingdom (UK), the UN independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity warned today.

“I am deeply concerned about increased bias-motivated incidents of harassment, threats, and violence against LGBT people, including a rampant surge in hate crimes in the UK,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, who visited the UK from 24 April to 5 May 2023. “All of this is attributed – by a wide range of stakeholders – to the toxic nature of the public debate surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.

Madrigal-Borloz warned that these developments could endanger very significant achievements, built over decades, to address violence and discrimination in the country.

In a statement after his 10-day visit to England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, Madrigal-Borloz lauded achievements in data gathering and said the UK was poised to take transformational public policy steps, on the basis of solid evidence. The data makes it possible to determine social exclusion against LGBT persons but, equally importantly, the manner in which factors such as race, ethnic background, and socio-economic status interact with sexual orientation and gender identity to exacerbate the risk of violence and discrimination, the UN expert said.

Madrigal-Borloz also noted significant work in the country through strategies, plans of action and public policies, which are in vibrant development in all four nations of the UK. He was also encouraged by the actions of national governments and civil services in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in relation to devolved competencies in health, education, housing, and employment. While acknowledging achievements in health and education, the UN expert expressed concern at the overrepresentation of LGBT persons in homelessness and relatively scarcer data in relation to employment. “Waiting lists for gender affirming treatment at the National Health Service continue to be years-long, and current initiatives risk erosion of achievements in comprehensive sex education,” he said.

The expert expressed grave concern about delays in long-promised legislation to ban practices of “conversion” of sexual orientation and gender identity. “The vicissitudes of this and other necessary public policies appear to be connected to political discourse concerning gender-diverse persons and refugees and asylum seekers, two areas in which recent State actions are cause for concern,” Madrigal-Borloz said.

He cited the example of the Illegal Migration Bill, and blanket policy decisions in relation to trans persons deprived of liberty. The expert also took issue with recent advice by the UK Equalities and Human Rights Commission to the UK Government that promoted the reduction in human rights protections for trans persons with legal recognition of their gender. “These actions were admittedly with the objective of withdrawing trans women from legal protections to which they are entitled under the Equality Act,” Madrigal Borloz said.

The expert urged all stakeholders to recognise that democracies benefit from healthy debate – in an environment that includes protection of free speech, and accountability for hate speech – yet reminded them that they must keep the objective of human rights protection at the center of State and non-State action.

“Politicians must carry out evidence-based evaluations, free from stigma and preconception,” Madrigal-Borloz said.

The expert will present a full report on his visit to the Human Rights Council by June 2024 at latest.


Victor Madrigal-Borloz is the UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity

The Independent Expert is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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