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U.K. to host global LGBTQ rights conference

Event to coincide with London Pride’s 50th anniversary

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Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords who advises British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on LGBTQ issues, on March 24, 2022, spoke with the Washington Blade about the Safe to Be Me Conference that will coincide with the 50th anniversary of London Pride. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.K. this summer will host a global LGBTQ rights conference that will coincide with London Pride’s 50th anniversary.

The Safe to Be Me Conference will take place in London from June 29-July 1.

The conference will focus on four areas: Fighting violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, expanding legal protections for LGBTQ people, ensuring equal access to HIV/AIDS treatment and other public services and working with businesses to promote LGBTQ-inclusive practices.

Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords who advises British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on LGBTQ issues, on March 24 told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the issues the conference will highlight. Herbert also said he expects Johnson will be among those who will speak at the event.

“There is a huge enthusiasm for this event, a feeling that it is very timely, that it’s important for like-minded countries to get together … but also to try and bring other countries to the event that are on the journey towards LGBT+ rights and we encourage them to move in the right direction,” said Herbert. “I’m excited about the potential for this event, which I think could do real good.”

The Equal Rights Coalition, a group the U.K. currently co-chairs with Argentina, seeks to promote LGBTQ rights around the world.

Herbert said an Equal Rights Coalition meeting will take place in London on June 28, the day before the conference begins. The London Pride parade will happen on July 2.

Ruling against marriage equality in Bermuda, Cayman Islands ‘difficult’

Herbert spoke with the Blade ahead of the expected introduction of a bill in the British Parliament that would ban so-called conversion therapy in England and Wales. The interview took place less than two weeks after the Privy Council’s Judicial Committee blocked marriage for same-sex couples in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

“I was personally sorry to see that decision, but I respect the fact that it is a decision by a court and we have to respect the legal process,” said Herbert, referring to the March 14 ruling. “Some people have been urging the U.K. government to step in … these are sovereign countries with their own elected parliaments and stepping in to override them would not be a small thing. And you could see it as a form of neocolonialism.”

“It is difficult,” he added. “What they need to do is to work with those countries to try and persuade them to change their own laws.”

‘Situation in Ukraine is deeply worrying’

The conference will begin less than five months after Russia invaded Ukraine.

“The situation in Ukraine is deeply worrying,” said Herbert. “It is appalling to see the impact on people in Ukraine.”

“We need to do everything that we can to help them, and that will include LGBT+ people,” he added. “Where there are special circumstances affecting LGBT+ people, we need to address those and I have been in discussions with other governments and officials about that.”

Herbert told the Blade that “what is happening in Ukraine does mean that we have to reassert our values; which are about the importance of human rights, of democracy, of self-determination.”

“The values that we bring to our conference in June are the same values,” he said. “I do see what we are doing in June is being consistent with the stance we are taking in Ukraine.”

The British government last fall helped evacuate two groups of LGBTQ Afghans from Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country. Herbert told the Blade that “this work continues” with the U.N. and NGOs that include Stonewall in the U.K. and Rainbow Railroad in Canada.

“We continue to work to provide a safe place for LGBT+ refugees from Afghanistan,” he said. “We have a specific program to welcome people who are fleeing the regime in Afghanistan and we’ve identified LGBT+ people as potentially vulnerable who will need our help.”

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British prime minister backs transgender athletes ban

Boris Johnson made comments during Commonwealth meeting in Rwanda

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo by shganti777 via Bigstock)

During a break between sessions during the first summit meeting of the Commonwealth nations since the coronavirus pandemic in the Rwandan capital this past weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked by a reporter about the FINA ban on transgender women athletes.

The prime minster’s response was that there were “particular problems” around “issues of gender.”

“Look it’s very, very important that as a society we should be as understanding of everybody else as possible. I’ve always stood for that. When it comes to, when you start to move from issues of sexuality to issues of gender, you start to raise particular problems,” Johnson told reporters.

In a follow-up question the prime minster was also asked whether women can be born with a penis, he replied: “Not without being a man.”

“I think I’ve spoken of three concerns I’ve had in the past. They are to do with the age at which you can deem it competent to transition, the question of safe spaces for women, and the difficulties you have with sporting competitions,” Johnson continued.

“These are all very difficult problems and you have to be very sensitive. But these are the areas.”

Pressed on whether he backed the swimming ban, Johnson said: “I haven’t studied it in detail but I see no reason to dissent. That follows from what I’ve previously said.”

British Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries in a column published this past weekend by the Mail on Sunday wrote:

“I have the greatest compassion for anyone who finds themselves living in a body they don’t recognize. But we can’t pretend that sex doesn’t matter. Sex has biological consequences. If you’re born a male, and you go through puberty as a male, your body develops natural physical advantages over a woman’s. That makes you stronger and faster.

I’m setting a very clear line on this: competitive women’s sport must be reserved for people born of the female sex. Not someone who was born male, took puberty blockers or has suppressed testosterone, but unequivocally and unarguably someone who was born female. I want all of our sporting governing bodies to follow that policy.”

The Guardian UK noted that Dorries, said she will make it “crystal clear” to British sporting bodies that competitive women’s sport must be reserved for people born of the female sex when she meets them on Tuesday to discuss their trans policies.

Dorries will urge organizations representing football, cricket, rugby, tennis, athletics and other sports to follow the lead of FINA, the governing body of swimming, by barring from female events trans women who have “gone through male puberty.”

PinkNewsUK reported Monday that since FINA announced its revised trans eligibility policy, several national and international sporting administrators have followed.

The International Rugby LeagueFIFA and World Athletics, among others, have either temporarily banned or launched reviews into their trans inclusion policies.

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British prime minister panned as ‘disgrace’ in response to Pride message

Government cancelled conference after rights groups announced boycott

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Screenshot from YouTube/Twitter)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson released a video message on his official Twitter and YouTube platforms celebrating Pride Month in the U.K. Tuesday under the social hashtag of #WhyPridematters.

The prime minister said that he was “proud” at how many LGBTQ and intersex people have sought asylum in the U.K. from Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country. However, within literal minutes he was promptly criticized and in the Twitter pushback was told by one user: “You’re an absolute disgrace.”

Another chimed in saying his remarks were hollow.

Johnson’s Tory-led government seemingly has been more indifferent to Britain’s LGBTQ and intersex community — transgender people in particular — according to activists and the largest LGBTQ and intersex advocacy group, Stonewall UK.

Last Spring, in early April, Bloomberg reported more than 80 organizations pulled out of the British government’s international LGBTQ and intersex conference due to be held in June after Johnson dropped a plan to ban so-called conversion therapy for trans people.

One of Johnson’s top ministers, Liz Truss, was accused of using LGBTQ and intersex rights to ‘rile up her right-wing support base’ PinkNewsUK reported.

As minister for women and equalities, Truss scrapped much-needed reform to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) despite reams of evidence showing there was strong public support for changes that would make accessing legal gender recognition easier for the trans community.

She has also been criticized for her appointments to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, and her defenses of “gender critical” views.

There has also been outcry by LGBTQ and intersex advocacy groups and activists over the government’s willingness to deport LGBTQ and intersex and other asylum seekers on one-way flights to Rwanda. That decision has been criticized by queer and trans advocates as “hugely concerning” and “potentially life-threatening.”

Canadian LGBTQ and intersex news outlet Xtra reported that queer and trans asylum seekers in the U.K. already face inhospitable conditions. Sebastian Rocca, founder of charity Micro Rainbow, which provides safe housing to LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers and refugees in the U.K., tells Xtra in a statement: “One of the most common reasons for the Home Office to refuse asylum to LGBTQI+ people in the U.K. is because they do not believe they are LGBTQI+,” adding that the policy has “potentially life-threatening consequences.” 

The “single young men” framing of the policy means any gay or bisexual men, transmasculine people or transfeminine people — including those seeking asylum in the U.K. for their sexual orientation or gender identity — could potentially be deported to a country with a long history of human rights violations.

In Tuesday’s message the prime minister referred specifically to Afghan LGBTQ and intersex people fleeing the notoriously intolerant Taliban which regained control of the country after the Biden administration pulled the remaining armed forces out of the war-torn country last summer after nearly 21 years of conflict.

“LGBT Afghans coming to this country because we’re a place that is welcoming and understands that type of intolerance is simply unacceptable in this country,” Johnson said.

Johnson added: “I’m proud above all that the U.K. is a country where you can be however you want to be and you can love whomever you choose to love no matter who you are or where you come from or what your background is.

“So it’s great to see Afghans coming to this country with that knowledge and seeing our country as a beacon of hope.

“That’s why Pride Month matters so much. And I hope you have a great Pride.”

Twitter was less than impressed:

Why Pride matters | Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

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London mayor criticizes city’s police for ‘systemic’ homophobia

Former Met Commissioner Cressida Dick resigned in February

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(Screenshot of Channel 4 News UK)

Appearing on a Sunday morning talk show on the BBC, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that the public was “losing trust and confidence” in the Metropolitan Police force. Khan harshly condemned the current environment which had led to the departure of former Met Commissioner Cressida Dick.

PinkNewsUK had reported in April that Dick had stepped down from the post in February after a damning report from England’s police watchdog exposed a troubling pattern of homophobia and bullying within the Met

The report also detailed how homophobic, racist, misogynist and violent comments made by officers were dismissed as “laddish banter.”

She said she initially had “no intention” of stepping down after the scandal despite the fact she had been placed “on notice” by Khan. But Dick changed her mind and admitted in a statement that Khan’s skepticism in her ability to lead the force left her “no choice” but to resign early.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams with London Mayor Sadiq Khan on May 9, 2022, in New York (Screenshot NY1)

Speaking to the BBC, the mayor noted:

“It’s possible to recognize the dedicated, decent, brave officers we have in the police service but to also say we’ve got real problems — real problems that have been shown recently in relation to evidence of overt systemic sexism, racism, homophobia, discrimination, misogyny — which need to be addressed.”

He added that it was important that the new commissioner — who will be appointed by the British Home Secretary Priti Patel — takes steps to “address those challenges.” He believed the new commissioner would also need to “win back the trust and confidence of too many Londoners that has been lost.” 

“One of the reasons why I lost confidence in the previous commissioner was my lack of confidence in her plans to address the two big issues — addressing the systemic racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny, but also the trust and confidence required from our public when you police by consent,” Khan said.

Deputy Commissioner Stephen House has been temporarily serving as acting commissioner as the recruitment process continues, PinkNewsUK reported.

According to the Guardian, the process has been whittled down to the final two candidates: Mark Rowley, a former head of counter-terrorism, or Nick Ephgrave, currently part of Met’s top leadership. 

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