UK named alongside Russia and Poland for concern over 'extensive attacks' on LGBT+ rights

People take part at a Black Trans Lives Matter march on the day Pride in London was due to take place in 2020. Credit: PA

Words by ITV News Content Producer Jocelyn Evans

The UK has been identified as a country notable for "extensive and often virulent attacks on the rights of LGBT+ people" over the past several years.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) identified the UK alongside Hungary, Poland, Russia and Turkey as countries where this was of most concern.

PACE (Europe's overarching human rights body) condemned the attacks on LGBT+ individuals, most notably in these five countries, and said advances made in equal rights were under threat.

Debating the report on Tuesday, council members approved its conclusions (despite a group of Labour MPs proposing an amendment to remove the UK from that list).

Why was the UK included alongside countries like Poland and Hungary?

In its report, council members singled out the UK as a country that's seen rising anti-trans rhetoric.

Authors found the "baseless and concerning credibility" these views had been given was "at the expense of both trans people’s civil liberties and women’s and children’s rights" in the country.

ITV News reported last year on the row that broke out within the Conservative Party over a decision to host the LGB Alliance at the party conference, for example.

The organisation (which has controversially been awarded charity status) says it represents lesbian, gay and bisexual people and argues there is a conflict between LGB rights and trans rights.

Many LGBT+ people say the group is transphobic and hostile to the case of trans rights campaigners.

In its report, the council referred to Kemi Badenoch MP, then minister for equalities, stating in 2021: "We do not believe in self-identification."

Authors said such rhetoric "denies trans identities" and, in doing so, "is being used to roll back the rights of trans and non-binary people and is contributing to growing human rights problems."

They pointed to UK hate crime statistics which show a sharp increase in transphobic crimes since 2015 – though only one in seven victims report them to an authority.

Trans healthcare and legal recognition

The report also noted that in countries where governments had in the past acted to protect the rights of LGBT+ people, "legislative progress has in many cases stalled".

The UK was singled out (alongside Cyprus, Germany and Finland) as a place where government "commitments to simplify access to legal gender recognition" had not been followed through on.

Again, authors identified "the gender-critical campaign" as "instrumental in creating a situation in which legal gender recognition processes still require a clinical diagnosis of gender dysphoria". Which means the process remains inaccessible to some non-binary people and difficult for anyone under 18.

The role of the media

In its report, the council said "trans rights organisations have faced vitriolic media campaigns, in which trans women especially are vilified and misrepresented".

In conversations about trans people, and trans rights, it wrote: "Arguments defending freedom of expression have been – and are still being – used as a tool to justify transphobic rhetoric, further penalising and harming already marginalised trans people and communities."

The members called on politicians to reframe debates "to correspond to complex realities rather than catchy but simplistic slogans".

'Anti-gender discourse at the heart of attacks on trans people's rights'

The council also identified anti-LGBT+ hate speech as "closely entwined with broader anti-gender discourse".

It said discussions about gender were being used to "reduce the fight for the equality and rights of LGBT+ people" to what conservative movements have mischaracterised as "gender ideology" or "LGBT+ ideology".

The report authors said discourse around gender has been used by those opposed to same-sex partnerships (noting Romania, Slovenia and Croatia).

But it cited the UK as notable for how a toxic narrative about gender lies "at the heart of attacks on trans people's rights".

What happens next?

The report has passed a vote in the European Assembly by 72 to 12, with members agreeing to a series of recommendations to try and combat "rising hate against LGBTI people in Europe".

These include calling on member states "to tackle hatred and discrimination against LGBT+ people with renewed energy and urgency."

Member states have been told to "redouble their efforts in this field" and the council pledged to "strengthen its own activities to protect and promote the rights of LGBT+ persons in Europe".

It added that "adequate resources are allocated" to work on equal rights for LGBT+ people, "combating hate speech and hate crime".

Responding to the approval of the resolution, a spokesperson for the government's Equality Hub spokesperson said:

"This government is fully committed to advancing LGBT rights and championing equality and the UK continues to be recognised as one of the top ten most progressive countries in Europe for LGBT rights by ILGA-Europe."In recent years we have taken great strides, including extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland, passing the Turing Law and announcing an inquiry into the treatment of LGBT veterans. This year the UK Government will host its first international LGBT conference 'Safe To Be Me'."