Comment: Nul Points for Boris – All that Europe has done for us

Jonathan Cooper May 19, 2016
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Jonathan Cooper of the Human Dignity Trust reflects on the upcoming EU referendum, ABBA, and former London Mayor Boris Johnson.

The Eurovision Song Contest is over for another year. Once again, Eurovision unites the LGBT community from across the continent and, increasingly, the world.

As this year’s winner shows, Eurovision highlights the pain, possibilities and optimism that comes with being European. Re jig the words a bit and that song from Ukraine, 1944, could be an LGBT anthem.

“We could build a future where people are free to live and love”, Jamala bellows.

The spectacle of Eurovision speaks to us as LGBT people, but so do the songs.

In Abba’s Waterloo there’s that “promise to love you for ever more”. Of all the things that get denied to LGBT people, not to be able to live in an open loving relationship is perhaps the cruellest.

And as the curtain came down on Eurovision for another year, Boris Johnson raised the spectre of Waterloo and Napoleon in another context with his bellicose anti-EU diatribe.

For ABBA, Napoleon was a metaphor for being hopelessly in love: “At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender/Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way/The history book on the shelf/Is always repeating itself.”

For Blustering Boris, Napoleon symbolises something much more sinister about the EU.

Boris’s contribution to the debate does raise important questions for the LGBT community as the vote on whether to remain in or leave the EU approaches. What does Europe mean for LGBT people? Is Europe only good for Eurovision?

Is Eurovision all we have in common? The reality is LGBT people need Europe.

Without the European Court of Human Rights looking out for us, gay men would still be criminals in Northern Ireland, there would be no equal age of consent, as far as officialdom is concerned trans people would be trapped in the wrong gender and would not be able to marry, we would have no protection against discrimination, we would be banned from serving our country, we would be denied family life rights and the right to adopt, criminal laws would apply to us that don’t apply to straight people, we would not have the right to a civil partnership.

Here I highlight just some examples of what the European Convention on Human Rights has done for the LGBT community.

The EU led the way on discrimination law. Whilst British law remained silent on protecting us in the workplace, the European Commission argued that permitting gay men and lesbians to be discriminated against at work undermined the EU and what it stands for.

A new Directive was passed providing employment protection across the EU. Protection from discrimination in goods and services was to follow. The trans community had already established that to discriminate against a trans man or woman was sex discrimination.

Those pioneering trans activists and their partners, we salute you. Their cases before the European Court of Justice changed everything.

Adding to our human rights protection, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights was adopted in 2000 and became legally binding in 2009.

It expressly recognises sexual orientation as a protected ground from discrimination.

The EU was the first international organisation to explicitly recognise sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protected grounds from discrimination.
Without Europe most of us would be languishing in our closets. It was knowing that we could be protected by European institutions that allowed us to come out. After 1997, the UK government listened and Tony Blair shifted government policy to support LGBT equality.

And straight people were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. They didn’t have to be homophobic any more.

David Cameron understood that to discriminate against LGBT people undermined his project for the Conservative Party and the UK. His commitment to equal marriage became our reality.

Boris is privileged. His survival has not been dependent upon the guarantee of rights. He takes his for granted.

He offends us by comparing the EU to the ravages of fascism and totalitarianism. We were the victims of those regimes.

We understand what it was to live under the Nazis. He may also misrepresent Napoleon. It was after all Napoleon’s penal code that meant that gay men were no longer criminalised across his Empire.

A legacy that continues today. Napoleon’s gay soldiers were celebrated. Wellington’s were executed.

The EU is premised on dignity. Failing to recognise that all in the EU are imbued with dignity risks undermining the whole project.

That includes the LGBT community. The EU has provided the LGBT community in this country and across Europe with security, self-worth and, more importantly, pride.

And so to return to Eurovision, nul points for Boris. His crass attack on the EU feels like a direct challenge to our equality.

Britain outside of Europe did not and could not protect us. But of course ABBA should have the last word.

Boris take heed: “My, my, I tried to hold you back but you were stronger/Oh yeah, and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight/And how could I ever refuse/I feel like I win when I lose… Knowing my fate is to be with you.”

Jonathan Cooper is the Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust.
Follow him on Twitter at @JonathanCoopr

More: Boris, Boris Johnson, EU, Europe, European Union, eurovision, LGBT, Sexuality

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