LGBT rights included on Davos agenda - progress or window dressing?
Written by Philip Howell-Williams on January 27, 2015.
Last week luminaries from the public and private sphere met at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and, for the first time ever, LGBT rights was on the agenda. It is rather incredible that this subject has not previously been discussed, although perhaps not surprising considering that many countries with delegates attending Davos have a less-than-exemplary record on gay rights. The repressive policies of countries such as Nigeria and Russia spring to mind, and some of the countries represented at the Forum still give the death penalty for same-sex conduct including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, among others.
I guess we should be thankful of the progress made to bring these issues to the Davos table for dialogue. The credit for this goes to the organisation Human Rights Campaign and activists Paul Singer and Daniel S. Loeb who requested LGBT rights be included in last year’s debates and were refused. As a result, they decided to host a breakfast outside the approved programme which attracted big name attendees such as Sir Richard Branson, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and Coca Cola boss, Muhtar Kent.
The World Economic Forum plays down the influence of that breakfast panel meeting on the inclusion of LGBT rights this year claiming that gay rights have been discussed at other conferences they have held throughout the year. Even so, the truth is that LGBT rights are included in only one panel on the agenda, in a buried slot and with no high-profile names involved.
2014 saw some positive steps forward for gay rights worldwide: firstly, the number of countries in which same-sex marriage is legal is rising – in 2014 Mexico and Finland were added to the list which also includes the United Kingdom, Spain, South Africa and Brazil. In addition, an increasing number of US states now allow same-sex unions. The UN passed a symbolic resolution last year condemning violence and discrimination against individuals based on gender identity or sexual orientation and pressure from gay rights activists caused the International Olympic Committee to put greater emphasis on its nondiscrimination charter and ensure that future host countries respect it, risking disqualification if their human rights record fail to match up.
Even Pope Francis spoke in support of the LGBT community in an unprecendented speech which recognised that ‘Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community.’ – this is significant progress compared to the stance of his staunchly anti-gay predecessor.
Nevertheless, the low priority given to LGBT rights at Davos reflects the fact that progress on this issues around the world remains painfully slow, and in certain cases, is going backwards. The Indian Supreme Court has recently passed legislation criminalising gay sex, and could soon be followed by Uganda where a new anti-gay law is imminent after the original law passed in December 2013 was overturned last year. In fact, homosexuality is criminalised in 38 African countries and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is widespread, as is violence against homosexuals.
In Asia, Thailand and Vietnam lead the way on gay rights with Thailand debating gay marriage – it would become the first Asian nation to legalise it. Other nations are vehemently anti-gay, including Malaysia and Indonesia, where there are signs of growing intolerance.
One thing is for sure, the fight for LGBT equality is going to be a long one in many parts of the world and this has financial implications for many LGBT individuals and couples. If you wish to discuss these with regard to your personal situation, please feel free to contact me.