Prime minister Boris Johnson has appointed a new “special envoy” on LGBT+ rights who will chair the UK’s first global LGBT+ conference in 2022.
Lord Herbert of South Downs, the Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs from 2005 to 2019, has been named to “lead efforts to champion LGBT equality at home and abroad”, the government announced on Sunday (16 May).
Herbert was the first out gay man to be elected for the party and has previously served as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on LGBT+ rights.
“As special envoy, Lord Herbert will bring together the government’s domestic work and supercharge our global leadership on LGBT+ rights,” a press release said, “focusing on progressing legislative reform, tackling violence and discrimination, and ensuring equal access to public services for LGBT+ people.”
Herbert will work closely with Liz Truss, minister for women and equalities, in the run up to the conference. The event has been named “Safe To Be Me”, and will focus on tackling LGBT+ inequality around the world.
The UK had previously resisted calls to appoint a special LGBT+ envoy, a role which has existed in the US and Canada for years.
The change of heart comes as the Tory government is accused of alienating the LGBT+ community by abandoning reforms to the Gender Recognition Act and continually stalling a long-promised conversion therapy ban.
The mounting issues led to the sensational resignation of several LGBT+ advisers, who spoke of a “hostile environment for LGBT+ people among this administration”.
Announcing the latest plans, Boris Johnson claimed: “I have always been immensely proud to live in a country that is one of the most progressive and liberal when it comes to LGBT+ equality. The freedom to love who you want is a key British value and a vital component of any democracy.
“The pandemic has however exacerbated the existing inequality LGBT+ people experience globally, with violence and discrimination a daily reality for some. The UK government, with our international partners, believes this is the time to take collective, global action.”
Herbert’s role as special envoy is intended to leverage the UK’s global influence in promoting LGBT+ rights abroad, as Truss has failed to do.
“With our immense soft power, and as a global force for good, the UK has an important role to play in leading international efforts to tackle the violence and discrimination against LGBT+ people which should have no place in the modern world,” Herbert said.
“I am committed to the cause of promoting LGBT+ rights worldwide and I look forward to continuing that in my role as the prime minister’s special envoy and as the chair of the global LGBT+ conference.
“At a time when COVID has pulled many of us apart, the conference offers a real chance to bring people together and drive change for good.”
His good intentions were somewhat undermined by recent comments from another new government appointee, the head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, who said on Saturday that it was “entirely reasonable” to challenge the gender identity of trans women.
Her commission has controversially supported the appeal of Maya Forstater, a woman who tried and failed to convince an employment tribunal that her refusal to accept that trans women are women should be a protected “philosophical belief”.