As the UK teeters on the edge of the abyss,(if opinion polls are to be believed), peering with incomprehensible enthusiasm into a post-EU future, I’m on the edge of former ‘Western Europe’, in Vienna, attending a conference on LGBT rights, peering over the old Iron Curtain at the abuses and intolerance of much of former ‘Eastern Europe’.
Representatives have come from the West (e.g. USA, UK, Austria, France, Switzerland, Belgium), where LGBT rights are more or less established, and from the East (e.g. Russia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Ukraine, Poland, Serbia), where work is very much in progress (sometimes hardly begun), or where achievements are being dismantled by newly right-win religious and nationalist regimes. It’s the 3rd International East Meets West Forum.
I’ve asked many of the delegates whether the EU has been a benign influence on member states, aspiring member states and states that will never belong. The answer of course, is yes, though some countries such as Poland that bent its laws in the 2000s to meet the demands of membership, have since seen a rise of social homophobia, and a halting of the legal advancement of LGBT rights. But in general the EU has been one of the prime movers when it comes to promoting equality and diversity.
This is the kind of thing the EU has done well. True, this particular issue may not excite everyone, but there are dozens of other issues where the EU has patiently set about improving the lives of the disadvantaged, the uneducated, the marginalised and even the disenfranchised. It is a force for good. If you don’t care about lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender, or intersex people, then think about the Roma, and other ethnic minorities, the mentally sick, the orphaned, the elderly, and others you care about more. Because of the EU hundreds of thousands of lives are happier and better.
But why should that be of any concern to the British Europhobe intent on Leave? Well, there is the duty to Lead rather than Leave (as so well put by Gordon Brown). LGBT and other minority rights may be secure in the UK, but a happy, equal, stable Europe is in everyone’s interests. We are a prosperous, democratic island where equality and tolerance prevail. We should not keep these values and practices to ourselves but take part in the establishment of European values, globally if we can. How wonderful it would be for us all if we could see even Turkey espouse those principles and enact them in legislation. A Muslim European country would be a catalyst for peace in the Middle East.
Vote Remain, not only for economic reasons (and what facts and projections are indisputable in the realm of economics?) but because the EU is overwhelmingly a force for good. Reformed, and in some areas curtailed, it can get better and better.
Unfortunately I have lived outside the UK for more than fifteen years and I am not able to vote. And my mother’s postal voting form never arrived. So, please make up for the two of us and cast your votes for Remain.