Rachel Galloway

British Ambassador to Macedonia

Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia

Part of UK in North Macedonia

6th December 2018 Skopje, North Macedonia

Everyone can be an ally for equality

Last week I hosted a meeting with nearly twenty people who work in various organisations in Macedonia on human rights issues and the support they provide to the people who are on the margins of the society unable to fully exercise their rights. I was particularly pleased that we also had among the guests a civil servant from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy who works on LGBT, discrimination and inclusion issues and the Chair of the MPs group in Macedonia’s Parliament on LGBT issues.

Preparing for the meeting, I learned about the situation in Macedonia, the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1996 and the stigma and prejudice that is still faced by people who decide to come out. The meeting was an excellent opportunity to hear first-hand about the everyday challenges of being an LGBT person in Macedonia. I was interested to hear about the levels of access to social and health services, how the law does and does not protect people, and how there is violence towards people because of their sexual orientation. In essence, I wanted to hear how much freedom there is for those who are different from the mainstream.

I have worked and lived in different places around the world. Not all places feel like home when it comes to different sexual orientation or gender identity. Millions of people around the world live in the shadows every day because they are not able to be free, because they face stigma, prejudice or even punishment for being who they are.

As British Ambassador to Macedonia I must be a strong advocate for human rights and for the rights of LGBT people. I come from a country which is committed to the principle of non-discrimination on any grounds, including because of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. We are committed to promoting and protecting the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people. It is our belief that LGBT people are not asking for special rights, merely to be accorded the same dignity, respect and rights as all other citizens. Our work on combating violence and discrimination against LGBT people is an important part of our wider international human rights work. Every person should have a fair opportunity in life no matter who or where they are.

Though the UK is more advanced when it comes to LGBT rights in comparison to some other countries we recognise that there is still more to do.  We have recently introduced a national LGBT health adviser to provide leadership on reducing the health inequalities that LGBT people face, started more work on tackling bullying in schools for LGBT peers, work to end the practice of conversion therapy and to improve the recording and reporting of, and police response to, hate crime.

We should talk about these issues not only in December when the focus is on human rights through the campaign on ending violence against women, international disability day and the international human rights defenders day. Every day should be a human rights day, a day of tolerance and non-discrimination.

Each one of us can be an ally for human rights. People do not have to be gay to advocate for LGBT issues, to be a woman to fight for gender issues or join the #MeToo movement, to be poor to fight for social equality, or to be disabled to support the #ThisAbility movement. We don’t have to have the personal experience so that we can stand for the rights of those that are on the margins of the community. Let us work together to ensure that we are all equal and we should equally enjoy our human rights whether we are in the United Kingdom or Macedonia or anywhere else in the world.

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