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UK Report Bathrooms and human rights

Last week the right-wing UK Conservative government confirmed plans to end the longstanding Human Rights Act, which promises all people in Britain the same rights as anyone else in Europe. UK journalists Rory MacKinnon reports.

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OPINION It's strange how a small detail of daily life in one country is a scandalous taboo in the next: take public toilets, for instance. While unisex loos are normal in some parts of the world, often out of necessity rather than intention, the British institution of separate 'male' and 'female' bathrooms is enforced so aggressively that a nightclub manager publicly scolded a friend of mine last night for using the "wrong" door.

Every single person who uses a public toilet is there for the exact same reason, and they're all just as embarrassed to be there as you are. Offering unisex bathrooms is a sensible, practical philosophy that provides equal access with a minimum of fuss.

My friend, the one who was told off in the nightclub, is a transgender man. He is attracted to men and women. In Ghana, he might not have been allowed into the bar at all.

I know this is a controversial topic in Ghana. I know there is a three-year prison sentence for men who have sex with other men. I know that a majority of Ghanaians currently oppose changing that law, and a majority opposes allowing people to change their legally recognised gender. I am not here to lecture Ghanaians about their own country's laws: you have your own activists and researchers to listen to. But I can tell you what it's like to live here in the UK, where there are laws to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender people like my friend. I can tell you how those laws are now under threat, and I can tell you what we would lose.

Last week our right-wing Conservative government confirmed plans to end the longstanding Human Rights Act, which promises all people in Britain the same rights as anyone else in Europe. These include requiring the state to respect your right to privacy (such as details of your sex life), freedom of thought, religion and belief, and the right to be treated fairly without judgments based on your gender, race, sexuality, religion or age. Instead our new Prime Minister Theresa May has trumpeted vaguely about a "British bill of rights", without ever explaining which rights are, well, wrong.

Plenty of readers are about to tell me that people should be punished for being transgender or being attracted to the same sex. I wish those readers could have been with me last week at Glasgow's Free Pride festival, when hundreds of LGBT folks came together to simply feel safe in one another's company. It was no Sodom or Gomorrah: people brought their children, they bought cakes and sold arts and crafts, people sang songs and told jokes, people invited one another to prayer groups, people joined campaign groups for asylum seekers and the Black Lives Matter movement. It only happened because of the Human Rights Act.

The law meant no one was afraid of police kicking down the doors and arresting them, of landlords evicting them, employers sacking them, of newspapers publishing their names and photographs, of vigilantes seeking them out in the street. It meant people could be themselves -- and when you let people be themselves, all the energy that they'd spent hiding or simply keeping themselves alive suddenly goes into making the world a better place to be in.

To feel safe: isn't that what everyone wants for themselves, more than anything else? We can only truly guarantee our own safety when everyone in our society feels safe.

By Rory MacKinnon, for Pulse Ghana. Rory is a UK-based journalist and activist.

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