The home secretary sparked outcry in the gay community over her address in Washington DC on Tuesday, in which she said “simply being gay, or a woman” should not by itself be enough to gain protection under international refugee laws.
Leading calls denouncing the remarks, Elton and his long-term parter David Furnish, released a statement via their AIDS Foundation calling for “more compassion, support and acceptance for those seeking a safer future”.
The powerful intervention, likely to ignite a tsunami of protests among other high profile celebrities, said: “We are very concerned about the UK home secetary’s comments stating how discrimination for being gay or a woman should not be reason enough to qualify for protection under international refugee laws.
“Nearly a third of all nations class LGBTQ+ people as criminals and homosexuality is still punishable by death in 11 countries. Dismissing the very real danger LGBTQ+ communities face risks further legitimising hate and violence against them”.
The growing backlash appears to have turned the debate into a wider issue about human rights with critics furious it has stigmatized gay people – and senior Tories warning that she had revived the “nasty party” reputuation.
One former Tory cabinet minister, who claimed the Conservatives had won the support of almost all gay voters after making same-sex marriages legal in 2013, told The Independent that Ms Braverman had torpedoed the party’s LGBT+ credentials.
“In one speech this has cut off the gay vote to the Conservative Party,” they said. “It is a constituency which has been in one swoop alienated.”
The senior Tory added: “The damage to the party is one thing; but the international trashing of Britain as a fair and humane place for those who are persecuted has taken an horrendous backward step.”
Following Ms Braverman’s appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, a centre-right think tank in Washington DC, LGBT+ and human rights campaigners dubbed the home secretary a “dangerous fool”.
Conservative moderates and opposition parties accused her of pushing “dog whistle” politics to boost her leadership credentials with the Tory right.
Ms Braverman called on world leaders to make major changes to the UN Refugee Convention, arguing it had become far too generous to migrants, adding: “Let me be clear, there are vast swathes of the world where it is extremely difficult to be gay, or to be a woman. Where individuals are being persecuted, it is right that we offer sanctuary.”
“But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin is sufficient to qualify for protection.”
Andrew Boff – a leading Tory London Assembly member who is patron of the LGBT+ Conservatives group – told The Independent that Ms Braverman was indulging in “dog whistle” politics to appeal to the right.
Mr Boff said: “All this chitter chatter is not government policy – it’s just dog whistling to a section of people who feel that we are being flooded with gays. It’s just ridiculous.”
“What Suella should be doing is sorting out the heap of crap at the Home Office. It’s not good trying to distract from failure at the Home Office by trying to indicate that this is a problem with the victims of persecution.”
The LGBT+ Conservatives patron warned that Ms Braverman had revived the ghost of the “nasty party” despite positive changes in recent years. “We had not too a good record in years gone by, but we have a more proud one in recent years – we introduced equal marriage, we are heading towards zero new HIV infections. So the home secretary’s comments are not helpful or accurate,” said Mr Boff.
Another senior Tory MP told The Independent: “It’s a tone deaf cynically manufactured piece of nonsense. Rather than seeking scapegoats left, right and centre, she should get on with her job. Unfortunately, it seems she isn’t up to it.”
The leading Conservative added that “everything she does” is aimed at being the flagbearer for the Tory right in a leadership contest if the party loses next year’s general election.
The cabinet minister also said multiculturalism had “failed”, claimed uncontrolled immingration was an “exsitential challenge” for the West and argued that fears of being branded “racist” was preventing leaders from reforming global asylum policy.
In an unusual move, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) rebuked Ms Braverman’s speech after she claimed global leaders had failed to reform asylum rules because they fear being called “racist”. The international body said the 1951 Refugee Convention “remains a life-saving instrument”.
The UNHCR also rejected Ms Braverman’s claim that asylum seekers should face more than just discrimination for being gay if they are to qualify as a refugee. “Where individuals are at risk of persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, it is crucial that they are able to seek safety and protection,” it said.
Downing Street confirmed that Rishi Sunak signed off on Ms Braverman’s controversial speech. No 10 said the address “went through the normal process”.
Culture secretary Lucy Frazer has declined to commit to keeping the UK in the UN Refugee Convention. Pressed repeatedly, she told Sky News: “What [Braverman] was talking about is whether those sorts of conventions should be reformed.”
She also defended the home secretary’s claim that multiculturalism has failed. The minister told Times Radio: “What she was talking about was the importance of integrating people who come here into our communities, and I think that’s a really valid point. “I think what she is talking about is the scale of immigration.”