James Cleverly spoke on Wednesday and was asked about Qatar’s human rights and LGBT record ahead of the World Cup, saying: “I think it’s important, when you’re a visitor to a country, that you respect the culture of your host nation”; the tournament begins on November 20.
James Cleverly has been foreign secretary since September 6.
Foreign secretary James Cleverly has been accused of being “shockingly tone-deaf” after urging LGBT fans to be “respectful” of Qatar’s ban on homosexuality.
Cleverly was asked about on the country’s human rights and LGBT rights record on Wednesday, before the start of the tournament on November 20.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and human rights abuses “persist on a significant scale” in the country, according to a pre-tournament report published by Amnesty International last week.
Speaking to Sky News, the foreign secretary said: “We have incredibly important partners in the Middle East. These are Muslim countries, they have a very different cultural starting point [from] us.
“I think it’s important, when you’re a visitor to a country, that you respect the culture of your host nation.”
He added: “We do talk to them about our values and why we believe it’s important that people’s rights from all kinds of communities are respected.
“And of course it will be something that we continue to talk to them about.”
England LGBT+ group: Cleverly comments ‘extremely unhelpful’
Within minutes of Cleverly’s appearance, England LGBT+ supporters group 3LionsPride tweeted that his comments had been “extremely unhelpful” for fans travelling to next month’s tournament, adding his suggestion “forces us back into the closet”.
They wrote: “With respect, this is an extremely unhelpful intervention that shows a lack of understanding and context. To insinuate that an acceptable and proportionate safety measure is to ‘be less queer’ forces us back into the closet and risks mental health crises.
“It also is not an option for everyone. Some trans and gender diverse fans don’t have the option of ‘being less visibly queer’. We’ve sought answers, assurances and details numerous times over recent years and this PR line of a “World Cup for all” is not backed by action.
“For a UK minister to step in and endorse it as a legitimate aim undermines our work and our conversations. *AND* that’s before we even get on to the situation for LGBT+ Qataris who under Penal Code 2004 can be arrested, and under Sharia Law can face the death penalty.
“In conclusion, this statement is contradictory (“ensuring people can be themselves” by being less themselves), disregards the voices & experiences of LGBT+ Qataris, speaks over LGBT+ fans & plays into the fractioning of us as either ‘tolerable’ queers or ones who are too much.”
World Cup used to ‘sport-wash atrocious rights records’
Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell criticised Mr Cleverly’s remarks, describing them as “shockingly tone-deaf”.
She said: “Many fans will feel they can’t attend this tournament to cheer on their team because of Qatar’s record on human, workers, and LGBT+ rights.
“The government should be challenging FIFA on how they’ve put fans in this position, and ensuring the full safety of all fans attending, not defending discriminatory values.”
Government must use its ‘public voice’
The foreign secretary’s comments come a day after Peter Tatchell, a British LGBT activist, claimed he was briefly “detained” in Qatar after staging a one-man protest outside a museum in Doha, the capital.
The 70-year-old said he was subjected to interrogation while detained for 49 minutes, but the Qatari government has said no arrests were made.
Mr Tatchell also criticised the foreign secretary and called on the government to use its “public voice to condemn the appalling human rights abuses” committed in the country.
“Unless we all speak out, Qatar will have achieved its goal of sports-washing its appalling reputation during the World Cup. Mr Cleverly has an opportunity to highlight the abuses being carried out by the regime,” he said.
“All fans, not just LGBTs, should boycott the World Cup and use their social media to amplify the shocking human rights abuses by the Qatari state. Going to the World Cup is colluding with a homophobic, sexist and racist regime.”