Queen Elizabeth disappointed LGBT rights activists this week by saying nothing whatsoever about gay rights or even human rights, as she signed the new Commonwealth charter that calls for an end to discrimination on the basis of “gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.”
Advance publicity about the event had suggested that the words “other grounds” were a reference to LGBT people and that the queen would be remembered for having “clearly signalled her support for gay rights.”
But instead she talked only briefly and in generalities, calling the agreement “a significant milestone” for the group of nations that formerly comprised the British Empire.
The monarch spoke as if the Commonwealth itself is what deserves help, rather than the LGBT people who are the victims of anti-gay laws, largely left behind by former colonial rulers, in 41 of the Commonwealth’s 54 nations. She said:
“I hope the carefully chosen words of the charter will reinvigorate efforts already begun to make the Commonwealth fit and agile for the years ahead.”
Nevertheless, some activists saw the new charter as an opportunity for convincing Commonwealth nations to repeal repressive and inhumane old laws.
For example, Caleb Orozco, executive president of the United Belize Advocacy Movement, said the queen’s announcement, “while short on substance, has the potential [to allow] activists in the region to engage their parliament and give the charter life.”
He suggested that activists should also “monitor how the charter translates into allocation for resources to do advocacy work in the region.”
Orozco and his group have been working against HIV/AIDS, defending human rights for women and LGBTs, and seeking to overturn Belize’s law providing prison sentences of up to 10 years for same-sex relations.
“The charter will have teeth, only if we work to give it life,” he said.
Other activists were upset about the shortcomings of the charter. For example, Godwyns Onwuchekwa, the chair and coordinator of Justice for Gay Africans, said:
“JfGA views this Charter, in its reliance on ‘other grounds’ to integrate protection against homophobia and gender-identity-based violence, as extremely limited it its ability to address this clear and contemporary area of concern, which includes extreme discrimination, torture, death, unjust imprisonment, and disregard for individual dignity and human rights. It is for this basic but crucial lack of specificity that we, with deep regret, reject the Charter’s revision as a missed opportunity.”
We call on the Commonwealth and its members to affirm protection for SGN [sexual and gender non-conforming] people in the Commonwealth with a guarantee to their dignity and personal respect. We are dismayed by media coverage in the UK and elsewhere that suggests that the Charter contains anything realistically useful for SGN people.
The Commonwealth should go back to the drawing board and decide whether it will commit seriously to protecting its citizens on the basis of sexuality and gender identity. The revised Charter expresses less than a politically pragmatic compromise—it is virtually silent on the issue.
The March 11 ceremony fell far short of what had been forecast. In an advance article titled “Queen fights for gay rights,” The Mail had reported:
In a live television broadcast, she will sign a new charter designed to stamp out discrimination against homosexual people and promote the ‘empowerment’ of women – a key part of a new drive to boost human rights and living standards across the Commonwealth.
In her first public appearance since she had hospital treatment for a stomach bug, the Queen will sign the new Commonwealth Charter and make a speech explaining her passionate commitment to it.
Insiders say her decision to highlight the event is a ‘watershed’ moment – the first time she has clearly signalled her support for gay rights in her 61-year reign.
Despite the disappointment, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, saw reason to hope, stating that the signing of the new charter “presents a test for the Commonwealth as to whether the vague terms of the Charter against discrimination based on ‘other grounds’ do really include sexual orientation and gender identity, drug use, sex work, or HIV status.”
An immediate next step is scheduled for today, the group said, when “On 13 March, at the House of Lords, Lord Black of Brentwood will ‘ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of discrimination against gay men and women in Commonwealth countries on global efforts to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS.’ ”
- ‘Queen fights for gay rights’ Really? Not yet strongly (76crimes.com)
- The Queen defending gay rights? She can’t even say the words out loud | Patrick Strudwick (guardian.co.uk)
- 76+ countries where homosexuality is illegal (76crimes.com)
- Queen fights for gay rights (Daily Mail)