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'Umbrellas of Love' for Commonwealth's LGBT outcasts

"Umbrellas of Love" project sends a message to the Commonwealth Games. (Photo courtesy of Vince Laws)
“Umbrellas of Love” project sends a message to countries participating in the Commonwealth Games. (Photo courtesy of Vince Laws)

For the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, artist/activist Vince Laws is preparing an artistic protest against anti-gay laws in 41 out of the 53 countries in the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth represents countries that formerly were part of the British Empire, which bequeathed to its colonies a 19th century legal system that criminalized same-sex love. Most of those countries, now independent, have left that unfortunate colonial legacy intact.
Laws calls his project “Umbrellas of Love.”
In describing his plan for the games,  scheduled for July 23 to Aug. 3, Laws said:

Vince Laws painting. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
Vince Laws painting. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

There are 53 countries in the Commonwealth, and in 41 it is illegal to be lesbian, bisexual, or gay. In 7 Commonwealth countries I could be imprisoned for life for being myself, and in 2 countries – in parts of Nigeria and parts of Pakistan under Sharia law – I could be executed because of who I love and who loves me.
I decided to paint the names of the 41 countries on white umbrellas and get them seen during the Commonwealth Gaymes. Because I’m a penniless poet, I appealed for donations to create Umbrellas of Love! and soon got enough to do all 86 countries around the world where homosexuality is illegal. [Editor’s note: Those 86 countries include the 81 listed in this blog, plus several others such as Russia and Ukraine with a record of violations of the human rights of LGBTI people.]
I chose umbrellas because they are light and easy to carry, and because the Commonwealth is like a giant umbrella, only some people aren’t allowed to step under its protection. Each umbrella will have a giant letter on it, so collectively we can spell out:

  • LOVE IS A HUMAN RIGHT,
  • NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL,
  • WE ALL BLEED RED,
  • LOVE AND LET LOVE, and
  • COMMON WEALTH GAYMES.

I’m currently painting the umbrellas at my rural Norfolk home. Once painted, the Umbrellas of Love! will be sent to Glasgow, where Amy McLachlan Sayer will organise a photo-opportunity or two, at Glasgow Pride on July 19, and at the Commonwealth Gaymes.
After Glasgow, the Umbrellas of Love will appear in the Norwich Pride Parade on Saturday 26 July. Then the Umbrellas of Love will be on display in Brighton for the Pride weekend August 2-3, details to be confirmed.
Thanks to everyone who has helped. Over 30 people chipped in and raised over £500 to make Umbrellas of Love happen. I’m very proud of that.
Contact: vincelaws@gmail.com

A recent report by Kaleidoscope Trust about anti-gay laws in Commonwealth countries cited these examples of homophobic violence in countries that inherited the British Empire’s anti-homosexuality laws:

Nigeria would repeal its new anti-gay law if Vince Laws had his way, as demonstated in his "Umbrellas of Love" protest at the Commonwealth Games. (Photo courtesy of Vince Laws)
Nigeria would repeal its new anti-gay law if Vince Laws had his way, as demonstated in his “Umbrellas of Love” protest at the Commonwealth Games. (Photo courtesy of Vince Laws)

“I was attacked beaten and paraded naked on the street of Dakwo village, Abuja in July 2013 on the allegation that I am gay. People brought several video camera and mobile phone to record my nakedness. This inhuman degrading treatment has ruined my life and I have been banished from Dakwo village.” — KC, Nigeria.
“I have lost two teeth, had my family property invaded and car damaged by two masked men…I have had stones thrown at me, experienced simulated gun shots, insults and physical harm on public transportation.” — Caleb Orozco, Belize.
“A mob had gathered there saying they wanted to kill gays. I was getting into a public minibus and the conductor started to beat me. Then everyone started beating me.” — Anonymous, Tanzania.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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