The Commonwealth of 53 nations, formerly the British Commonwealth, can play a positive role in improving the lives of LGBT citizens even though dozens of those countries still have anti-LGBT laws inherited from their former colonial overlords.
So say the LGBT rights advocates at London-based Kaleidoscope Trust, which this week published a “toolkit” of recommendations for pushing ahead toward widespread recognition of the human rights of LGBT people, even in largely homophobic societies.
The toolkit, published in cooperation with the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Commonwealth Equality Network, gives examples of recent progress:
- Non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment law in countries as diverse as Botswana, Seychelles, Samoa and Saint Lucia.
- Repeal of colonial-era bans on consensual same-sex relations between adults, most recently occurring in Mozambique.
- Supreme court judgments upholding the rights of ‘third gender’ groups such as Hijras and Kothis in India and Pakistan.
- The formation of a Consultative Council of LGBT organisations to advise the Government of Malta on areas of policy and legislation.
- Anti-homophobic bullying campaigns conducted by civil society and the Ministry of Education in Jamaica.
- Specific constitutional protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in South Africa; with Fiji and Malta also including gender identity as a protected characteristic in their constitutions.
“We have got to move beyond a finger-wagging approach and use the Commonwealth to offer practical support to governments wanting to make positive change to support LGBT citizens,” stated Michael Lake CBE, director of the Royal Commonwealth Society, in the press release about the toolkit.
The Commonwealth Toolkit for Policy Progress on LGBT Rights describes ways that:
- Local civil society groups can support governments to create progressive policies; and
- LGBT communities and organizations can work with governments on police training, education for health care professionals and anti-bullying campaigns.
Among the 53 nations in the Commonwealth, which includes countries that formerly belonged to the British Empire, at least 39 still have anti-homosexuality laws, most of them originally imposed by the British.
The toolkit describes forward movement in many countries, including Lesotho:
“Lesotho’s 2012 review of the Penal Code. This effectively decriminalised consensual, adult, same-sex relations by replacing all common law offences without reference to anti-sodomy offences. The new penal code effectively replaced the old common law crime of sodomy with more modern and better defined sexual offences that targeted non-consensual acts against minors/children rather than consenting adults. The Penal Code and its accompanying guidelines quietly removed the likelihood of prosecutions against consenting adults and strengthened legal protections for victims of abuse.”
In court in Belize:
“Meanwhile in Belize a [lawsuit] has been brought by Belizean citizen, Mr. Caleb Orozco, who is seeking to have the criminalisation of consensual sex between adult men struck down as a violation of his constitutional rights to human dignity, privacy, equality before the law and health. Similar to the Indian case, Mr Orozco and the interested parties, including the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, are arguing for the court to retain section 53 of the criminal code in order that it continues to criminalise non-consensual sex with a male or sex with an animal, which are not currently covered under other provisions of the Criminal Code.
“Although a judgment has not yet been handed down from the Supreme Court of Belize, the case has opened up a broader debate on the rights of LGBT Belizeans which has led to the positive inclusion of sexual orientation in the Government’s gender policy … and improved attitudes towards LGBT citizens.”
Also, in a separate court case in Belize:
“A more successful moratorium was implemented in response to Belize’s colonial-era ban on homosexuals entering the country. In response to a legal challenge by LGBT activist, Maurice Tomlinson, the Belizean Director of immigration and the Minister of immigration have both reiterated that Belizean officials do not enforce this law and do not enquire about any visitor’s sexual orientation upon entry into the country.”
The document also highlights current and former government officials’ advocacy for LGBT rights:
“The previous President of Fiji used his time in office to support the UN’s Free and Equal Campaign and stated that everyone needed to explore practical ways to advance LGBTI rights. More conservative leaders have simply stated that it is not for them to judge people based on their sexual orientation.
“[In Barbados], Prime Minister Freundel Stuart invoked Christian teaching in August 2013 to declare that at present, ‘it does not lie within our competence to sit in seats of judgement and to condemn those who pursue that practice’. Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Hon Dr Timothy Harris, as well the ex-Presidents of Mozambique and Botswana, have spoken in support of ending discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly in order to ensure a more effective response to HIV. The Tonga Royal Family has shown support to Fakaleiti citizens of Tonga through patronage of the annual Miss Galaxy Pageant for Leitis. In 2016 [in Canada], Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will become the first Canadian Prime Minister to lead Toronto’s Pride March.”
In India, state governments are working on trans rights in cooperation with civil society organizations:
“In India the state government of Tamil Nadu has brought civil society and government together to support the rights of transgender Indians. The Tamil Nadu Transgender Welfare Board convened by the state Ministry of Social Welfare brings together multiple state government departments and transgender community leaders to coordinate policies and responses to the needs of transgender individuals. The state of Maharashtra has reportedly replicated its own board along these lines.”
- 39 Commonwealth nations still have anti-LGBTI laws (76crimes.com)
- Commonwealth Day: Queen calls for inclusiveness (March 14, 2016, BBC)
- Commonwealth: Maybe talk about LGBTI rights in 2018? (December 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Protesters seek to end LGBTI repression in Commonwealth (November 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Mozambique drops anti-gay law, as blog readers know (July 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Activists to U.K.: Fight harder vs. global LGBT persecution (June 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Queen honors LGBTI leader seeking change in Barbados (January 2015, 76crimes.com)
- ‘Umbrellas of Love’ for Commonwealth’s LGBT outcasts (July 2014, 76crimes.com)
- India turns back the clock, restores anti-gay law (December 3013, 76crimes.com)