Will the Commonwealth Finally Discuss Homosexuality?

People in Commonwealth countries are being urged to support the call for a first-ever discussion about homosexuality at the Commonwealth leaders summit.

October 13, a large group of civil society organizations from throughout the 54 member state association have put forward a ‘Statement of Action on the Decriminalisation of Adult Same Sex Conduct in the Commonwealth‘ for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia on October 28.

The CHOGM leaders have never in their entire history even discussed – let alone supported – LGBT human rights. They have always refused to consider this humanitarian issue, despite the fact that more than 40 of the 54 Commonwealth member states continue to punish same-sex behaviour with criminal sanctions.

More than half the world’s countries that criminalize homosexuality belong to the Commonwealth. Penalties include life imprisonment in Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Pakistan, Uganda, Bangladesh and Guyana. In some countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon and Uganda, homophobic witch-hunts take place.

The Statement says:

“The continued criminalisation of a minority for no other reason than their immutable characteristics is a form of discrimination and persecution that cannot continue amongst a community of nations that has committed itself to protecting human rights and equality before the law.”

Following an article in May in The Guardian newspaper, which strongly criticized the Secretary General and the Commonwealth for their failure to speak out against homophobic and transphobic persecution in member countries by human rights activist Peter Tatchell, Kamalesh Sharma became the first Commonwealth Secretary General to make an explicit and unequivocal public statement criticizing homophobia and homophobic discrimination.

Sharma claimed that work is going on ‘behind the scenes.’

“This sometimes leads to a perception that we are inactive or silent on certain issues. This could not be further from the truth.”

Following further lobbying, at the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in Sydney in July, Sharma reiterated that sexual orientation victimization is incompatible with Commonwealth values.

However, obvious doubts remain about whether the Commonwealth will take any action. A year ago, a leaked document obtained by the Guardian showed that Commonwealth staff were told by the Secretary General that it is not their job to speak out against human rights abuses.

A protest march on October 28 in Perth will include protests against the lack of LGBT human rights in many Commonwealth nations.

Meanwhile, a group of ‘global’ south LGBT activist are pleading to be let in to the Commonwealth People’s Space, which takes place alongside CHOGM. This has been the only way that LGBT issues have previously seen light at the event.

In 2007 in Kampala, Uganda, LGBT activists were humiliated and assaulted by state representatives and the public. Things changed in 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago when a breakthrough saw the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) include LGBT issues in its Civil Society Statement.

However, in Perth, five LGBT activists from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands can’t get in because 40% of the slots available have been reserved for Australians.

A protest letter from 15 ‘global south’ LGBT groups says:

Meaningful achievements on sexual citizenship and gender justice in the Commonwealth require the participation of members of civil society whose daily lives are at the core of those issues, the Commonwealth citizens whose humanity and sexuality the Commonwealth continues to allow its members to criminalise, and of representatives of the civil society organizations on the frontlines of work for change in these areas. Our inability to contribute to these initiatives at CPF 2011 (the hallmark of the Commonwealth’s commitment to civil society engagement), and to hold them accountable, will deprive efforts in this area by advocates and governments of critical legitimacy and credibility, and risk half-gains and missteps.

If you are a Commonwealth citizen, you can help with the request to Commonwealth leaders to put the decriminalization of homosexuality, support for LGBT equality and action on HIV on the official CHOGM agenda for discussion by the heads of government of the 54 member states.

  • Email the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma: secretary-general@commonwealth.int
  • Email the CHOGM host, the Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd: Kevin.Rudd.MP@aph.gov.au and also email kevin.rudd@dfat.gov.au

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K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Emma S.
Emma S6 years ago

How different, how very different, from the home life of our own dear queen...

Zoe B.
Zoe B6 years ago

Nicole, you cannot "program" sexuality.

There are plenty of gay people on television, and in ads.Calvin Klein have the right to market their shite however they like, it is up to the consumer whether to buy into that, or not.

Notice also, as you say gays are in the minority on TV, so are black people, devout muslims, or militant vegans.

Hayley Zacheis
Hayley Zacheis6 years ago

Emanuel: It makes me sad that there are still people like you in the world today - so filled with anger and hate; if your life is terrible, don't take it out on the gays.

Nicole G.
Nicole Gorman6 years ago

Being "gay" is not about who you have "sex" with. It's about who you love in a romantic manner. It's about who you are attracted to. It's about who you choose to make part of your family. It's about part of your identity as a human being. It's not about "sex" it's about "sexual orientation". How about we make illegal something else that a person has no control over, say being left handed, and say you slip and pick up a pencil with your left hand and someone sees you the result then being you are thrown in jail, ostracized, beaten, condemned, even killed. Think that's fair? What are you so scared of? Don't say it's because gays are pushing their sexuality, watch a daytime or nighttime soap opera. Look at a Calvin Klein ad. The "heterosexual" agenda is being pushed 24/7 and we are so programmed to it we don't even see it any more. Open your eyes. Better yet, open your minds and your hearts.

Zoe B.
Zoe B6 years ago

To be quite honest, I'm sick of the "gay rights" brigade also, why do they feel the need to shout it from the rooftops.

In saying that, there are countries in the commonwealth that are not as "up to date" with uhman rights, and where people are killed, beaten, or raped for "being gay", and if the "commonwealth" wants to stay "common", it may need to address that, and start letting people live freely, and protect them from hatred. Not only making laws, but, by education of law enforcement, IMPLEMENTING those laws.

on a side not, "it's very dear to me, the issue of GAY marriage. Or, as I like to call it, marriage. you know, because I had lunch this afternoon, not GAY lunch. i parked my car, I didn't GAY park it.

Gloria Morotti
Gloria Morotti6 years ago

'Bout time.

Bob P.


Nick Scales
Nicholas Scales6 years ago

I'm glad the Commonwealth is attempting to take a stand on this- It doesn't surprise me that they haven't before since many of the Commonwealth nations are run by right wing autocrats.
Hopefully a push in the right direction can be made because I am appalled by the actions of countries like Uganda in recent years- and wish they could be forced out of the Commonwealth if no improvements are made on their human rights towards gay individuals

Marjaana V.
marjaana v6 years ago

EMANUEL: i only had 3 words for you: FLAG AS INAPPROPRIATE.