Taking Forward Lesbian, gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality With The Commonwealth

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2011 National LGBT Conference
8 August 2011

Conference recalls that in 2009, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) launched a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) strategy and toolkit. This came about through campaigning by UNISON’s LGBT members, Labour Link and our partnership with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). We are particularly proud of our input, as the only trade union on the FCO LGBT stakeholders group. The ‘LGBT Toolkit’, issued to all embassies, high commissions and other diplomatic posts, includes instructions on incorporating LGBT equality and anti discrimination work into their activities, on issues including decriminalisation, employment rights, gender recognition, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, reproductive rights and healthcare.

Conference notes that the 54 Commonwealth states comprise one quarter of United Nations (UN) member states: one third of all humanity. 46 of the 76 countries which still criminalise same-sex relations are in the Commonwealth. Trans people face widespread violence and abuse, though this is less well documented. Stigma and discrimination help fuel the HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) epidemic as vulnerable groups are marginalised and unable to access prevention, treatment and care services.

The Commonwealth defines itself as a free and equal association of nations committed to the core principles of democracy, human rights, equality, non- discrimination, opportunity for all, liberty of the individual and human dignity. Yet the Commonwealth is failing to address discriminatory laws, human rights violations, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

Conference notes that the United Kingdom (UK) government’s 2011 LGBT action plan includes a commitment ‘to work to raise the profile of LGB&T issues in preparation for Commonwealth meetings’; the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings are in October 2011 and November 2013.

It further notes that Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary-General, stated in May: Human rights are a top priority in the Commonwealth. The 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles is our updated point of departure building on public statements of the past about what the Commonwealth stands for. In that Affirmation all Heads of Government have solemnly reiterated their commitment to human rights ‘for all without discrimination on any grounds…’. This includes discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The Affirmation also commits the Commonwealth to exploring ways ‘in which it could more effectively deal with the full range of serious or persistent violations of such values by member states’.

Conference instructs the National LGBT Committee, working with the National Executive Council International Committee, to continue to:

1.Seek an unequivocal and coordinated commitment from the FCO to support LGBT rights internationally, including through the UK’s participation in the Commonwealth;

2.Work closely with the Trades Union Congress, LGBT Labour, ILGA and other NGOs to promote LGBT people’s rights;

3.Raise awareness across UNISON about the importance of messages of solidarity to persecuted LGBT people and human rights defenders;

4.Raise the profile of LGBT inequality within labour internationals and lobby for the human rights of LGBT people through international institutions, including the UN, European Union and Council of Europe.