LGBT equality in the Commonwealth

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2016 National LGBT Conference
28 July 2016

Conference notes that the 53 Commonwealth states comprise a quarter of United Nations member states and a third of humanity. 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 40 Commonwealth member states retain laws criminalising same-sex relations, which are largely a legacy of British colonialism. Trans people also face widespread violence and abuse, though this is less well documented. Stigma and discrimination helps to fuel the HIV/AIDS (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) epidemic as vulnerable groups are marginalised and unable to access prevention, treatment and care services.

Conference recognises, however, that there are signs of progress being made on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people around the Commonwealth, and welcomes:

1. The establishment of the Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN), the first civil society group to advocate on behalf of LGBT people within the Commonwealth institutions and Commonwealth Civil Society, with 35 member organisations from 30 Commonwealth countries;

2. The higher profile of LGBT human rights at the last Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Malta in November 2015, with the inclusion in the People’s Forum (the civil society meeting that runs alongside the formal CHOGM) of two sessions dedicated to discussion of LGBT issues;

3. The strong statements on LGBT rights that have been made by the Commonwealth Secretariat, including that by the then Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia in 2015, where he said that stigma and discrimination against LGBT people is “unacceptable: it robs millions of our fellow citizens of the right to live lives of dignity, undermining their mental and physical health, and sense of well-being” and that “It flies in the face of our core values of equality and non-discrimination.”;

4. The publication in April by TCEN, Kaleidoscope Trust and the Royal Commonwealth Society of “A Commonwealth Toolkit for policy progress on LGBT rights” which aims to show how some Commonwealth countries have made progress on LGBT rights and presents good practice that other governments can learn from.

Conference notes that the new Secretary-General, Baroness Patricia Scotland, has committed to promoting dialogue on LGBT issues during her tenure, and that the next CHOGM will be held in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2018.

Conference therefore calls on the national LGBT committee to:

A. Explore potential ways of giving support to the work of TCEN;

B. Work with other appropriate organisations to seek the inclusion of LGBT rights issues as a substantive item on the agenda of the 2018 CHOGM;

C. Continue to press the UK government, Scottish Parliament and Wales and Northern Ireland Assemblies to support LGBT rights internationally, including through the UK’s participation in the Commonwealth.