Thursday, 10 July 2014

Why the Commonwealth needs to listen to its LGBTI citizens

Below is a guest blog from the Kaleidoscope Trust. The Kaleidoscope Trust is a UK based charity working to uphold the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people internationally. 

The Commonwealth Games is one of the world’s largest and greatest sporting events, bringing together athletes from every corner of the world. From Africa to Asia, the Paciļ¬c to the Caribbean, the Commonwealth’s 2 billion people make up 30% of the world’s population and are of many faiths, races, languages, cultures and traditions. The Games themselves are an amazing celebration of the diversity of the Commonwealth – an organisation that refers to itself as a family, held together by the shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

In that light it is shocking that of the 53 member nations of the Commonwealth family, 42 continue to criminalise consensual same-sex activities between adults. More than ninety per cent of Commonwealth citizens live in a country that criminalises homosexuality. Over half the countries in the world that have laws banning homosexuality are in the Commonwealth. Across the Commonwealth lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people are denied equal access to rights, education, employment, housing and healthcare.

Sadly, despite the fact that there are LGBTI people and organisations in every Commonwealth country, our existence is often denied, our rights are violated and we are treated as a foreign and alien import. The voices of LGBTI people continue to be ignored in many Commonwealth spaces – political, diplomatic, sporting and otherwise. Commonwealth leaders regularly deny that LGBTI people exist in their countries, or where they do accept our existence they paint us as immoral, disordered.

Countering this myth is what underlies a lot of the work that the Kaleidoscope Trust does.  For true equality to exist across the Commonwealth, attitudes toward LGBTI people need to be changed wherever we face social and legal discrimination. In the battle for public opinion visibility is our most powerful tool. When we are visible it becomes much harder for the opponents of equality to deny our existence. When we are seen as what we are – sons and daughters, siblings and parents, workers and bosses, friends and neighbours – it becomes much harder to paint us as immoral, threatening and foreign.

That’s why we’ve been working with the Equality Network and Pride Glasgow to ensure that when the Commonwealth Games is celebrating its amazing diversity, LGBTI people are not forgotten. We are working with LGBTI people from all over the Commonwealth to make sure our voices are heard – at the LGBTI Human Rights Conference, the Pride House, Glasgow Pride and other events. Through raising our voices together we can counter the narrative that being gay, or lesbian, or bisexual or trans, or intersex is a European or an American peculiarity. Through raising awareness of the amazing work that is going on around the Commonwealth to resist invidious laws and discriminatory attitudes we can truly celebrate the diversity of LGBTI struggle, successes and lives. LGBT people are part of the incredible diversity of the Commonwealth family and we are committed to its values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

That’s also why the Kaleidoscope Trust is delighted to support the STUC’s call for unions, employers and the public sector to show their support for LGBTI rights in the Commonwealth by flying the rainbow flag during the Games. If visibility is our strongest weapon, the more rainbow flags, proudly flown from buildings across Glasgow and Scotland, the more visible we are. The rainbow flag is a vital tool in showing our solidarity with LGBTI communities across the Commonwealth and showing that LGBTI people are a part of the Commonwealth family.

For the time being, the voices of LGBTI people may be ignored by many of the governments and institutions of the Commonwealth, but we are not going away. Governments must heed us, must meet with us and must embrace us as full and equal members of society. Anything less will fatally tarnish the Commonwealth, render the Games’ fine commitment to inclusion for all meaningless, and call into question the apparently shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Alistair Stewart 
Assistant Director
The Kaleidoscope Trust

1 comment:

  1. Can we really accept the assurance that these UK groups -- from the former colonial power -- will work to magnify the voices of LGBT activists from the Global South? Can we sure they won't drown out those voices so that LGBTI issues look even more like a white, Western imposition? The record on this is not reassuring.