Laws from Commonwealth LegislaturesThe Royal Commonwealth Society has launched a new report providing a range of good practice from policies that uphold the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) people around the Commonwealth. The report, titled ‘A Commonwealth Toolkit for Policy Progress on LGBT Rights’, was produced in collaboration with the Kaleidoscope Trust and the Commonwealth Equality Network and authored by RCS Policy and Research Manager Lewis Brooks and Dr Felicity Daly of the Trust. The RCS has a strong reputation in creating constructive and respectful approaches to, what for some countries is, a politically sensitive issue. The new report builds on this success.

The Commonwealth provides a unique opportunity to share and explore new ways of making progress on the rights of LGBT citizens. Though member states have diverse experiences and approaches to achieving progress, their shared legal framework and the Commonwealth values allow governments to learn from other nations’ progress. The ‘Commonwealth Approach’ to advancing the rights of LGBT people has been articulated by the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Kaleidoscope Trust in the first paper in this series: Collaboration and Consensus: Building a Constructive Commonwealth Approach to LGBT Rights. This second paper draws on this approach and seeks to provide a toolkit of promising practice and exemplary policies undertaken by the legislative, executive and judicial branches of governments in the Commonwealth to protect and advance the rights of LGBT citizens.

The challenges faced by LGBT citizens across the Commonwealth have been well documented. Attention has often focused on the worst cases of discrimination and persecution against LGBT citizens and condemnation from some political leaders. However, the report shows that legislators, judges and politicians have been making progressive decisions to protect minorities, reform outdated laws and unlock inclusive development. In just one example of progress, Mozambique recently became the latest Commonwealth country to decriminalise same-sex relationships. As part of the modernisation of its penal code, legislators removed enduring provisions first established by Portuguese colonialists. In another example, the Maltese government recently passed a law described by some as ‘setting a new benchmark’ on legal provisions concerning gender identity. The new law provides simplified processes for gender recognition based on a person’s own identity.

It remains important to note, however, that the scale of discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in various forms across the Commonwealth remains staggering. Real challenges still exist for LGBT citizens in all Commonwealth countries, and this report in no way suggests otherwise. At the same time, highlighting good practice allows for progress and opportunity, rather than closing conversations and finding fault. Existing policy progress in all regions of the Commonwealth, such as the legislative changes in Mozambique and Malta, can provide a range of examples from which policymakers in any member-state can learn, adapting and transferring these to their own countries and contexts. Speaking on the report RCS Director, Michael Lake CBE, said, “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”.

The need for the progress-orientated toolkit contained in this report is twofold. Firstly, it serves to highlight the progressive actions taken by governments across the Commonwealth and move beyond the idea of a polarised Commonwealth on this issue. Secondly, it provides a range of examples of promising practice drawn from a variety of countries and contexts and from every region of the Commonwealth. The report does not suggest a simple line of development to be followed, but rather draws on existing policies to show how different countries have advanced the rights of their citizens in ways that reflect their own cultural and political sensitivities.


The authors welcome debate on this report, you can leave your comments below.