LGBT Rights

A Commonwealth Approach to LGBT Equality

Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens is a ‘Commonwealth problem’. In part due to the legacy of laws created by the British Empire which criminalised LGBT relations or identities, currently 37 of the 53 Commonwealth countries have legislation which still criminalises sexual or gender diverse people in some way. In some Commonwealth countries this colonial legislation has been reinforced by new laws that criminalise or discriminate against LGBT citizens and this situation is exacerbated by wider discriminatory social attitudes and even violence. The issue of LGBT equality continues to strain relations between Commonwealth countries which are in favour of improving LGBT rights and those that are more reluctant.

SA LGBT Dialogue Group PhotoThe Royal Commonwealth Society is seeking to build a Commonwealth solution to this problem. We work in partnership with organisations that champion gender equality, with many colonial-era penal codes that discriminate against LGBT people also discriminating against women and girls. We believe that the Commonwealth’s structure as an equal, voluntary and consensus-based organisation, and its vibrant civil society, shared legal systems and language, provide a platform for more respectful dialogue about the rights of LGBT people. We work closely with diplomats, activists, and other organisations to foster a conciliatory and respectful environment for discussion of a positive Commonwealth contribution to LGBT equality. Our previous work has included pioneering spaces for dialogue with High Commissioners and other stakeholders, co-Chaired by former African Heads of State HE Benjamin Mkapa, HE Festus Mogae, and HE Joaquim Chissano. The RCS is seeking to build a Commonwealth solution to this problem. 

The Commonwealth Equality Network

The Royal Commonwealth Society is a member of The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN). Established in 2013, The Network is a coalition of more than forty civil society organisations working to foster equality for LGBT citizens of the Commonwealth. The Network was set up with the aim of giving a voice to LGBT communities across the Commonwealth and to support joint advocacy in identifying a Commonwealth solution to a Commonwealth problem. Much like the Commonwealth itself, the majority of TCEN member organisations are from low and middle-income Commonwealth member states. We continue to provide insight into the Commonwealth’s structures and organisations for TCEN members and to provide a platform for them to advocate on behalf of their communities, both at home and internationally. 


Reports and Articles

Governments seeking to take steps to further protect and uphold the rights of their LGBT citizens have a wealth of experience and good practice in the Commonwealth to draw upon. We have collated this into our Commonwealth Toolkit for Policy Progress on LGBT Rights and its accompanying infographic

More information about our Commonwealth approach to LGBT rights is contained in our report on the issue, Collaboration and Consensus: Building a Constructive Commonwealth Approach to LGBT Rights

A summary of our approach can also be found in our blog.

The RCS works with a number of LGBT organisations to achieve its aims. You can read about some of them on our partnerships page.

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