Discrimination against LGBT citizens is a ‘Commonwealth problem’. In part due to the legacy of laws created by the British Empire which criminalise LGBT relations or identities, currently 37 of the 52 Commonwealth countries have legislation which criminalises LGBT people in some way. In certain Commonwealth countries colonial legislation is reinforced by independence-era laws which criminalise or discriminate against LGBT citizens. This harsh legal situation is exacerbated by wider discriminatory social attitudes and in some cases violence. This situation has strained relations between Commonwealth countries who disagree on the issue and has produced a discussion which is increasingly polarised between those in favour of improving LGBT rights and those who are more reluctant.
The RCS seeks to build a Commonwealth solution to this problem. We believe that the best aspects of the Commonwealth, from its equal membership, familial relations and opportunities for government-to-government discussion, to its vibrant civil society, shared legal systems and language along with its diverse array of professional associations, provide opportunities to have a more respectful debate about LGBT rights and to share best practice on ways of reducing discrimination. The Royal Commonwealth Society works with diplomats, activists and other Commonwealth organisations to draw attention to the potential for a positive Commonwealth contribution to the LGBT rights debate.
The Commonwealth Equality Network
The Royal Commonwealth Society is a member of The Commonwealth Equality Network. Established in 2013, The Network is a coalition of Commonwealth civil society organisations working to challenge inequality in the Commonwealth, based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 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 membership of the Network is dominated by organisations in low and middle-income countries, in particular sub Saharan Africa. The RCS hosted The Network’s inaugural meeting at its offices in London as part of its ongoing support for the initiative.
Reports and Articles
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.
An earlier blog contains background information on the struggle of Ugandan activists against the so called ‘anti-gay bill’.
An article from our partners the Kaleidoscope Trust on the subject of LGBT is featured in the December 2014 issue of our magazine, Commonwealth VOICES (pages 16 & 17).