Efforts by LGBTQ activists to advance the rights of sexual minorities at the Commonwealth Summit, also known as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), in April will be frustrated as government leaders look to sideline the issue
Efforts by LGBTQ activists to advance the rights of sexual minorities at the Commonwealth Summit, also known as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), in April will be frustrated as government leaders look to sideline the issue.
Canadian and British Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau and Theresa May have prioritised advancing LGBTQ rights in policy discussion and it was hoped this year’s gathering would join in on progressive language on the issue.
It is now likely, however, that this will be avoided in order to prevent the Summit ending in discord.
The Commonwealth operates by consensus and many governments of developing member states see LGBTQ rights advocacy by developed nations such as Canada and Britain as an intrusion into internal affairs.
Canada and Britain’s former Prime Ministers Stephen Harper and David Cameron took a confrontational approach during their time as Commonwealth heads of government and threatened to cut funding unless states reformed their laws.
Trudeau and May, meanwhile, have strived to encourage rather than confront, with speculation that May might offer an apology, on behalf of Britain, at the Summit for introducing sodomy laws into former colonies.
This year’s Summit is likely to see the Queen’s last attendance at the gathering, as she will be 93 when heads of government next convene in 2020 in Malaysia.
Organisers fear that a push on sexual minority rights would mar the last Summit at which the Head of the Commonwealth would be physically present.
At the 2015 Summit in Malta, LGBTQ activists did address Commonwealth members on the issue, and in June 2017 a coalition of LGBTQ organisations call the Commonwealth Equality Network was accredited by the Commonwealth’s board of governors.
Progress, however, seems to be a long way off, as the next Summit will be in Malaysia, a country known for its pervasive discrimination against LGBT people, according to Human Rights Watch’s annual report in 2018.
Homosexual acts in Malaysia are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, plus whipping.
More disturbingly perhaps, in northern Nigeria these acts carry the death penalty.
Same-sex acts are a criminal offence in 36 of the 53 Commonwealth countries, mostly due to a legacy of laws from the British Empire, which though since rescinded in Britain and other developed countries are still prevalent elsewhere.
Even where laws against same-sex acts have been removed, ancient prejudice, sometimes bolstered by evangelical Christian missionaries, remains and threatens the safety of LGBTQ people.
There has been some progress made in Commonwealth states, with Mozambique removing the offence of “practices against nature” from its criminal code in 2015 and the Seychelles following suit in 2016.
Paul Dillane, Executive Director of Kaleidoscope Trust, offered assurance that a record number of activists would be attending the Summit, despite the lack of exposure on the issue within official discussions.
They will use the gathering to compare best practices in advocating for sexual minority rights at home and internationally.
The Director of the London-based NGO advocating for LGBTQ rights globally said: “We recognize that it is unrealistic to expect the word LGBT to be in the final communiqué, although we would like it to be.
“Our activists will be at every one of the forums, they will participate, they will speak.”