Commonwealth celebration faced protests over LGBTQ+ rights

  • Post last modified:March 12, 2024
  • Reading time:6 mins read

Leaders of 30 Commonwealth countries that criminalise LGBTQ+ people faced a barrage of boos and jeers as they arrived at Monday 11 March’s Commonwealth’s 75th anniversary service at Westminster Abbey. Shamefully, they were welcomed by the Church of England and the UK government, despite violating the human rights provisions of the Commonwealth Charter.

‘We came from hell’ in the Commonwealth

The Speaker of the Uganda Parliament, Anita Among, did not attend the service. This followed representations made by the Peter Tatchell Foundation. It urged her exclusion because she advocated the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which includes the death penalty for some forms of consenting same-sex relations.

Among the 100 protesters were LGBTQ+ people who have fled discrimination and violence in Commonwealth nations. They included members of UK Black Pride, Gay Indian Network, Let Voice Be Heard (Bangladesh), African Equality Foundation and Out, and Proud African LGBTI.

One LGBTQ+ refugee, Abbey Kiwanuka, who escaped Uganda, recalls that he:

came from hell, with cigarette burns in both my palms and on my legs, scars on my face which resulted from the constant beating. I went through every kind of human degradation.

Edwin Sesange, another LGBTQ+ refugee, added:

Shame on the Commonwealth for failing to uphold the Commonwealth Charter and not defending the human rights of Commonwealth citizens. The jailing and murder of LGBTs is a crime against humanity.

Protesters held placards with slogans including: “Commonwealth: 75 years of anti-LGBT+ persecution. Repeal anti-LGBT+ laws”:

Commonwealth LGBTQ+ protest

They shouted: “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Commonwealth homophobia has to go”:

The protest was coordinated by the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

Suspended anti-LGBTQ+ countries

Its director, Peter Tatchell, said:

As the Commonwealth celebrates, we mourn. We are calling out the 30 Commonwealth countries that violate the equality principles of their own constitutions and the Commonwealth Charter. They preside over the state-sanctioned persecution of their LGBT+ citizens.

Thirty out of 56 Commonwealth countries criminalise homosexuality, mostly under laws imposed by Britain during the nineteenth century when it was the colonial power. Six Commonwealth countries have life imprisonment. Nigeria, Brunei and Uganda have the death penalty for LGBTs. Millions of LGBT+ Commonwealth citizens are at risk of arrest, jail time, mob violence and discrimination in employment, housing, education and health care.

These anti-LGBT+ laws violate the Commonwealth Charter which pledges that all member states are ‘committed to equality’ and are ‘opposed to all forms of discrimination.’

Most Commonwealth leaders refuse to recognise that LGBT+ rights are human rights. For 75 years, they’ve vetoed any discussion of the issue at their heads of government meetings.

The Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Scotland, has failed to speak out against anti-LGBT+ laws or to defend persecuted LGBT+ people. She’s failed to uphold the Commonwealth Charter on a range of human rights issues and should resign.

Countries that criminalise LGBT+ people should be suspended from the Commonwealth.

Shame on the Commonwealth

The protest urged all governments to:

  • Decriminalise same-sex relations.
  • Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Enforce laws against threats and violence, to protect LGBTQ+ people from hate crimes.
  • Consult and dialogue with their LGBTQ+ organisations.

The six Commonwealth countries that have a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for same-sex acts are: Bangladesh, Guyana, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda.

Featured image and additional images via the Peter Tatchell Foundation

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