On Friday 17th May, the UK joined the world in celebrating International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). As a UK-based organisation working on international issues, Kaleidoscope Trust recognises the importance of this day and the UK’s role in supporting the fight for LGBT+ equality globally, given the colonial-era legacy of many of the laws that criminalise same-sex intimacy both in the Commonwealth and across the world.
IDAHOBIT 2019 Parliamentary debate
The team kicked off IDAHOBIT by briefing parliamentarians from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT Rights ahead of the day’s IDAHOBIT debate in the House of Commons, alongside other civil society organisations. We also provided bilateral briefings to UK parliamentarians.
We were thrilled with the breadth of discussions during the debate later that day, launched by APPG Chair, Nick Herbert MP.
Importantly, Herbert acknowledged both the repressive environment faced by many LGBT+ people across the world (such as in Tanzania, Turkey and Chechnya), as well as the significant gains that have been made (such as in India and Trinidad & Tobago).
Herbert also clearly stated the obligation the UK has to play “in supporting legal cases against those colonial laws for which we have an historic responsibility elsewhere in the Commonwealth,” noting both the need for condemnations and vocal support, but also for tangible and sustained funding.
This need for funding was particularly amplified given the key opportunity the UK will have to lead in this area thanks to its upcoming assumption of co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition, with Herbert warning that the UK’s role in this position requires “greater coordination, greater organisation and dedicated resources.”
During the debate, Chris Elmore MP affirmed the importance of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the “soft power” which enables the UK to influence countries around the world. At Kaleidoscope Trust, in partnership with frontline activists and organisations from more than 50 countries, we regularly work with the FCO to influence a wide range of decision-makers to support effective and sustainable responses to LGBT+ equality globally.
For IDAHOBIT, Programme Coordinator Katsiaryna Borsuk spoke on a panel event organised by the FCO’s LGBT staff association ‘FCOflagg’. The purpose of the discussion was to help educate FCOflagg members on the challenges and opportunities within the international LGBT+ human rights movement. When asked about the most important challenges in expanding justice and protection for LGBT+ people around the world and the role of the UK government in supporting them, she made the point that it is crucial that the government remain committed to international human rights standards and principles. Borsuk emphasised the need to amplify the achievements of LGBT+ activists operating in restricted environments, especially given the trending erosion of fundamental human rights and the growing closure of civil society space.
Fellow panellist Peter Laverack, a human rights barrister from 5 Essex Court who supported The Commonwealth Equality Network member I Am One in decriminalising homosexuality in Trinidad & Tobago, pointed out that, without long-lasting and sustainable support, it is very easy to lose momentum in effective law enforcement and community empowerment even when the decriminalisation of same-sex relations is achieved in some countries.
Glenroy Murray, a Jamaican LGBT+ rights defender from The Commonwealth Equality Network member J-FLAG, recognised the inevitable sensitivity around, and criticism of, Britain’s colonial legacy, and stressed the importance of any initiatives backed by the UK government in the Caribbean being owned and led by local movements – something which often tends not to be the case.
Baroness Joyce Anelay, former Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, highlighted the importance for Britain to preserve relations with existing allies and make new ones in the furthering of justice and equality globally, especially after Brexit. The Baroness also invited everyone, be it FCO staff members or overseas activists, to never refrain from demanding more when it comes to the protection and promotion of human rights nationally, regionally, and internationally.
Intersectionality, legal reform and LGBT+ activism in the Commonwealth
An issue that was further raised during the IDAHOBIT debate was that of intersectionality. Angela Eagle MP highlighted the need for change to be made across multiple fronts and noted the widespread, growing hatred against LGBT+ communities in the context of “ire at black and ethnic minority communities, religious minorities and foreign nationals.” Importantly, her remarks reminded the House that LGBT+ rights are part of a larger, intersectional struggle.
As our work with The Commonwealth Equality Network – a network of 51 organisations from 45 countries, for which we host the Secretariat – demonstrates, we can only tackle LGBT+ rights by working intersectionally. This is not least because of the diverse identities that exist within the LGBT+ umbrella, including different ethnic backgrounds, abilities, class statuses and educational backgrounds, but also the multiple intersections of power (such as homophobia and classism) that create additional barriers to people based on those intersecting identities.
Intersectionality was first coined by black feminist academic Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, as a response to the “tendency to treat race and gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis.” On 28th May, Crenshaw will be joined in an interactive discussion with our incoming Executive Director, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah. Free tickets to the event are available here.
One of The Commonwealth Equality Network’s most significant achievements to date has been its contribution to Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in 2018, during which she expressed the UK’s deep regret for the discriminatory colonial-era laws that criminalise same-sex relations and fail to protect women and girls. She also announced funding for the Equality & Justice Alliance, which focuses on legal reform to address this legacy and of which Kaleidoscope Trust is a partner. Through this FCO-funded programme, we and partners are working to build new, and strengthen existing, intersectional civil society movements in and across Commonwealth countries to advance equality and promote equal protection of the law for all Commonwealth citizens, regardless of gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Raising the prime minister’s words during the debate, Sir Alan Duncan MP expressed his delight at last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, describing it as “the most progressive ever on LGBT[+] rights.” We are proud of the vital work that we and partners drove forward in the lead up to, at and after this CHOGM and seek to build on this on the road to CHOGM 2020 in Rwanda.
During The Commonwealth Equality Network’s first-ever global convening in Mauritius this past March, over 50 of the network’s LGBT+ activists representing 36 Commonwealth countries worked together to develop our strategy for the upcoming CHOGM. As Crispin Blunt MP affirmed when he commended the Network’s work: “When people stand up together to challenge exclusion, they can achieve great things.”
Kaleidoscope Trust is proud to work in consortia with multiple organisations, stakeholders and individuals, and we would like to echo Dawn Butler MP’s expression of thanks for the work of our fellow civil society partners, whom we fight alongside in support of LGBT+ rights both domestically and internationally.
We would also like to thank every single parliamentarian who stood in support of the LGBT+ community during the IDAHOBIT debate, including Nick Herbert MP, Chris Elmore MP, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP, Mark Menzies MP, Sandy Martin MP, Angela Eagle MP, Justine Greening MP, Crispin Blunt MP, Martin Whitfield MP, Lyn Brown MP, Gillian Keegan MP, Wes Streeting MP, Bambos Charalambous MP, Mhairi Black MP, Dawn Butler MP and Minister Alan Duncan. We could not do our work without the support of our friends in Parliament.
Diplomatic roundtable at Australia House
The following afternoon, we were delighted to partner with the Australian High Commission to host the diplomatic community over a roundtable in the celebration of IDAHOBIT. Diplomatic missions are key allies in Kaleidoscope Trust’s work and are critical players in helping to advance LGBT+ equality internationally, through extending support to civil society organisations or directly engaging diplomatic counterparts from countries that continue to criminalise same-sex intimacy.
Supporting Global South LGBT+ civil society
Opening the meeting, the Deputy High Commissioner of Australia Matt Anderson emphasised Australia’s commitment to unpacking the diverse experiences within the LGBT+ communities. A cornerstone of Kaleidoscope Trust’s work is drawing attention to the lived experiences of LGBT+ people in the Commonwealth. As an organisation working intimately with civil society in the Global South, we welcome any opportunity to ensure there is direct representation from civil society. Jamaican activist Glenroy Murray advised the gathered delegates that “there should be a minimum standard of engagement with LGBT+ activists and civil society across all High Commissions”, including seemingly straightforward processes such as ensuring a coordinated system where consular services are supportive when LGBT+ activists apply for visas.
UN Independent Expert on the protection of violence and discrimination based on SOGI
The deputy high commissioner further highlighted how LGBT+ rights are one of ten priorities for Australia during its membership at the UN Human Rights Council. Participants discussed the renewal of the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on protection from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity coming up in June and how coordinated efforts from countries will be paramount in ensuring its continuation.
Reflecting on countries’ roles in LGBT+ rights
This June, the UK is taking on a further global LGBT+ equality leadership role when Canada and Chile hand over Co-Chairpersonship of the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC). The ERC is an intergovernmental mechanism dedicated to the protection of the rights of LGBT+ persons. As current co-chair of the ERC, Canada has stepped up efforts in its support to LGBT+ rights at home and internationally, committing CAD $30 million to LGBT+ civil society over the next five years. The representative of Canada offered her goverment’s support to the UK as it takes up this mantle. Commenting on the UK’s approach to its leadership of the ERC, the FCO representative in attendance said the UK wants to “shake the ERC up” — an exciting indication for the future direction of this group. You can read more about Kaleidoscope Trust’s involvement in the ERC here.
On reflecting on their position (33rd) on the ILGA-Europe ranking, the representative from Cyprus commented that there is some way to go but Cyprus has also come along way when it comes to promoting and protecting LGBT+ rights. On the other side of the world, the representative from New Zealand explained that LGBT+ rights is a priority issue for Prime Minister Jacinda Arden – the country’s first prime minister to attend New Zealand’s annual Pride march – and that New Zealand want to progress further both at home and abroad. We were also pleased to be joined by representatives from the Rwandan High Commission, who are working with the UK to prepare for CHOGM 2020 in its role as the current Commonwealth Chair-in-Office. As upcoming hosts, Rwanda is keen to ensure that equality for all is a key message that resounds.
At the end of the meeting, Paul Dillane, executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust, thanked the participants for their useful insights, highlighting the pivotal role of the diplomatic community in driving forward LGBT+ equality across the world. He called for the countries represented in the room to work with their diplomatic allies to ensure that LGBT+ equality remained a priority issue and that they continue to support the vital work of LGBT+ civil society, particularly in criminalising countries.
As the brief outline of some of the days’ conversations suggest, our work with diplomatic missions is integral to our LGBT+ human rights work. Particular thanks goes to our hosts the Australia High Commission for their continued support and partnership.
A busy, exciting IDAHOBIT 2019
We at Kaleidoscope Trust firmly believe that dialogue and engagement are a key way forward to ensure that all LGBT+ people can choose who they love and live a life free from discrimination and violence. Our work with diplomatic missions, parliamentarians and government departments continues to provide critical support by way of resources; key intelligence to ensure our advocacy efforts are strategic; support in cases where LGBT+ people are persecuted and security is undermined; and safe spaces to hold events and meetings.
We look forward to strengthening our work with all these partners and hope that the spirit of this day remains throughout the rest of the year for LGBT+ people across the globe!