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Sir Elton John and husband David Furnish have lent their backing to young adults from across the Commonwealth who joined forces this week to call for their governments to recognise and strengthen LGBTQI+ rights and tackle abuses, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2018, taking place in London this April.

In a letter of support, Sir Elton says “I urge you to work with advocates and influencers to engage in new, cross-boundary dialogue to develop greater understanding, compassion and tolerance of an individual’s sexuality.” Furnish, who married John in 2014 and serves as Chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, added “Growing up in Canada, being part of the Commonwealth was a source of great pride.  As an institution it has incredible potential to reset the balance in terms of human rights and human dignity. It would also have a huge impact on the HIV epidemic in the Commonwealth.”

Working with global advocates, charity leaders, academics and policy influencers, the international postgraduate students – all currently studying at UK universities – tackled these issues at a round-table conference, ‘Freedom & Sexuality: LGBTQI+ rights in the Commonwealth’, convened by Kaleidoscope Trust and Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park, on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 February.

The conference addressed the continuing human rights abuses that LGBTQI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) communities face daily, across the Commonwealth, where:
Same-sex relations are criminalised in 37* countries in the Commonwealth of Nations, with convictions often carrying a penalty of imprisonment, ranging from three years, to a life sentence.
More than 90% of Commonwealth citizens live in a jurisdiction that criminalises LGBTI people (Kaleidoscope Trust, 2015)

High-profile participants in the conference, alongside the 36 international student delegates, included: Crispin Blunt MP; Baroness Liz Barker (LGBT Spokesperson, Liberal Democrats); Paul Dillane, (Executive Director, Kaleidoscope Trust), the Reverend Jide Macaulay (Founder & CEO, House of Rainbow CIC); Jonah Chinga (Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya); and Donnya Piggott (Barbados Gays and Lesbians Against Discrimination).

Sir Stephen Wall, former Foreign Policy Adviser at 10 Downing Street, Chair of Trustees at Cumberland Lodge and Chair at the Kaleidoscope Trust, commented: “This conference allowed the voices of young people from different countries and backgrounds to be heard and to send a message that the baton is passing to a new generation with a different and more inclusive view of the world.”

A conference statement was produced which calls on the governments of Commonwealth nations to:

  • Affirm that the rights of LGBTQI+ people are human rights as defined by the United Nations, and uphold these alongside the rights of those facing other forms of discrimination.
  • Commit to decriminalise same-sex sexual activity among consenting adults, and enshrine the rights of LGBTQI+ people in anti-discrimination legislation.
  • Adopt the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10 which affirm binding legal standards with which all states must comply.

A full version of the conference statement is available here.

A link to the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10 can be found here.

A link to the Kaleidoscope Trust’s report, ‘Speaking Out 2015: The Rights of LGBTI People Across the Commonwealth’ is available here.

* N.B. Gambia has rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations in February 2018, so previous reports referring to 36 states are out-of-date.

Read the conference statement