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We Must Encourage a Truly Inclusive Commonwealth


14 March 2016 – Commonwealth Day


The Kaleidoscope Trust welcomes the Commonwealth’s 2016 theme: An Inclusive Commonwealth and the intention to recognise and celebrate the diversity of the more than two billion people who are Commonwealth citizens.


Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, who leaves his post at the end of this month, recently reflected that “discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity…remains one of our most pressing human rights challenges and we will continue to work with our member states towards inclusiveness.[1]


Inclusivity is meant to be a central Commonwealth value. The Commonwealth Charter asserts “We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.[2]”  Yet 40 out of 53 members of the Commonwealth have laws which criminalise same sex relationships in some way – representing over half the countries in the world that do so. Moreover few member states

protect the right to gender identity and/or expression for trans persons.


We must encourage a truly inclusive Commonwealth so that citizens whose sexual orientation is outside the heterosexual mainstream or whose gender identity/expression does not fit within binary genders are able to live lives free from the discrimination, harassment, marginalisation, persecution and violence they currently experience, to greater or lesser degree, in every member state.


The LGBT activists which the Trust works with through The Commonwealth Equality Network have been calling on Commonwealth leaders to “commit to open and free debate across the Commonwealth on how best to safeguard the rights of LGBTI people and engage in meaningful dialogue with their own LGBTI communities…about the means to remove all legal and other impediments to the enjoyment of their human rights.[3]

Baroness Patricia Scotland becomes Commonwealth Secretary General next month and has said that in order to advance the rights of LGBTI people in the Commonwealth she will help member states understand the "direct correlation between the human capacity, social development in a country and its wealth.[4]” She has also indicated that she will urge the Commonwealth to have “a real conversation, where we acknowledge the humanity in each other and bring out the best that there can be.[5]"


We welcome her action this year to realise a more inclusive Commonwealth, one that embraces sexual and gender diversity. We encourage her to maintain an ongoing focus on ensuring the inclusivity of LGBTI citizens of the Commonwealth both in her dialogue with member states as well as establishing a substantive agenda on the rights of LGBTI people item at the next Commonwealth Summit to be hosted by the UK in 2018.


Dr Felicity Daly, Executive Director


[1] Statement of the Commonwealth Secretary-General. 31st Session of the Human Rights Council United Nations Geneva, Switzerland. 2 March 2016.

[2] Charter of the Commonwealth. 2013.

[3] Kaleidoscope Trust. Speaking Out: 2015 The Rights of LGBTI People Across the Commonwealth. http://kaleidoscopetrust.com/speaking-out-report-2015/ 

[4] Commonwealth Secretary General Candidates Debate. November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cM5shb_MXDY&feature=youtu.be