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Time for the Commonwealth to show leadership on LGBT rights

Commonwealth leaders meeting in Perth, Australia, this weekend can no longer ignore the growing calls for laws that make being gay or lesbian a crime to be repealed.


The Kaleidoscope Trust, which has the support of David Cameron and the leaders of all the main UK political parties, calls on those meeting at CHOGM to recognise and protect the rights of LGBT people in their own countries and engage in a meaningful dialogue with them in the interests of human rights and natural justice.


The Kaleidoscope Trust welcomes the promise by William Hague to support the inclusion of support for LGBT rights in the final communiqué of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. There are some encouraging signs of progress but the Trust believes that changing public opinion is as important as changing unjust laws and this can only come about through discussion and an open and honest debate.


Kaleidoscope Trust spokesman Bisi Alimi, who was forced to flee his native Nigeria because of its anti-gay laws, said:


“Recent statements of support from Commonwealth leaders and others shows that calls for these discriminatory laws to be scrapped are being heard at last.


“Countries like India and South Africa have shown that legislation outlawing homosexuality can be repealed successfully. But the only way to make real progress towards ending discrimination and making the lives of gay and lesbian people safer is for the leaders to go away from Perth next week and start talking to their own people. The calls for justice are coming from the bottom as well as from the top and they can no longer be ignored.”


The Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, reaffirmed this week that Commonwealth values include:


‘a clear commitment to tolerance, respect and understanding. This means we embrace difference, and that includes sexual identity. Discrimination and criminalisation on grounds of sexual orientation is at odds with our values.' 


The Kaleidoscope Trust welcomes that commitment and urges the CHOGM meeting to support the proposal from the Eminent Person’s Group (EPG) for a new post of Commissioner for Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights.


Among the other recent positive statements are the call from the former President of Botswana, Festus Morgae, for his country to decriminalise homosexuality and the comment by the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangarai, supporting the inclusion of gay rights protection in his country’s new constitution. Mr. Tsvangarai, who hopes to lead Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth if he becomes President, said “it is a human right”.


Reports that the Ugandan parliament is to continue consideration of the controversial bill proposing the death penalty in some cases of ‘aggravated homosexuality’ is a timely reminder, however, that the threat of new legislation is ever-present.


Lance Price, Director of the Kaleidoscope Trust, said: “As Commonwealth leaders meet in Perth they must not be allowed to forget that in many member countries gay and lesbian people are in constant danger and the commitment to ‘tolerance, respect and understanding’ is all but meaningless for millions of citizens.”


The Kaleidoscope Trust deploys resources and expertise in support of those threatened by prejudice and criminal sanctions solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It encourages dialogue and cooperation between countries at different stages in the development of a diverse, prosperous and just society free from homophobia.