On April 19, hundreds of LGBTQ activists protested at Marlborough House, the Commonwealth Headquarters on Pall Mall in London. Following a week of protests, they were demanding decriminalization of homosexuality in 36 of the 53 Commonwealth nations where it’s still outlawed, and they condemned a lack of leadership by Commonwealth heads of government who refused to discuss the persecution of millions of LGBTQ people living within their borders. Many LGBTQ people from across the world participated in the Commonwealth protest series of events, including some who have been driven from their home countries following violence or persecution because of their sexuality or gender identity.
Commonwealth protest organizer Peter Thatchell says, “The Commonwealth is a bastion of homophobia. Seventy percent of the member states have anti-LGBT+ laws and fail to protect LGBTs against discrimination and hate crime. The biennial Commonwealth summit has for six decades refused to debate, let alone support, LGBT+ equality. This year is no different. Once again, LGBT+ rights have been excluded from the leader’s agenda. We’re saying to the Commonwealth, time’s up on blocking debate. Time’s up on homophobic criminalization, discrimination and violence.”
These laws are the legacy of British colonialism and have a direct impact on LGBTQ people around the globe. In nine commonwealth countries, life imprisonment is the punishment for gay sex, and in parts of Nigeria and Pakistan LGBTQ people can be put to death.
Abbey, a Commonwealth protest attendee who escaped Uganda, says, “I came from hell, with cigarette burns on both my palms and on my legs, scars on my face from the constant beating. I went through every kind of human degradation.”
Last week LGBTQ campaigners delivered a petition to Commonwealth leaders bearing 104,115 signatures. The petition urged Commonwealth leaders to:
- Decriminalize 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 national LGBTQ organizations
Olympian and Commonwealth Games gold medalist Tom Daley sent a message of support to the protest: “Shockingly, half the countries in the world that criminalize homosexuality are in the Commonwealth, which is why I am fully supportive of the Peter Tatchell Foundation and others who are trying to correct this terrible injustice.”
“As I compete around the world, it’s important that I can focus on my sport and not worry about the reaction to my sexuality,” Daley said. “I believe the Commonwealth should be a forum that protects the rights of all its citizens and not support governments that make criminals out of at least 100 million people.”
Edwin Sesange from the African Equality Foundation adds, “It is time these 36 Commonwealth countries accepted their LGBT+ citizens. Homophobia should be expunged from the Commonwealth. Anti-gay laws in Commonwealth countries are mostly the result of colonialism. They should be scrapped.”
The Commonwealth protest in London was organized by the Peter Thatchell Foundation working in collaboration with The Commonwealth Equality Network, KaleidoscopeTrust, UK Black Pride, African Equality Foundation, Equality Network, African Rainbow Family, Movement for Justice, House of Rainbow, Out & Proud African LGBTI, Micro Rainbow, Africa Advocacy Foundation, Rainbow Across Borders, African Eye Trust and Manchester Migrant Solidarity.