Around 80 LGBT+ rights defenders protested in London as the Queen, the UK Prime Minister and High Commissioners celebrated Commonwealth Day 2018.
The protesters demanded decriminalisation in 37 of the 53 Commonwealth nations that still outlaw homosexuality, encompassing one billion people. Nine of these countries have life imprisonment for gay sex and in parts of two, Nigeria and Pakistan, there is the death penalty.
Monday’s protest at Westminster Abbey, as dignitaries arrived for the celebration, included LGBT+ people from across the Commonwealth and was coordinated by the Peter Tatchell Foundation working with 14 other UK-based human rights groups.
The protesters’ key demands include that the Commonwealth decriminalise same-sex relations; prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and protect LGBT+ people from hate crimes.
“LGBT+ issues have never been discussed, not even once, by Commonwealth leaders at any of their summits over the last six decades,” said Tatchell, a veteran human rights campaigner. “Surely, in 2018 the Commonwealth heads of government should address the state-sanctioned persecution of more than 100 million LGBT+ Commonwealth citizens?”
The protest against Commonwealth homophobia included LGBT+ citizens who have been driven from their home countries after often violent persecution because of their sexuality or gender identity.
Abbey, who escaped Uganda, said he “came from hell, with cigarette burns in both my palms and on my legs, scars on my face which resulted from the constant beating. I went through every kind of human degradation.”
Next month, campaigners will hand a petition to the Commonwealth’s Secretary General; it currently has over 90,000 signatures and is growing. The petition is timed to coincide with the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which is being held in London and Windsor in April.
“Commonwealth countries account for half of the world’s 72 nations where same-sex relations are illegal. Hate crimes against LGBT+ people are widespread and unchecked in these countries,” said Tatchell.
“More than 100 million LGBT+ people living in Commonwealth counties have no legal protection against discrimination in employment, housing, education, health care and the provision of good and services. This makes a mockery of Commonwealth values and the human rights principles of the Commonwealth Charter.”
“The London summit is an opportunity to debate this issue and hear the voices of LGBT+ people from across the Commonwealth. It is time to end the unabated persecution,” insisted Tatchell.