For the first time the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) people have been discussed as part of the Commonwealth People’s Forum the official civil society gathering held in advance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Two discussions have been held to packed rooms within the main agenda to explore the impact of discrimination and criminalisation on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and also reflect growing progress in Commonwealth countries for LGBTI rights.
The first of these was an innovative policy dialogue between LGBTI activists from across the Commonwealth and policy makers including UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development Minister, Baroness Sandip Verma, and Maltese Minister for Civil Liberties, Dr Helena Dalli.
The dialogue included activists from across the Commonwealth including from some of the 40 of the 53 Commonwealth countries that still criminalise consensual, adult same-sex activity and where LGBTI people face discrimination and persecution, and in some cases even the death penalty.
But after decades of inaction in the Commonwealth change is happening. The discussion covered recent progress in Malta and urged the Commonwealth to do more to learn from the best practice of its members. Speaking at the event Minister Dalli said:
We need to ensure that when the dust settles on this CHOGM, all political leaders will remember the voices of LGBTI people for recognition and respect during this Forum, and act on them in concrete ways.
These sessions are just one example of policy makers overseeing progress on equality and followed remarks made by the Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, in his address to the People’s Forum which condemned criminalisation. Sharma stated,
We embrace difference, and that includes sexual identity. Discrimination and criminalisation in any form on grounds of sexual orientation is incompatible with our Commonwealth values.
A new report released this week by the Kaleidoscope Trust documents that 90% of Commonwealth citizens that live in a jurisdiction that criminalises LGBTI people. Speaking Out 2015 is the biennial report on the state of LGBTI people’s rights across the Commonwealth. It includes personal testimony highlighting the challenges that LGBTI people face in member states and includes recommendations to this CHOGM from The Commonwealth Equality Network.