Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Commonwealth citizens remain victims of stigma and discrimination in many of our communities. Appalling persecution and violence are suffered merely because of innate sexual orientation and gender identity. Such abuse is unacceptable: it robs millions of our fellow citizens of the right to live lives of dignity, undermining their mental and physical health, and sense of well-being. It leads to social estrangement, ostracism and isolation, and economic marginalisation. It flies in the face of our core values of equality and non-discrimination.
I have previously stated that ‘discrimination has no place in the modern Commonwealth’. Our Commonwealth Charter sets out as a core value that ‘we the people of the Commonwealth … are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies’. The Charter, which was adopted by all our member states, further stresses that ‘we are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds’.
It is right to acknowledge and give due credit where there are examples of progress on LGBTI rights protection in the Commonwealth: for instance through the Universal Periodic Review process, with some member states having accepted recommendations to combat discrimination against LGBTI persons through political, legislative and administrative measures. Others have accepted recommendations calling for the improvement of LGBTI access to health care and welfare, or the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination through education awareness campaigns. There have also been notable judicial decisions which signal progress and positive change. However, much more needs to be done to realise international human rights obligations and to uphold the values of the Commonwealth Charter.
As a values-based organisation, our Commonwealth attitude must always be of respect and understanding. Indeed, our Charter affirms that ‘diversity and understanding the richness of our multiple identities are fundamental to the Commonwealth’s principles and approach’.
This International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, is an opportunity to celebrate this diversity, and to build on the progress we have already made. Let us find ways of working together to strengthen universal rights so that all our citizens are able to enjoy what should be their Commonwealth birth right.