The Commonwealth countries, all 53 of them, have much in common, if only for the fact that they belong in a sort of united front. When it concerns equality for its citizens, for the purpose of this column, the LGBTQ community, the variations in equal rights are as different as the weather conditions.
Space will not allow me to mention each country, but I am able to give readers some idea as to the various policies and laws. Those countries that have laws of equality in place include Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. These are the places where LGBTQ folks are able to live in some sort of peace and mostly live contented lives.
Canada remains at the forefront and was the first to introduce laws of protection, pension benefits, equal marriage and other positive ways that have made the lives of LGBTQ people more tolerable and equal. That is not to say that Canada is out of the woods when it concerns equal treatment.
Other nations with equal rights written into the constitution have the same problems with discrimination and that remains a huge negative. The future looks more promising under the condition that awareness must be raised again, and again.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the Commonwealth summit in London recently and decided along with the U.K. to meet with LGBTQ activists to show continued support. Both countries have been pushing for LGBTQ rights to be on the agenda, but were rejected by the majority of member nations. These are the countries where same-sex relations are outlawed.
Trudeau said, “The LGBTQ issue is one of the most outstanding issues that demonstrate the Commonwealth isn’t as good at bringing people together around shared values and principles as they should be.”
There is huge opposition from other leaders. Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of the Commonwealth Equality Network, said, “I can’t even get close to my prime minister or president, so we need to use international platforms with leaders like Prime Minister Trudeau.”
Many leaders and their countries outrightly reject the LGBTQ community, making it impossible to even seek equality, and that alone may land someone in prison, or worse. Activists are threatened and placed in custody to face trial, if they are fortunate to have that luxury – places like African nations such as Ghanda, Uganda, Kenya and Zambia, among others. Others member nations such as Barbados, Jamaica, Singapore and India have strong anti-LGBTQ laws. These are just eight countries out of 53 where work to establish equality within the Commonwealth seems impossible.
If leaders continue on this path the world will certainly not realize an end to this blatant discrimination. As long as the imprisonments and death sentences are written into the law, the end is not in sight, at least not in the near future. It is doubtful that changes will occur at all.
Seven countries still have the death penalty and that is horrific. The Commonwealth of Nations must take action against the rogue countries and declare them non-members if change is not forthcoming. Problem is of course, they will have the majority vote, and that is the democratic way, however, at what expense? The credibility of such a huge “organized” world body is surely at stake. Human rights, equality for all, are not part of its foundation, but discrimination, against the LGBTQ community, imprisonment and in some cases the death penalty have been adequately proven.
Canada, the United Kingdom and some others are pushing for change. The pressure must be consistent, perhaps introducing sanctions for violation of human rights. Equal rights are human rights!
Gerard Veldhoven is a longtime activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. His column appears Wednesdays in The News.