LGBT rights - a first for the Commonwealth

This World AIDS Day we’re pleased to chart the progress of our LGBT rights focused campaign, Paradise or Persecution, and we welcome the focus on LGBT rights from Khamalesh Sharma the Commonwealth Secretary-General – which is a Commonwealth first.

There has been growing support for the Alliance’s campaign to raise awareness of the criminalisation of LGBT people in over 75 countries, 40 of which are in the Commonwealth. A new report by the Human Dignity Trust details the extent of LGBT criminalisation in the Commonwealth. 

The public and politicians alike have been showing their support for the Alliance campaign. To date 30 MPs have signed an ‘early day motion’ in the UK Parliament, offering support for our campaign asking for the government to call for decriminalisation across the Commonwealth.

Speaking to the Independent on Sunday, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron said he was committed to promoting the rights of LGBT people and had raised the issue with the Commonwealth Secretary-General recently.

Secretary-General Sharma made LGBT rights a cornerstone of his speech at the People’s Forum at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) last month, saying: “Discrimination and criminalisation in any form on the grounds of sexual orientation is incompatible with our Commonwealth values.”

This year’s CHOGM was held in Malta, where Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat called for LGBT equality across the Commonwealth in his speech to open the official Heads of Government meeting stating: “We are still discussing criminalisation when the debate should be about non-discrimination and equality.”

© Nell Freeman for the Alliance

Getting to consensus

A new Secretary-General, Baroness Patricia Scotland, has been voted in and we hope that this historic shift will continue as Sharma passes the baton to her in April next year. Early signs are mixed, she was reported in the Independent as on one hand saying she would “absolutely” be talking to member states about LGBT rights, but on the other unable to guarantee that the issue would be on the agenda at the next CHOGM as it required “consensus”.

The next CHOGM will take place in London in 2018. We hope to see momentum build, and that our campaign will demonstrate to the new Secretary-General that there is public and political support for this issue.

Not only is it an abuse of human rights to discriminate people on the grounds of their sexual orientation but discrimination of LGBT people increases their risk of HIV infection. As Enrique Restoy, the Alliance’s Senior Advisor for Human Rights explains: “Alliance partners work in over 30 countries and see first-hand the effect that criminalisation has on LGBT people. In 2014 around 80% of the people we reached with HIV services were criminalised.

“In 2014 there were 2 million new HIV infections, 36.9 million people have the disease and 60% of people living with HIV are in Commonwealth countries. Efforts to prevent or treat our way out of the epidemic are hampered in places where those most at risk, including LGBT people, are criminalised. They are pushed away from services and often forced underground.”

Play Paradise or Persecution

To raise awareness and build support we launched Paradise or Persecution, an online quiz to encourage UK holiday makers to think twice about the ‘dream’ destinations that are a place of persecution for LGBT people and to take action. Play the quiz and take action here.

play POPFor media information and case studies, please contact:  Paul Hebden, Media Manager, International HIV/AIDS Alliance, +44 (0)1273 718949 or + 44 (0)7590 358391 or email phebden@aidsalliance.org