Tim Hopkins: Gay rights can no longer be ignored

John Barrowman performs during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.  Picture: Ian Walton/Getty Images
John Barrowman performs during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Picture: Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Last night’s Games opening ceremony was watched by hundreds of millions around the world, cheering on their national teams and celebrating friendship between the 53 Commonwealth member states.

But with the eyes of much of the world focused on Scotland, we would be failing as friends if we did not recognise human rights abuses where they are happening in the Commonwealth. From the failure to investigate alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka and the harassment of voluntary organisations and journalists there, to the revival last December of a law criminalising same-sex relationships for India’s 1.2 billion people, we cannot ignore the human rights of our fellow people.

As a national Scottish organisation working for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality, the Equality Network has a particular responsibility to stand together with LGBTI people across the Commonwealth.

In 42 of the 53 Commonwealth countries, same-sex relationships are criminalised. In almost all cases, those criminal laws were originally imposed by Britain. But there has been too little progress in much of the Commonwealth in recognising that the right to choose our partner regardless of gender, and other aspects of LGBTI equality, are now established human rights recognised by international bodies such as the United Nations.

In some parts of the Commonwealth, things have been going in the opposite direction, with Uganda and Nigeria introducing stringent anti-gay laws, and Brunei attempting to introduce the death penalty for same-sex relationships.

Unsurprisingly, in Scotland, where same-sex marriage was approved by MSPs, many feel angry to hear what is happening in these countries.

So what can we do about it? First of all it is important to recognise that countries such as the UK do not have a monopoly on LGBTI rights. Other countries have been pioneers in this field. If we want to help LGBTI people and organisations in other countries, the key is to listen to what they need from us. That’s why the Equality Network, with partners, organised an international conference on LGBTI human rights in the Commonwealth, last Friday in Glasgow. The message from activists from countries such as Uganda and Nigeria was they need us to keep the issue on the agenda, and in the public eye. The protests against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act have made their government aware how widely such a law is considered unacceptable. Human rights activists from countries that persecute LGBTI people don’t want their countries boycotted, but they do want the Scottish and UK governments to keep on raising LGBTI human rights.

n Tim Hopkins is director of the Equality Network