The Speaker of Britain’s House of Commons, John Bercow, has said the Commonwealth should be used to help decriminalize homosexuality in countries around the world.
Bercow, was speaking at an event run by new global LGBT rights organization Kaleidoscospe today (16 May) ahead of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) tomorrow.
Among those in the audience at the Commonwealth Club in central London were Britain’s equality minister, Lynne Featherstone MP, as well as other parliamentarians.
While Bercow, as the chair of parliamentary debates, is not allowed to comment on British domestic affairs, he said he was pleased to be able to use his role as president of Kaleidoscope to keep up his established advocacy on gay and trans issues.
And he called on Britain to show leadership on LGBT issues this year while the Olympics and World Pride were putting the world’s eyes on the country.
In particularly he singled out the Commonwealth, headed by Britain’s Queen, as an opportunity to make a difference.
At the moment, there are 41 Commonwealth countries in the list of 78 nations which criminalize same-sex activity, with punishment in a few ranging up to the death penalty.
Speaking of these countries, Bercow said: ‘This is a clear violation of the rights of their citizens.
‘The framework of engagement amongst Commonwealth nations provides us with a great opportunity to work with those 41 countries with such unjust legislative prohibitions on homosexuality.
‘The Commonwealth is often called a family, and we all know that families have different views, and sometimes fall out. But the strength of families is that there is a strong base upon which to settle our differences – let’s use it.’
While highlighting positive change in countries as far apart as Jamaica and Australia, Bercow also used his speech to speak about anti-gay moves in Russia, Nigeria, Hungary, Malaysia and elsewhere.
Bercow said: ‘Prejudice, intolerance and persecution on the basis of sexuality are a denial of humanity. Such treatment is sentencing people to a life of fear, self-doubt, and self-loathing. It is the theft of one of our most fundamental instincts – to love, and to be love.
‘This issue is so much more than politics or diplomacy. It is about the subjugation of a fellow human being’s freedom. It is painful. It is demeaning. It is dehumanizing.’
The event also promoted the work of Kaleidoscope’s new ‘Leadership Forum’. This aims to support LGBT rights leaders around the world and give them resources to help them in their work as well as a chance to share their own expertise.
But Bercow emphasized that there is not one ‘blueprint’ for change and said Kaleidoscope’s role is to ‘ask what it can do to help and shape its agenda accordingly’.
The evening was sponsored by professional services firm Ernst & Young. You can find out how to support Kaleidoscope Trust by visiting its website.