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Our big chance to change the Commonwealth, help millions of LGBTIs

Our big chance to change the Commonwealth, help millions of LGBTIs

Protestors demanding LGBTI rights in the Commonwealth

Today, as African LGBTIs, we are asking the Commonwealth to make its next meeting a turning point for sexuality and gender identity.

It’s well known the majority of nations which criminalize homosexuality are in the Commonwealth – including many of the worst offenders, like Nigeria, Uganda and Brunei.

The next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will take place in the UK in 2018.

It will come 51 years after Britain made gay sex legal – getting rid of the law which it spread across its former empire and which still haunts LGBTIs in 40 out of the 53 Commonwealth countries today.

To have that meeting in the UK, which now has some of the best LGBTI laws in the world, is an opportunity we can’t miss.

We want the theme of the meeting to be ‘An inclusive Commonwealth based on equality and diversity for all’.

We want organizers to put lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex human rights on the main CHOGM 2018 agenda.

And we want them to invite openly LGBTI people from the Commonwealth to address the CHOGM leaders.

The exact theme of the conference has not yet been decided.

So, while 2018 seems a long way off, we now have a very short window to influence the theme.

We have today launched this petition to help.

And – if you live in a place where it is safe to do so – we want to urge you to write to your member of parliament and other elected representatives to ask them to support this bid.

Why today?

You probably don’t know but 14 March is Commonwealth Day and the Queen will be leading the celebration in Westminster Abbey in London.

This year’s theme for the day is An Inclusive Commonwealth.

We take it as a sign this institution can be made to listen on LGBTI rights and can become a tool to securing our freedom.

If we do, it could make a huge difference from Antigua to Zambia and from tiny countries like Tuvalu with only 10,000 people to giant nations like India with over 1.2billion.

The Commonwealth Charter asserts that everyone is equal and deserves to be treated fairly, whether they are rich or poor, without regard to their race, age, gender, belief or other identity.

Its member nations can no longer sweep the issue of equality for LGBTI citizens under the carpet or sugar coat it.

We need Commonwealth leaders to listen to us as the peoples of the Commonwealth.

We can no longer sit back and blame our history of colonization. Every country has the capacity to repeal these anti-LGBTI laws.

We do not expect the United Kingdom or any other LGBTI-friendly nation to tell these anti-LBGTI countries what to do about homosexuality. But we ask them to initiate a dialogue between these governments and their LGBTI citizens. And we ask them to offer their expertise and experience in how to repeal these laws.

If you are a citizen of a Commonwealth country or not, I hope you will support our campaign.

Edwin Sesange is director of the African Out and Proud Diamond Group.