People don’t realise how homophobic the Commonwealth is

Ahead of this week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, a poll has found that most people greatly underestimate how many Commonwealth countries still have anti-gay laws.

The heads of Commonwealth states are currently gathering in Malta for their biennial summit, to discuss global issues.

Activists have urged leaders to discuss LGBT rights, as currently 40 out of the 53 member states criminalise homosexuality – including India, Uganda, Cameroon, Nigeria and Brunei.

Labour’s Lord Cashman challenged the UK government to advocate for the end of the laws, which are mostly hold-overs from British colonialism, at the meeting.

It comes after a poll conducted in the UK by YouGov for the AIDS Alliance found that people massively underestimate the scale of the issue – with most believing that just a handful of Commonwealth countries continue to persecute LGBT people.

The poll asked: “There are currently 53 countries in the Commonwealth. In your estimation, roughly how many of these do you think currently criminalise people for same-sex, sexual activity?”

Just nine percent of people correctly identified that more than 30 Commonwealth nations have anti-gay laws, with three-quarters of people either underestimating the issue or admitting they don’t know.

Half believed the number was lower than 20, 27 percent of people could make no guess at all, while 19 percent believed between 20 and 40 Commonwealth countries criminalise homosexuality.

UK International Development minister Baroness Verma is chairing a round table on LGBT issues at the Commonwealth meeting, though the issue is not high up on the overall agenda.

The minister said previously: “It is absolutely unacceptable in the 21st century that we are still looking at these issues, but we have to do it with sensitivity. We have to work with countries where these are sensitive issues and make sure that we continue to raise them while also working locally on the ground, with grass-roots organisations, to offer help and support.”

The poll also found that people greatly undestimate the number of anti-gay laws in force around the world.

Concerning, pollsters found that a fifth of gay people going on holiday don’t think about whether a country’s laws criminalise LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender) people – despite high profile cases of gay tourists being jailed in countries including Morocco
and Tunisia.

79 percent of LGBT people say they take such laws into consideration when going on holiday. Just seven percent of people did overall.

Karen Johnson, Global Campaign Co-ordinator at the Alliance said: “LGBT people are disproportionately affected by HIV and, in countries where LGBT people are criminalised, they are often driven away from HIV services fearing persecution.

“Eighty per cent of the LGBT people we reached in 2014 were criminalised in their countries.

“It is important that we raise public awareness of the scale of the problem, not only because it is a moral imperative, also because of the impact that criminalisation has on people’s access to HIV services.

“It will be impossible to end AIDS until all people – regardless of their identity or sexuality – can get access to health services and treatment.”