New Commonwealth head speaks out for LGBT rights

The new Commonwealth Secretary-General has said she hopes to “build a consensus” on LGBT issues.

40 of the 53 Commonwealth member states continue to criminalise homosexuality, many under archaic British colonial-era laws.

Despite urging from activists, Commonwealth leaders rarely speak out on LGBT issues – which have not been raised at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 66 years.

LGBT rights were again kept off the agenda at the most recent CHOGM in Malta over the weekend – but the new Commonwealth head says she hopes to make progress on the issue.

At CHOGM, former UK Labour minister Baroness Scotland, who was nominated by her native Dominica for the role, beat Antiguan diplomat Sir Ronald Sanders and Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba of Botswana to become the 6th Commonwealth Secretary-General.

A keen supporter of LGBT rights, Baroness Scotland has wasted no time in calling for reform – though she warned there must be a “consensus” on the issue.

The new Secretary-General told the Independent on Sunday: “What we have to accept is that this [decriminalising homosexuality] is something that will depend on consensus.

“We do not have the right or opportunity to force states, but we can start a really good conversation to work with them so they understand the economic issues in relations to human rights and make the change.

“The one thing I have to do is to build consensus and trust and I can hope it will [be on the next CHOGM agenda].”

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I congratulate Baroness Scotland on her appointment as the new Commonwealth secretary-general.

“The UK wanted the strongest possible candidate to steer the Commonwealth through reform, to ensure that it has a voice on the most pressing global challenges and to unite countries behind the Commonwealth’s values such as the protection and promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
New Commonwealth head speaks out for LGBT rights
“I believe Baroness Scotland is the right person to do that and I look forward to working with her in the years ahead.”

The next CHOGM is set to take place in 2017.