Commonwealth grants recognition to LGBT Equality Network

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The Commonwealth has granted legal recognition to an LGBT group for the first time.

The group of countries, comprised primarily of former territories of the British Empire, have a poor record on LGBT rights.

Many maintain anti-gay laws that are a part of British colonial legacy, with archaic penal codes and laws criminalising gay sex that were simply never repealed across the vast majority of the Commonwealth.

In total at least 36 of the 53 Commonwealth member states criminalise homosexuality – from India to Barbados, Sri Lanka to Tonga.

Commonwealth grants recognition to LGBT Equality Network

However, over the past few years activists have made a concerted push to get the Commonwealth to address LGBT issues.

In a win today, the Commonwealth approved the accreditation of the Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN), making it the first LGBTI-focused organisation to be officially accredited by the Commonwealth.

Accreditation means that Equality Network activists will benefit from increased access to, participation in and information about Commonwealth matters.

LGBT activists from across the Commonwealth welcome the news.

Sri Lankan activist and chair of TCEN Rosanna Flamer-Caldera said: “Considering the process it takes, it is a small wonder and a great victory for TCEN to have been given accreditation as a Commonwealth organisation.

“I am certain TCEN can make great inroads into gaining LGBTI rights in the Commonwealth. I look forward to the day when all countries within the Commonwealth adhere to the principles of human rights and equality enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter, safeguarding LGBTI rights and upholding freedom and equality for all.”

Caleb Orozco of the United Belize Advocacy Movement said: “Finally, Commonwealth governments have acknowledged that their LGBTI citizens’ dignity and rights are a part of democratic principles that should be at the policy table.

“As a citizen of the Commonwealth, it gives me hope that states will not leave totally the defence of rights to be the burden, alone, of individuals.”

Paul Dillane of the Kaleidoscope Trust, said: “Let us be clear about the scale of the challenge: 36 countries in the Commonwealth continue to criminalise consensual same-sex acts and in many others LGBTI people experience discrimination and violence.

“TCEN provides an important platform for activists around the world to organise and collaborate in the struggle for equality and freedom. This decision provides TCEN with a vital opportunity to put the human rights of LGBTI people on the agenda.”

The Canadian government, which had recommended the accreditation, welcomed the news.

A statement said: “Canada is pleased to congratulate The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN) on its accreditation within the broader Commonwealth community.

“For more than a decade the Equality Network has challenged discrimination and countered homophobia and transphobia around the world—and today it represents a diversity of civil society organizations within the 52 member nations of the Commonwealth.

“This step will ensure that LGBTQ2 rights are an ever more important priority for the Commonwealth.”

Related: New Commonwealth head speaks out for LGBT rights