This month, in the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, where half of my family still live, we saw the overturn of the ‘buggery laws’ that came from the former colonial rule of the British Empire. In the words of Tom Daley, made shortly after his Commonwealth Games 2018 gold-winning 10 metre synchronised dive with Dan Goodfellow, ‘I feel so lucky to be able to be openly who I am’. Yet this right should be the same for all, regardless of which nation a person is from.
Monday 16th April 2018 marks the first (Britain-based) Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, since 1997. It marks a time when 37 of the 53 Commonwealth nations still outlaw same sex relationships. Nine nations criminalise same sex intimacy with life imprisonment and parts of Nigeria and rural Pakistan have a maximum sentence of death. While there have been, without doubt, serious advances made across the globe in terms of LGBT+ rights and visibility, we have also seen a rise in hate motivated violent crimes against the LGBT+ community. To a greater or lesser extent, in all regions of the world, LGBT+ people are denied the right to freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. LGBT+ people continue to face violence and discrimination in jobs, health care and in education. This only leads to a decline in healthy relations and weaker economic outcomes for all.
Together with the TUC and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), we have supported the Commonwealth Trade Union Group and formed alliances across the globe. Trade unions are some of the oldest institutions of civil society in the Commonwealth. Over the many years, trade unions have been active in advancing the interests of members through collective bargaining, work-place organising, organised industrial action and through legal and other specialist training and representation for its members. The UK had an early role in trade unionism and in the birthplace of industrialisation. In most Commonwealth member countries today, there is at least one teachers union, a public or civil service union and a federation or trade union centre at the very least. For a number of member countries, trade unionism is strongly linked with political transformation.
This is why Monday's Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) trade union side event in support of LGBT+ rights was so important and inspirational. A meeting where progressive LGBT+ rights were jointly vocalised amongst a global network of political parties, trade union activists and inspiring activists. A common ground was found - LGBT+ rights are human rights and an attack on one person is an attack on all persons. Dignity and equality is the right of all members of the human family and this is the centre and foundation of freedom, justice and peace in this world.
Last year, 2017, TUC called on the TUC LGBT+ Committee to ensure LGBT+ rights stayed on the CHOGM agenda to help Commonwealth countries to meet their commitment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and commitment to equality and respect for all without discrimination on any grounds. Monday’s TUC organised side event helped fulfil that obligation.
Human rights and LGBT+ rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The TUC continues to work with the ITUC to promote LGBT+ rights globally, with a special focus on the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM).
Let us hope the forthcoming London-based CHOGM lives up to the golden opportunity it brings for civility and smart engagement to reinforce parliamentary democracy throughout the Commonwealth, by example and through opportunity. We aspire to love, to be economically self-reliant, educated holistically and drive forward the conversation of reforming colonial laws.