Artist and activist Vince Laws marks the hypocrisy of the Commonwealth’s anti-LGBT+ laws with an installation called Umbrellas of Love!
Umbrellas of Love! marks the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which are set to swoop into Glasgow on 23 July, and highlights the 41 countries that still outlaw LGBT+ love out of the 53 countries in the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth is a shadow of Empire which represents 52 of the former British territories included in the British Empire, plus the UK itself. Because the Empire reached its peak in the 19th Century, and local laws were replaced with English ones, the criminal codes established in most former British territories are directly descended from the Victorian statutes which England had in place at the time. In many cases, this includes the Victorians’ archaic prohibition against consenting intercourse between adult members of the same sex.
‘There are 53 countries in the Commonwealth, and in 41 it is illegal to be lesbian, bisexual, or gay,’ said Laws. ‘In 7 Commonwealth countries I could be imprisoned for life for being myself, and in 2 countries – in parts of Nigeria and parts of Pakistan under Sharia law – I could be executed because of who I love and who loves me.
‘I decided to paint the names of the 41 countries on white umbrellas and get them seen during the Commonwealth Gaymes. Because I’m a penniless poet, I appealed for donations to create Umbrellas of Love! and soon got enough to do all 86 countries* around the world where homosexuality is illegal.
‘I chose umbrellas because they are light and easy to carry, and because the Commonwealth is like a giant umbrella, only some people aren’t allowed to step under its protection. Each umbrella will have a giant letter on it, so collectively we can spell out:
LOVE IS A HUMAN RIGHT,
NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL,
WE ALL BLEED RED,
LOVE AND LET LOVE, and
COMMON WEALTH GAYMES.
‘I’m currently painting the umbrellas at my rural Norfolk home. Once painted, the Umbrellas of Love will be sent to Glasgow, where Amy McLachlan Sayer will organise a photo-opportunity or two, at Glasgow Pride on July 19, and at the Commonwealth Gaymes.
‘After Glasgow, the Umbrellas of Love will appear in the Norwich Pride Parade on Saturday 26 July. Then the Umbrellas of Love will be on display in Brighton for the Pride weekend August 2-3, details to be confirmed.
‘Thanks to everyone who has helped. Over 30 people chipped in and raised over £500 to make Umbrellas of Love! happen. I’m very proud of that.’
The Kaleidoscope Trust recently produced a report which directly links anti-LGBT+ legislation with violence and persecution against LGBT+ people in the Commonwealth. In the report, Dr Purna Sen writes,
‘Of the 53 member nations of the Commonwealth, 41 continue to criminalise consensual same-sex activities between adults. Over half the countries in the world that criminalise homosexuality are in the Commonwealth. Across the Commonwealth lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people are denied equal access to rights, education, employment, housing and healthcare.’
*The 86 countries include those where homosexual acts are illegal and those where legislation underpins homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-LGBT+ violence.
Images courtesy of Vince Laws