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This week, human rights will arrive in Glasgow to join athletes and journalists in advance of the Commonwealth Games, to highlight human rights issues in the Commonwealth.
On the eve of Glasgow Pride and in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games, the University of Glasgow’s LGBTI Human Rights in the Commonwealth conference will bring focus on the difficulties faced by LGBT+ citizens living in nations within the Commonwealth.
This comes as activists in the UK, such as artist Vince Laws, highlight that 42 out of the 53 states still in the Commonwealth continue to criminalise same-sex sexual behaviour between adults – a legacy of Victorian legislation left in place by English colonial rulers.
In some nations, such as Uganda, this legacy has been propped up or worsened by more recent legislation, while in others – such as India – the battle for decriminalisation seems to be floundering.
The conference takes place on Friday 18 July. Keynote speakers include Fiona Hyslop MSP – Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs; Frank Mugisha – Executive Director, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG); and Purna Sen – Former Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat and current Chair of Kaleidoscope Trust.
Senior Lecturer in the Glasgow Human Rights Network at the University of Glasgow, Dr Matthew Waites, said: ‘The primary reason for the criminalisation that we see in Commonwealth nations today is the British Empire, which historically outlawed same-sex sexual acts around the world.
‘We are interested in promoting self-conscious recognition of the historical responsibility of British imperialism for the criminalisation of relationships that exists today. From that starting point we can then discuss our revulsion at recent renewals and extensions of colonial criminalisation and how to address these inequalities.’
‘Across the Commonwealth lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are denied equal access to rights, education, employment, housing and healthcare, often on the basis of laws that date back to the British Empire,’ said Dr Purna Sen, Chair of Kaleidoscope and former Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat. ‘While it is important to note the colonial origins of much homophobic legislation, Commonwealth nations and the Commonwealth itself must do much more to uphold the values of anti-discrimination set out in the Commonwealth Charter.’
The Equality Network, Scotland’s LGBT+ equality and human rights organisation, leads the conference in partnership with the Glasgow Human Rights Network at the University of Glasgow, and both the Kaleidoscope Trust and Pride Glasgow.