CHOGM can hold governments accountable on gay issues, NGOs say

Members of the CHOGM Equality Network discussed the role of the Commonwealth in terms of LGBTI issues

CEO of Tonga's Leiti Association Joleen Mataele (Photo: Ray Attard)
CEO of Tonga's Leiti Association Joleen Mataele (Photo: Ray Attard)

CHOGM has to hold governments accountable and keep promises made on LGBTI issues, Jonah Chinga of the Kenyan Gay and Lesbian coalition told MaltaToday over what the Commonwealth can do when its own members criminalise homosexuality, like in Uganda.

“These meetings should provide civil society with the opportunity to actively engage in conversation with LGBTI groups and individuals, which might not always be easy to come by in all countries,” Chinga said.

“They also allow civil society to keep an eye on the actions and decisions of their governments.”

Philippa Drew, representing the British Equality Network, said that although the Commonwealth couldn’t effectively intervene in situations where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation were rampant or where homosexuality was still punishable by law, CHOGM allowed its members to unite in condemning the violence against certain groups and pass on the message that it is not acceptable.

“Countries should also unite to give people equal access to services including health, education, empolyment and social services among others, regardless of sexual orientation,” Drew said, poinintg out that this year’s CHOGM was the first to place LGBTI issues on such an influential platform, dedicating a forum exclusively to it, and that this augured well for the next couple of years when Malta would be chairing the Commonwealth.

“While our country still has challenges to face in this respect, we hope that it will be able to use its experience and push some of the changes it has experienced itself to other Commonwealth members,” chair of the Maltese LGBTI consultative council Gabi Calleja said during the forum.

Calleja said that the education sector was one of the sectors where more action was needed and where challenges continued to arise.

“Some 35% of students in Malta attend church schools, which means they might not always be exposed to environments that are supportive of LGBTI issues.”

Calleja also urged politicians and governments of the Commonwealth to stand up to be counted in giving LGBTI groups what they were due.

Chaired by Aditus Foundation director Neil Falzon, the forum sought to present LGBTI challenges from different countries and how the Commonwealth could continue to highlight the needs and ongoing battles being fought by LGBTI groups.

“Everybody need security and in the Commonwealth security is a great issue,” Chinga said during the debate, where he also spoke of the challenges his country and his organisation in particular had experienced.

Caleb Orozco, one of the founders of an LGBTI group from Belize called Unibam, said that one of the main issues faced by LGBTI groups were restrictions faced by same-sex couples in things like adoption, as well as the protection of people against violence motivated by homophobia.

CEO of Tonga’s Leiti Association Joleen Mataele also spoke about her own experience as a transgender woman and she explained how she had always found music as an effective vehicle to fight homophobia, finishing off her speech with a rendition of ‘You Raise Me Up’, to much applause from the audience.