The Equality Network Gets it Wrong

There’s so much that the Equality Network gets right but to be honest, I’m of the view that they got it wrong this weekend. An article appeared in the Scotsman giving a few glimpses of what the Equality Network is planning during the Commonwealth Games. Apparently there is to be a Pride House which will highlight work done for LGBT rights in different commonwealth countries. Well, so far so good, what’s not to like?

Indeed, the idea of highlighting the work of LGBT rights organisations across the Commonwealth is a very good one indeed and I wish it every success.

What concerned me greatly was this comment from a staff member at the Equality Network:

What we won’t be doing is outwardly criticising Commonwealth countries because the last thing I think that is useful for LGBT people in those countries is for the former colonial power to be saying this is how we do it and we do it right and you are wrong when in fact the majority of the homophobic laws in these countries were put in place by the former colonial power.

Now, that just doesn’t seem right to me.

The Equality Network has been quite up front about criticising Russia in the last few months. Why on earth would we tone it down when we are talking about Commonwealth Countries with which we have much stronger ties and much greater influence? Yes, it is indeed true that we must be sensitive to where homophobic laws in Commonwealth countries came from. That hardly means that we have no right to speak out about government actions today.

To put it bluntly, if the President of Uganda signs the bill which is before him which will bring in life sentences for gay people in that country and prison sentences for anyone who knows about someone being gay and who does not report it then I expect to have something to say about it. Not only that, I expect the Equality Network to have something to say about it and to do so loudly during the Commonwealth Games if necessary. If the President of Uganda signs that bill I expect Alex Salmond to refuse to shake the hand that signed it and those of any other government ministers from that country who turn up in Glasgow.

I saw on twitter last night that it wasn’t just me who thought the emphasis in this article was misguided. There were other voices too and some of us have been the Equality Network’s greatest supporters in recent months. Rather surprisingly, we were not listened to but argued with.

I think the Equality Network has got it wrong on this. There is very likely to need  to be very direct protests about governments whose officials will be showing up in Scotland with the rest of the Commonwealth this summer.

It simply isn’t good enough to say that we must represent the views of LGBT networks in those countries. They, like the Equality Network, are in hugely privileged positions. We can’t possibly know what gay folk on the ground think in many countries simply because they are left almost entirely voiceless by forces of oppression and homophobia.

If they can’t protest the actions of their governments others can. Indeed, that’s how decent people who care about the world behave.

The Equality Network need to continue their brilliant plan for a Pride House at the Commonwealth Games and make sure they are robustly prepared to use it as a platform to speak out clearly and stridently against cruelty, oppression and hatred whether it comes from individuals or from government ministers. If it comes from the latter, the Equality Network is well placed to whisper in the ears of Scottish Ministers and make sure that they behave equally appropriately and robustly.

As a gay member of Scottish society who has done my bit for the Equality Network, I expect no less. The gay kid in Kampala who is unrepresented by anyone because he is terrified and can speak to no-one should expect no less either.

Of course we must directly criticise homophobic Commonwealth governments. How could we do anything else?


  1. Augur Pearce says

    Absolutely. Not only were the laws in many cases imposed during British administration, but they were rooted in the mind of many local people and their descendants by British Christians in missionary or other influential ecclesiastical positions. Both the legislators, and the Victorian missionaries or bishops, were deeply wrong: and if it is right for us to see that, and say sorry for it, it is also right that we do our bit to correct it. Not perhaps by imposing change, in those territories which we no longer govern; but certainly by the sorts of pressure that one independent nation or one autonomous church can always legitimately bring to bear on another. In the case of Uganda, anyway, we are not talking about a law imposed under colonial government.

  2. Bro David says

    Jamaica has the absolute worst track record of mistreatment of GLBT folks in the Western Hemisphere. Jamaicans chase GLBT people down in the streets and murder them and the police aid and abet the perpetrators and the government condones it.

    They should be barred from your games until they emerge into the 21st Century with regard to human rights.

  3. Agree about Jamaica. I guess people may also have seen this vile titbit in the Independent before Christmas about a “Christian Concern” speaker (also a member of the English General Synod ) encouraging Jamaicans to lobby against the repeal of laws which would decriminalise gay sex.
    A despicable linking of the death of Tom Daley’s father to his suddenly ‘becoming gay’

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