Removing Barriers to Diverse Civil Society and LGBTI Inclusion in the Perth Commonwealth People's Forum

Published: October 10, 2011

Dear Sir,

REMOVING BARRIERS TO DIVERSE CIVIL SOCIETY AND LGBTI INCLUSION IN THE PERTH COMMONWEALTH PEOPLE’S FORUM

Greetings, and congratulations on your appointment! We are a collective of activists from non-governmental organisations in Commonwealth nations in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Caribbean who are working to challenge laws and policies in our countries (often rooted in sodomy statutes introduced during their colonization) which criminalise and stigmatise same-sex sexuality and non-normative gender expressions. We also work to address discrimination and human rights violations against our communities, to strengthen ownership and respect for human and sexual rights, and to build societies that value equality, justice and autonomy. Since our frightening experience at the Commonwealth People’s Space at CHOGM in Kampala, Uganda, where activists for LGBTI inclusion were humiliated and assaulted by state representatives and the public, we have engaged with the Commonwealth’s participatory civil society processes in different ways in pursuit of these goals. Notwithstanding the lack of a guarantee for our safety in 2007, in 2009 at CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago, a country whose laws forbid entry by people of homosexual orientation and provide for 25 years imprisonment for buggery, over 20 LGBTI activists from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, through coordinated civil society advocacy with our partners, achieved landmark inclusion of issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity within the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) and its Civil Society Statement. The openness of the 2009 organisers and participants and the participatory nature of the CPF were fundamental to our success. Through resisting violence and collaboration with others, we have built a platform for LGBTI inclusion in CHOGM of which the Foundation should be proud.

That is why we reach out to your office to express our frustration and seek your intervention in
relation to the upcoming Commonwealth People’s Forum in Perth, where we find ourselves
facing different structural barriers to participation. We are asking you to ensure at least five
LGBTI activists from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands from our group, who
have secured travel funding, are admitted as official delegates at the Commonwealth People’s
Forum and CHOGM 2011, and provided due assistance with obtaining visas. We understand that
under the rules of participation, with only 250 slots available, two of every five have been
reserved for Australian participants, leaving the rest of the world to compete for the remaining
three. We have not fared well in that competition and, although a number of us who faced
recognizable challenges in doing so have finally secured travel support, we have found
registration for CPF closed.

Our urgent reasons to press for inclusion should be clear. As the Foundation knows from our Greetings, and congratulations on your appointment! We are a collective of activists from non-governmental organisations in Commonwealth nations in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Caribbean who are working to challenge laws and policies in our countries (often rooted in sodomy statutes introduced during their colonization) which criminalise and stigmatise same-sex sexuality and non-normative gender expressions. We also work to address discrimination and human rights violations against our communities, to strengthen ownership and respect for human and sexual rights, and to build societies that value equality, justice and autonomy. Since our frightening experience at the Commonwealth People’s Space at CHOGM in Kampala, Uganda, where activists for LGBTI inclusion were humiliated and assaulted by state representatives and the public, we have engaged with the Commonwealth’s participatory civil society processes in different ways in pursuit of these goals. Notwithstanding the lack of a guarantee for our safety in 2007, in 2009 at CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago, a country whose laws forbid entry by people of homosexual orientation and provide for 25 years imprisonment for buggery, over 20 LGBTI activists from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, through coordinated civil society advocacy with our partners, achieved landmark inclusion of issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity within the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) and its Civil Society Statement. The openness of the 2009 organisers and participants and the participatory nature of the CPF were fundamental to our success. Through resisting violence and collaboration with others, we have built a platform for LGBTI inclusion in CHOGM of which the Foundation should be proud.

That is why we reach out to your office to express our frustration and seek your intervention in
relation to the upcoming Commonwealth People’s Forum in Perth, where we find ourselves
facing different structural barriers to participation. We are asking you to ensure at least five
LGBTI activists from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands from our group, who
have secured travel funding, are admitted as official delegates at the Commonwealth People’s
Forum and CHOGM 2011, and provided due assistance with obtaining visas. We understand that
under the rules of participation, with only 250 slots available, two of every five have been
reserved for Australian participants, leaving the rest of the world to compete for the remaining
three. We have not fared well in that competition and, although a number of us who faced
recognizable challenges in doing so have finally secured travel support, we have found
registration for CPF closed.

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