UK

Queen's Commonwealth Pledge For 'Gay Rights' Criticised By Campaigners

11/03/2013 11:34 GMT | Updated 11/03/2013 11:49 GMT

A speech due to be given by the Queen heralded as a landmark for women and gay rights across Commonwealth countries has been criticised by LGBT campaigners because it does not mention the words "gay" or "lesbian" and fails to confront the realities of homophobic laws in many Commonwealth countries.

To mark Commonwealth Day, the Queen will sign a new charter on Monday backing equal rights for women and gay people in every Commonwealth nation - that leaders have committed to upholding.

It declares: "We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds."

The words "other grounds" have been interpreted as including sexuality.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told HuffPost UK that it was a "bit of a stretch" to see this speech and charter as a declaration in support of gay rights from the Queen. "She's made no such explicit commitment and not used any such words."

"While I doubt that Elizabeth II is a raging homophobe, she certainly doesn't appear to be gay-friendly. Not once during her reign has she publicly acknowledged the existence of the LGBT community."

"Indeed, in her 61 years on the throne, the Queen has never publicly uttered the words lesbian or gay. She is a patron of hundreds of charities but none of them are gay ones. Not once has she visited or supported a gay charity."

"Not surprisingly, the Commonwealth Charter does not include any specific rejection of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This was vetoed by the homophobic majority of member states. They blocked its inclusion."

The Queen will say in the preprepared televised speech: "Our shared values of peace, democracy, development, justice and human rights - which are found in our new 'Commonwealth Charter' - mean that we place special emphasis on including everyone in this goal, especially those who are vulnerable."

41 of the 54 Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexuality. Six of these countries name the punishment as life imprisonment, including Bangladesh.

In Jamaica, "the abominable crime of buggery" is subject to 10 years in prison with hard labour. Verbal and physical violence against homosexuals in Jamaica, ranging from beatings to murder, are widespread.

Most famously, Uganda is still considering legislation that would introduce the death penalty for gay offenders.

Nigeria is soon planning to outlaw same-sex marriage, and LGBT organisations and advocacy.

Writing in the Guardian, Patrick Strudwick said: "I will not celebrate silence. I will not join those cheering this supposed historic nod in our direction.

"Gay people of the Commonwealth deserve more than an inference; they need its head to speak of them and to them, to protect them. Until then, how are we to interpret this charter? Are we supposed to kneel?"

Ben Summerskill of Stonewall, said the Queen had taken “an historic step forward” on gay rights, and said “The Palace has finally caught up with public opinion.”

The Queen will not be attending the Commonwealth service at Westminster Abbey, as she continues to recover from gastroenteritis. The Duke of Edinburgh will now be the only senior royal representative but the Palace said the Queen would attend an evening reception where she will sign the charter.