During the Commonwealth Games, which conclude today, Glasgow has been the focus of interest within the sporting world – as it fully deserves to be. The games have not only provided entertainment for the hundreds of thousands of spectators, but have also served to put the spotlight on the Commonwealth. While the principal emphasis has been on sporting achievement, disparate voices have expressed discontent towards human rights abuses within certain Commonwealth nations – in particular, challenging attitudes towards LGBTI equality.
Against this backdrop of concern the Equality Network, in conjunction with Glasgow Human Rights Network and the Kaleidoscope Trust, have put together an informative exhibition – entitled simply LGBTI People of the Commonwealth – that considers the experiences of LGBTI people across the Commonwealth, the achievements and ongoing campaigns of LGBTI activists, the human price of regressive and discriminatory anti-equality legislation, and political developments. This exhibition has been on display in Pride House for the previous few days, and will now tour Scotland from Rutherglen to Shetland.
The final product is an eclectic mixture of news, history and tribute to the many courageous fighters for equality – both those who are named and the multitudes of anonymous campaigners, some of whom have paid a huge personal cost for their stance. LGBTI People of the Commonwealth succeeds in being more than simply a directory of LGBTI-related facts pertaining to the Commonwealth; its greatest strength is its focus on people. This focus is naturally wide, as one would expect from something positively showcasing diversity, examining the general issues of oppression facing LGBTI people in addition to the more specific impact of individuals and organisations. What it does is to provide a voice of LGBTI communities around the Commonwealth, while avoiding the temptation to reduce this to a singular collective vocalisation. LGBTI People of the Commonwealth, through concentrating on the various issues and struggles facing LGBTI people in each of the 53 Commonwealth countries, paints a vivid portrait of a diverse worldwide community in which the struggle for equality and, sometimes, even acceptance is both ongoing and fraught.
The factual data is well-researched and the near-encyclopaedic detailing of the political situations is particularly impressive. However, don’t let that put you off if you are not a political animal – the effect is one of opening Western eyes to the ongoing injustices, stemming from prejudices which are themselves often the product of a colonial past. Did you know, for example, that 42 of the 53 member states continue to criminalise LGBT people? That Tuvalu prohibits same-sex male relationships while legally accepting those of lesbians? That one’s sexual orientation can earn one a lifetime prison sentence in India? Or that, even in progressive South Africa (the world’s first country to outlaw orientation-based discrimination) LGBTI people continue to be subjected to horrific hate crimes?
In taking a view of LGBTI people throughout the Commonwealth, the exhibition gives much-needed and overdue expression to their suffering, resistance, courage and unity. The researched arguments are powerful and at times distressing, but it’s the raw humanity that stays with you.
LGBTI People of the Commonwealth will be in Rutherglen Town Hall (2nd-3rd August), Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen (5th-6th August), Mareel, Lerwick, (7th-9th August) and Inverness Library (11th-14th August).