LGBT Rights

Discrimination against LGBT citizens is a ‘Commonwealth problem’. In part due to the legacy of laws created by the British Empire which criminalise LGBT relations or identities, currently 36 of the 52 Commonwealth countries have legislation which criminalises LGBT people in some way. In certain Commonwealth countries colonial legislation is reinforced by independence-era laws which criminalise or discriminate against LGBT citizens. This harsh legal situation is exacerbated by wider discriminatory social attitudes and in some cases violence. This situation has strained relations between Commonwealth countries who disagree on the issue and has produced a discussion which was polarised between those in favour of improving LGBT rights and those who are more reluctant.

The RCS seeks to build a Commonwealth solution to this problem. We believe that the best aspects of the Commonwealth, from its equal membership, familial relations and opportunities for government-to-government discussion, to its vibrant civil society, shared legal systems and language along with its diverse array of professional associations, provide opportunities to have a more respectful debate about LGBT rights and to share best practice on ways of reducing discrimination. The Royal Commonwealth Society works with diplomats, activists and other Commonwealth organisations to draw attention to the potential for a positive Commonwealth contribution to the LGBT rights debate.


The Commonwealth Equality Network

The Royal Commonwealth Society is a member of The Commonwealth Equality Network. Established in 2013, The Network is a coalition of Commonwealth civil society organisations working to challenge inequality in the Commonwealth, based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Network was set up with the aim of giving a voice to LGBT communities across the Commonwealth and to support joint advocacy in identifying a Commonwealth solution to a Commonwealth problem. Much like the Commonwealth itself, the membership of the Network is dominated by organisations in low and middle-income countries, in particular sub Saharan Africa. The RCS hosted The Network’s inaugural meeting at its offices in London as part of its ongoing support for the initiative.

SA LGBT Dialogue Group PhotoConvening Government, Civil Society and Business Dialogues 

Respectful discussion is one of the cornerstones of our strategy to improve the rights of LGBT people. Dialogue provides opportunities for diplomats, politicians, legislators, civil society groups and business people to share policy good practice and understand the arguments in favour of equality. Increasingly women’s equality is seen as a complimentary issue, women’s movements often sharing common cause and overlapping with LGBT movements. Often, the sources of legal inequality of LGBT people are the same penal codes which contain discriminatory provisions against women. The RCS has pioneered spaces for dialogue to address LGBT rights for example in Pretoria, South Africa. This dialogue was co-Chaired by HE Benjamin Mkapa, HE Festus Mogae and HE Joaquim Chissano on the subject of ‘Leaving No One Behind in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.

Reports and Articles

For governments that wish to take steps to further protect and uphold the rights of their LGBT citizens there is a wealth of experience and good practice in the Commonwealth to draw upon. We have collated this into our Commonwealth Toolkit for Policy Progress on LGBT Rights and its accompanying infographic

More information about our Commonwealth approach to LGBT rights is contained in our report on the issue, Collaboration and Consensus: Building a Constructive Commonwealth Approach to LGBT Rights

A summary of our approach can also be found in our blog.

The RCS works with a number of LGBT organisations to achieve our aims. You can read about some of them on our partnerships page.

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