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Anti-gay legislations and economics in Commonwealth States

By Rhona Rogers Sunday, November 29 2009

Despite the United Kingdom’s repeal of anti-gay legislations in 1967 — 42 years ago, 41 of its Commonwealth states have retained them. In 2007, leading up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kampala, Uganda, Derek Ingram reminded the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Executive committee that the Commonwealth “is about human rights and democracy…”

“The late 19th century saw the spread of anti-homosexual criminal laws to British colonies” (Sanders 2009); institutionalised by virtue of assignment of penal codes by which to define legal or illegal actions, in this case associated with a person’s sexuality. Prejudices, defined by bigotry or discrimination have been meted out to those persons whose sexualities do not conform to societal and or cultural norms like those of homosexuals and lesbians. Criminalisation through the penal codes inadvertently allows bigotry or discrimination to spiral into other criminal activities such as violence. Other antisocial activities contributing to the discomfort and distress of homosexual and lesbians, not deemed criminal by definition, but certainly in essence are also allowed by inaction to protect on the part of states. Calls have been made by numerous bodies to repeal the anti-homosexual legislations, such as Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the International Gay and Lesbian Human rights Commission (IGLHRC) as well as through the medium of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Newsletter to the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) since 2007. This issue is once more tabled on the agenda of CHOGM 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago. At the April 2009 Commonwealth Law Conference held in Hong Kong also, lawyers were called upon by Former Australian High Court Justice, Michael Kirby, to fight against anti-homosexual legislations.

A deafening silence though pervades within the governance structure on any subject pertaining to persons included within the gender continuum living in Commonwealth states. Noises emanate from interest groups inter and intra states. Yet, those groups have been unable to influence meaningful change at the level of the polity. Progress, made incrementally is not enough however to replace that silence with the sound of rustling gazette signalling new legislation repealing that which exists to legitimately authorise discrimination against minority groups in such states. The interest groups that speak continuously, however, do so from only the perspective of human rights. Understandably, this is important, for one can argue the need for a sense of belonging and citizenship before one can conceive of the other needs that would allow some measure of comfort let alone self actualisation. A point worth considering here though, is that whether the sense of belonging and citizenship are present, the reality is that homosexuals and lesbians are! They sometimes produce (if allowed the freedom to, as in Trinidad and Tobago, despite the laws). They always consume in every one of these Commonwealth states. Therefore, they act in ways that are economic, and so impact on the economies in which they live. This however is poorly understood.

Perhaps the present global economic malaise may be the catalyst required for these states that depend so heavily on foreign capital to look at all of their prospects for economic development which would include the human resource that has been marginalised. This would require not just the stopping of anti-gay lyrical content in Jamaican music, so that it can be sold globally, and thus bring home much needed revenue, but the repeal of the laws that cause viable human resource to migrate to safer states. Individuals who remain and are free to fully participate in the formal economy would have no legitimate reason to contribute to informal economies, which cost states financially and socially by virtue of the illegalities that fuel such economies.

Heterosexism as a set of ideas and practices which assume that heterosexuality is the superior and therefore the only “normal” and “natural” form of sexual relationship (Phillips and Pugh 2000) not only drives the discourse, but translates into social imperatives from which policies are influenced. It is this essentialist concept that militates against homosexuals and lesbians. Homophobia, that fear of one being thought gay (Plummer 1999; Crichlow 2004) galvanised and propelled ironically, by such civil society groups as the church perhaps accounts for the silence and non-action on the part of those entrusted to govern.

Chevannes (2004) has suggested that homophobia polices a hegemonic masculinity thus making it difficult for men as policy makers to articulate the cause for repeal of anti-homosexual legislation as well as to practice any alternative form of masculinity that respects people who are different. A paradigm shift is therefore required in order to look at homosexuals as viable human resources within the context of economics.

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