In 40 of the 53 Commonwealth of Nations member states homosexuality is illegal, largely under a colonial-era law known as Section 377. While a number of countries have long-since repealed the law, which was part of British imperial penal codes and criminalizes sexual activities “against the order of nature,” in most countries that were former British colonies the prohibition remains, and in some cases has been modified with the addition of more-draconian penalties.
While Section 377 is largely unenforced in a number of countries, the law’s existence gives tacit approval to anti-LGBT discrimination, and discourages LGBT people from living openly. For example, a trans activist in Papua New Guinea, Elizabeth Taylor, told the NGO Kaleidoscope, “Stigma, discrimination, abuse and violence are part of my daily life… My voice has not been heard when fronted up at the police station. I am not utilising my rights as a human because I am in fear.”
Some Commonwealth countries are global leaders when it comes to LGBT rights. For example, same-sex marriage has been allowed in Canada since 2003. Others, like Cyprus, have more recently passed legislation enshrining nondiscrimination and recognizing same-sex partnerships. Nevertheless, there is still significant work to be done to ensure that the rights of LGBT persons are honored throughout the Commonwealth, especially when homosexuality can be punishable by death in Brunei and parts of Nigeria.