Queen Elizabeth II will be signing a historic Commonwealth Charter Monday that establishes the fundamental values of its 54 member states into law. Although she has cancelled her public appearance due to illness, she will be endorsing a chief document that among other things will declare a commitment to upholding gender equality and promoting female empowerment. According to the Daily Mail, this will be "one of the most controversial acts of her reign" as it states a firm pledge to eradicating gender-based inequalities:
"We recognize that gender equality and women's empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights. The advancement of women's rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development."
The treaty will also formally oppose other types of discrimination "whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds."
Following the news that the Queen would support this bill, the chief executive of the gay and lesbian activist group Stonewall, Ben Summerskill called the Queen "a feminist icon" and praised Her Majesty for taking "a historic step forward on gay rights."
Although the treaty is being hailed a progressive step in the right direction for gay rights, many are wondering why the words gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual don't even appear anywhere in the charter. The Australian Associated Press reports that although it's "an important document […] it does not include any explicit commitment to gay rights."
Does this mean we are supposed to infer that she is gay-friendly because she is not explicitly anti-gay? That seems like a stretch to say the least. Shouldn't her silence on the issue of LGBT rights signify her lack of support for this particular community who still undergoes a significant amount of discrimination in most (if not all) countries under her rule? Bearing in mind that 41 of the 54 commonwealth nations still consider homosexuality a criminal offense and that most of these countries' homophobic laws are a legacy of British Colonial rule, doesn't Her Majesty have an added responsibility when it comes to explicitly declaring the importance of LGBT rights? Maybe it's because LGBT issues have never been her priority. Although she is the patron of 600 charities and organizations, none of them serve the LGBT community. In her 61-year reign, she's never even step foot in a LGBT charity or welfare agency. Not to mention that she has never even uttered the word gay or lesbian publicly. British LGBT activist Peter Tatchell doesn't think all of this is pure coincidence:
"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 […] The monarchy is homophobic — if not by conscious intent, then certainly by default."
When asked about the absence of gay rights in the charter by The Daily Mail, a spokesperson for the Royal Family said:
"The Queen does not take a personal view on these issues […] The Queen's position is apolitical, as it is in all matters of this sort."
Sure the Queen is meant to be a non-controversial symbolic figure, but does being apolitical mean remaining silent when it comes to human rights abuses? Patrick Strudwick isn't convinced and perhaps his interviews with asylum seekers forced to flee their Commonwealth home countries will convince you too. Benjamin, a gay man from Cameroon explains:
"I was caught in bed with a friend and taken to the police station. They put water on the floor and electrocuted me. They electrocuted me four or five times. For a while afterwards you forget you're even human, you forget you even exist."
Denise from Jamaica tells a similar horrendous tale: "when my community found out, one of the local men broke into my house in a mask, carrying a knife, telling me to leave the area." Strudwick reports that later "she was 'correctively' raped."
Should the livelihood of people like Benjamin and Denise be up for debate? The abuses they were put through can't be reduced to dirty politics. The dignity of LGBT people is not a contentious issue, it's a human rights issue. The Queen's silence echoes years of disregard for the civil liberties of LGBT people and overlooking the inherent homophobia of the Commonwealth treaty will only perpetuate these injustices by allowing them to be swept under the rug. Instead of celebrating this charter for its courageous stance on discrimination, we should focus on its intentional omissions.