This summer’s Commonwealth Games will be about more than just medals. While Russian leaders have come under fire ahead of their hosting of the upcoming Winter Olympics for the country’s anti-gay legislation, Scotland has been praised for its progressive views on such issues, with people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community hoping that the Games can be used as a way to shine a light on the horrors of other competing nations and educate them on a better way forward.
The topic of gay rights is a thorny one in Commonwealth terms. More than three quarters of the 70 participating countries, territories, principalities and states have laws persecuting those involved in same-sex relationships. The fact the Queen’s Baton makes its way through Uganda this week, is a timely reminder of the hardline view adopted by many of the countries who will be welcomed to Glasgow in a matter of months.
While many non-Commonwealth countries are improving the rights of homosexuals and repealing draconian laws in the quest for greater equality, it was only at the end of 2013 that the Ugandan parliament passed a bill increasing the punishments to include life imprisonment and introducing prison sentences for those who don’t report people they know to be gay.
It is a step back from the death sentence some were calling for but a world apart from the moves towards greater acceptance which are being taken in the host nation, according to members of the Scottish LGBT community who have been buoyed by the publicity generated by the self-outing of high profile figures like former English Premier League footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger and GB diver Tom Daley.
But, in Uganda, the former coach of their national football team, Chris Mubiru is awaiting trial after compromising photographs were published of him and a male lover. The inflammatory language used in the article, as well as those of the editorials which followed, illustrates just how big the hurdle to equality remains, with one commentator claiming that homosexuality is “not an African problem”.
On the day that the former Aston Villa and West Ham footballer was revealing he was gay and a week before the Queen’s Commonwealth Baton makes its way through the African nation, a crowd gathered outside the Ugandan consulate in London pleading with the country’s President Yoweri Museveni not to sign the bill.
But, while protests have been held around the world opposed to the staging of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, Scotland’s LGBT community say they are delighted with the attitudes of the Scottish Commonwealth Games organisers and the Scottish Government.
According to Scott Cuthbertson, Community Development Co-ordinator with the Equality Network, which represents the LGBT in Scotland, there have already been positive talks aimed at ensuring the focus will be on education and on celebrating the LGBT community and their place within society rather than protesting or disrupting the Games.
“If you look at where LGBT people say there are ongoing issues in the world then certainly the Commonwealth is one of those places and the other thing LGBT people talk about is sport so, with the Commonwealth Games, you are bringing those things together,” explains Cuthbertson.
“The majority of the countries in the Commonwealth criminalise LGBT people and people find that sport can be a very homophobic arena so, ahead of the Games, we are doing an awful lot of work with the Commonwealth Games delivery authority and the Scottish Government and a few other organisations to make sure that the voices of LGBT people are heard and to make sure that the Commonwealth Games are something that LGBT people can get engaged in.
“What we won’t be doing is outwardly criticising Commonwealth countries because the last thing I think that is useful for LGBT people in those countries is for the former colonial power to be saying this is how we do it and we do it right and you are wrong when in fact the majority of the homophobic laws in these countries were put in place by the former colonial power.”
But they won’t be idle when it comes to highlighting the stance taken by countries like Uganda either. Some money has already been allocated to fund the running of a “Pride House” in Glasgow throughout the Commonwealth Games, with LGBT groups working towards staging an exhibition there.
“We are doing a lot of work at the moment with governing bodies to make sure they have the right policies and that their sports are welcoming to LGBT people. I think we’ve got to look at the Commonwealth Games as a positive opportunity. The world will be looking at Scotland during the Commonwealth Games and we have got an opportunity to showcase Scottish society. Scotland is one of the most progressive nations in the world when it comes to LGBT rights and equality and we have got a good opportunity to show countries around the world that it works.
“We will be taking the opportunity during the Games to showcase the voices of LGBT people throughout the Commonwealth. We will be contacting LGBT people and organisations in all of the  countries of the Commonwealth and asking them what they would like to say during the Games and we will hold an exhibition that showcases that work and educates. Indian activists have been working hard to repeal the criminalisation of homosexuality there. We have activists in Uganda and in Nigeria, where they held their first Gay Pride event within the last year and so there is a lot of good work going on in these countries and as the host nation I’m proud that we will be in a position to showcase some of that work.
“We might not change the Commonwealth governments’ opinions but we are working hard to educate people and challenge and change opinion and fight for equality and human rights for all and I think it is important, given the backdrop, that we too have Pride House to showcase what we have to offer in terms of culture, art and sport and make people aware what is going on around the world, where regimes still brutalise, torture, and imprison homosexuals.”