LONDON — Debate is raging between LGBT advocates over whether Queen Elizabeth II supports gay rights following a ceremony Monday in which the 86-year-old monarch signed a charter which calls for an end to discrimination across the 54 Commonwealth nations.
On Sunday, The Daily Mail declared that “the Queen would back an historic pledge to promote gay rights and ‘gender equality’ in one of the most controversial acts of her reign.”
But observers say the charter is not binding and includes no explicit pledge of LGBT equality.
“We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds,” the document states.
The “other grounds” has been interpreted as meaning sexual orientation and gender identity, a sensitive topic since homosexual acts are illegal in 41 of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states.
Long-time London-based human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who initially praised the accord, telling AFP that, “by signing the new Commonwealth Charter, with its rejection of all discrimination, the Queen is implicitly endorsing gay human rights,” now expresses cynicism.
“While I doubt that Elizabeth II is a raging homophobe, she certainly doesn’t appear to be gay-friendly,” Tatchell said, adding that the Queen has never supported LGBT community in her 61 years on the throne.
“Astonishingly, since she became Queen in 1952, the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ have never publicly passed her lips,” said Tatchell. “There is no record of her ever speaking them. Even when she announced government plans for gay law reform in her Queen’s Speeches, she did not use the words lesbian or gay.”
“Apparently, mentioning LGBT people is beneath the dignity of the monarch,” said Tatchell.
In contrast, Ben Summerskill, the Executive Director of the British LGBT rights organization, Stonewall UK, pointed out that it would be foolish not to acknowledge this may be a first step towards equality in some Commonwealth countries.
“We would of course be much happier if the terms would be addressed and discussed openly,” Summerskill said. “But if addressing them obliquely is a first step, we should be happy about that.”
A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace told LGBTQ Nation on Monday that “Her Majesty is apolitical under British law and is signing the document in her capacity as head of the Commonwealth.”
Sources close to the Royal household Sunday told The Daily Mail said she is aware of the implications of the charter’s implicit support of gay rights and commitment to gender equality.
Tatchell disagreed, telling LGBTQ Nation, “The Commonwealth Charter does not include any specific rejection of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This was vetoed by the homophobic majority of member states. They blocked its inclusion.”
“This makes the Queen’s charter signing even less of a big deal,” he said. “It is certainly not the breakthrough for LGBT rights that some people are claiming.”
Tatchell conceded that many officials interpret the charter wording that rejects discrimination on “other grounds” as including a rejection of anti-gay discrimination.
A foreign office source told LGBTQ Nation that even securing this modest, ambiguous insertion into the charter was a tough battle that many member states resisted.
More than 40 of the 54 Commonwealth countries still criminalize homosexuality, mostly under laws imposed by Britain during the colonial era. Six of these countries stipulate life imprisonment.
Uganda is currently considering legislation that would introduce the death penalty for “repeat” offenders of gay sexual acts and the Nigerian parliament has before it a similar anti-gay bill that will outlaw same-sex marriage, LGBT organizations, and activism.