Lady Phyll on the urgent, unfinished fight for LGBT+ rights across the Commonwealth

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, also known as Lady Phyll, is executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust.

The charity works passionately to end LGBT+ persecution in Commonwealth countries, and to encourage the UK government to take responsibility for its colonial legacy. On the charity’s 10th anniversary, Opoku-Gyimah recaps its journey so far, and the fight that continues.

Ten years ago, Kaleidoscope Trust began its work fighting for the rights of LGBT+ people across the Commonwealth.

The charity began like many great charities do, with a group of great people coming together to try and solve a big problem. In our case, the problem (then and now) is the violence, discrimination and persecution experienced by LGBT+ people across the Commonwealth because of colonial-era laws and their social and cultural residue.

Ten years on, we’re still doing our part to solve that problem, one that continues to cause unwarranted, unfair and unacceptable harm to LGBT+ people and those who defy restrictive gender norms.

Like any organisation working in this space, our work brings us into regular and personal contact with a breathtaking range of activists and change-makers, each of whom has taught each of us what it means to work in service of others.

We’ve learned a lot about how progress in the UK doesn’t always translate into the countries the UK used to occupy. We’ve learned that ideas about gender, sexuality and identity require nuance, complexity and understanding, and that one size does not (indeed should not) fit all.

We’ve learned that we don’t have all the answers, that those doing the work very often do and that we must be very, very good listeners: none of our programmes are created without input from those who’ve asked for them.

And we’ve learned to be humble. What we have and what we want here in the UK is not necessarily what others are working towards elsewhere.

Marriage equality, for example, is not a priority for the majority of organisations we work with. As our recent situational analysis reveals, their concerns are access to housing, food, healthcare and employment for the communities they serve. They’re concerned about the sustainability of their organisations, the mental and emotional health of their volunteers and staff, and the ongoing cuts to funding that keep many LGBT+ civil society organisations in a state of uncertainty.

In some countries in the Commonwealth, there is only one organisation working in service of LGBT+ communities; in others, the organisations don’t register as charities or businesses for fear of retribution.

We’ve learned our biggest wins are not the template, but that we can leverage our wins at home to deliver programmes, funding and interventions that help others get their rights. What we take from marriage equality is not marriage equality, per se, but all the learning from the fight.

Over our ten years, we’ve earned a unique and trusted place in the global ecosystem for change: grassroots organisations trust we’ll raise their voices in places they are not heard in, and governments and funding bodies trust us to deliver high-impact programmes to those most in need. We toe the line between governments and activists, cultures and countries and beliefs.

It’s not a position of neutrality, or even impartiality (we are not impartial or neutral in the face of injustice); rather, we are like conduits. We connect, supply and reinforce. We bring two discrete and vital parts of the global network for LGBT+ equality together.

It’s a position we take great pride in and one which offers an important and hope-sustaining vantage point. While our movements are at different stages, our lives in various states of precarity, we do all share in the belief that LGBT+ human rights are indivisible from any other. We each deserve lives of freedom, safety and equality.

The next ten years hold a great deal of promise, though the work ahead of us will be difficult. At a time of great upheaval and uncertainty for so many LGBT+ people and organisations around the world, our immediate concern continues to be providing relief for organisations and communities on the precipice: organisations and communities who need, as ever, their siblings around the world to step up and help them fight for their freedom.

And as difficult (and heartbreaking and joyful) as this work has been and will be, we feel confident that with our team, our partners and people of goodwill around the world, we will achieve our preeminent goal: a world in which LGBT+ people are free, safe and equal absolutely everywhere.

Established in 2011, Kaleidoscope Trust is a UK-based charity focused on fighting for the human rights of LGBT+ people across the Commonwealth. It funds, fights for and empowers those upholding the human rights of LGBT+ people by working with governments, change-makers and civil society organisations to effect meaningful and lasting change in the lives of LGBT+ people everywhere.

Click here to learn more about the work of Kaleidoscope Trust and to become a supporter.

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