Tide celebrates Pride – our support to the Human Dignity Trust

We have been donating to the Human Dignity Trust for the past 3 years and we wanted to give you an insight into the very important work they are doing. We met them to talk about how they use the law to defend LGBT* people, human rights, their latest achievements and more. Learn more about them and why we decided to support them.

* The Human Dignity Trust uses the acronym LGBT and not LGBTQIA+ because the laws they deal with specifically concern gay men, lesbian women and transgender people.

The Human Dignity Trust is an “international organisation using the law to defend the human rights of LGBT people”. Can you tell us more about the crucial work you are doing?

Today, 66 countries criminalise private, consensual same-sex sexual activity, down from 71 last year. Half of these laws are relics left behind by the British Empire, but still function to this day to fuel stigma, legitimise prejudice, and put LGBT people beyond the protection of the law. Our focus is to support the decriminalisation of LGBT people globally, by supporting court cases to challenge these laws and related litigation that advances our mission in criminalising jurisdictions.  We also work with governments to help them reform outdated sexual offence laws and to enact legislation that protects against violence.

In the UK, where we are headquartered, we have a small team of lawyers who work in partnership with activists, civil society organisations and lawyers around the world. We are supported pro bono by some of the world’s leading law firms and barristers.

We also use the media as a parallel tool to soften attitudes, as we know that legal change can have a better chance of success where public attitudes to LGBT people are more tolerant. To create enabling environments for legal change, our core legal work in almost all jurisdictions is accompanied by support for sophisticated media, communications and public education campaigns.

You work with LGBT activists around the world. How does this work?

Local activists and lawyers are central to this work. We will typically spend time getting to know LGBT networks within a country and discussing the options and prospects for a decriminalisation case. If they decide they want to go ahead, we work very closely with them and local lawyers, who we often help them identify, craft and file the case. Sometimes this takes months but it can also take years; the most important is that local actors feel ready.

Each case needs a litigant and these brave individuals are putting their heads above the parapet to effect change for all LGBT people in their country. We aim to support them holistically. We assemble a legal team to work on the case, but we also assist with security and work with them to develop communication strategies to dispel myths, foster understanding and minimise the risk of public backlash against changes in the law.  

What have been your biggest achievements over the years?

The global movement towards decriminalisation has accelerated rapidly over the last decade. We have supported local partners with world-class technical expertise, filing 17 cases in 12 countries, achieving impactful and far-reaching wins in courts, and assisting governments with law reform efforts. 

For example, going back to 2010, a Belizean gay man and prominent human rights defender named Caleb Orozco filed a challenge in the Supreme Court of Belize. We were invited by Caleb to join the litigation as an Interested Party in the case, which we did in 2011. The case was heard in 2013, and in 2016 the Court struck down as unconstitutional the Penal Code provision that criminalised same-sex activity between men. The case did not end there, however, as after significant pressure from the churches, the Attorney General appealed parts of the judgement. In 2019, the Court of Appeal upheld the earlier ruling, ending almost a decade of litigation. Outside of the court, as the case was aired in the media, we saw how attitudes were shifting as people questioned why these laws existed in the first place. 

This was a landmark judgement, the first of its kind in the Caribbean region and with significant impact globally. For example, it was cited by the Supreme Court of India when it too struck down criminalisation in 2018. It provided the impetus for several more court cases that we have supported across the region, three of which ended in legal victory last year – Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Barbados – with others that are working their way through the courts.  

We also brought the case at the European Court of Human Rights against Northern Cyprus’s criminal law, which prompted the government to repeal the provision in 2014.

In Singapore, we spent a decade working with local actors on a series of decriminalisation cases which ultimately prompted the government in 2022 to repeal the law that criminalised ‘gross indecency between males’, which had been in place since 1938. We also achieved a landmark United Nations ruling against Sri Lanka, which held that criminalising same-sex intimacy between women violates the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and should be repealed. CEDAW is the most significant international human rights treaty for women and is ratified by 189 countries. This set a major legal precedent which can be used to increase pressure to decriminalise in domestic courts, and it has helped to prompt a Bill in the Sri Lankan parliament to decriminalise. 

We also brought a case that led to the first-ever decision on decriminalisation at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, holding that Jamaica is in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights by maintaining its ‘buggery’ and ‘gross indecency between males’ provisions. Jamaica has yet to comply, but this decision heightens the pressure on the government. 

We’ve also been successful in achieving court victories on freedom of association for LGBT people in criminalising countries, and on freedom from degrading medical examinations that were used in an attempt to ‘prove’ same-sex sexual intercourse.

Why is it important that international organisations like yours that defend the human rights of the LGBT community still exist today?

While we are proud of our track record, which has freed hundreds of thousands of people from the stigma of criminalisation, there is still so much to do. As well as the 66 countries that still have criminalising laws, we are also seeing the rollback of LGBT rights in some countries and even harsher, more discriminatory criminal laws being enacted or under consideration. We are in touch with local lawyers and activists to assist with challenging these; it is vital that we keep the momentum up and ensure that things continue to go in the right direction. Our ultimate goal is a world where no-one is criminalised for who they are and who they love. 

What more do you think organisations like Tide can do to support these initiatives?

Businesses can play an important role in supporting LGBT human rights around the world. Donating funds or in-kind resources, giving causes like ours a platform to encourage further support from your audiences, and considering human rights issues when working internationally can all make a difference.

How can people make donations to The Human Dignity Trust?

During Pride month this June we are running a matched-giving campaign which means all donations will be doubled! Donating is easy via our website: https://www.humandignitytrust.org/donate/

Photo by Lisett Kruusimäe on Pexels

Valentine Hutchings

Valentine Hutchings

Head of Community and small business enthusiast

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