The Shocking Context of John Barrowman's Commonwealth Kiss

10:51Ciaran McCormick

Openly gay actor John Barrowman was cast in a starring role in the opening ceremony of this year's Commonwealth with an unexpected twist. The Doctor Who and Torchwood star kissed a fellow male actor and caused an internet flutter.

The beautiful moment - scroll down to see video

Whilst Glasgow will laud the gesture as a beacon of acceptance and modernity, it contrasts with most of the Commonwealth countries that this Games will showcase. Homosexuality is criminalised in 40 out of 53 Commonwealth states. Even in states that do not enforce these laws, such as India and Trinidad and Tobago, the legal status underlines the stigma and repression in society faced by LGBT people.
Worse still, 22 Commonwealth countries in Africa, Asia and the America's, the punishment is imprisonment. In many of these countries, the oppression of homosexuality has worsened, such as Uganda which has settled for life in prison in February of 2014 as an alternative to the death penalty contemplated in recent years. Four years ago, the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone published the names, addresses and photographs of LGBT people in the country. They fear-mongered by claiming that they were going to raid schools and recruit children and incited violence with a shocking call to 'hang them'. Indeed, in northern states of Nigeria and Brunei, stoning is the sentence commuted for homosexual behaviour.

With the world watching, I am proud that Glasgow chose to highlight the courage and humanity of the spectrum of its athletes. The John Barrowman kiss was joined by Ian Thorpe, who was one of six ceremonial flag carriers. He recently revealed that he is gay in an interview with Michael Parkinson. However, the journey of Western LGBT athletes is fraught with too many challenges and prejudices for most to be comfortably open with their sexualities. The challenges faced by people in other Commonwealth countries are inconceivable.

Political leaders such as Leader of the House of Commons John Bercow have raised awareness for these issues. He said on the eve of the opening ceremony that 'Shamefully, it is estimated that 4 out of every 5 countries in the Commonwealth criminalise homosexuality. Surely, it is time for the Commonwealth to do more to support lesbian, gay, transsexual and bisexual people, to ensure they are not discriminated against, no matter where they live?'

However, I would like to see Britain to be more courageous in standing up against the international repression of sexuality and gender diversity. David Cameron, George Osborne and Alex Salmond have all overlooked the opportunity to use these Games as a platform to pressure countries on their human rights record. We have a moral obligation to do so. Many of the anti-homosexuality laws have their origins in British colonial regimes.


Every major international sporting event is now a battleground for LGBT rights. The Sochi Winter Olympics were marked by objections to Russia's crusade to make the lives of its gay citizens miserable and marked by violence. Brazil's festival of football was tainted by homophobic chanting from the fans of various countries.  The next two World Cup's are being held in Russia and Qatar, two countries that I could never visit in their current condition. This is not about gay activism being foisted on sport. Human rights and dignity violations around the world are just becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

Watch the full kiss in all its kilted glory:

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