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Prime Minister expresses ‘deep regret’ over historic colonial era anti-gay laws

Besi Besemar April 18, 2018

UK Prime Minister tackles historicĀ colonial era anti-gay laws in speech at Commonwealth Heads of Government summit.

THE Prime Minister used a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Joint Forum Plenary yesterday morning (April 17) to deliver her speech.

Prime Minister May, said: ā€œAcross the world, discriminatory laws made many years ago continue to affect the lives of many people, criminalising same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls.

ā€œI am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. As the UKā€™s Prime Minister, I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced, and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today.

ā€œAs a family of nations we must respect one anotherā€™s cultures and traditions. But we must do so in a manner consistent with our common value of equality, a value that is clearly stated in the Commonwealth charter.

ā€œRecent years have brought welcome progress. The three nations that have most recently decriminalised same-sex relationships are all Commonwealth members, and since the heads of government last met the Commonwealth has agreed to accredit its first organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

ā€œYet there remains much to do. Nobody should face persecution or discrimination because of who they are or who they love. And the UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.ā€

Pressure had been mounting in the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting being held in London (April 16-20) for the Prime Minister to tackle the issue, culminating with Peter Tatchell writing a letter prior to the Summit calling for the UK to apologise for imposing such anti-gay laws.

Human Rights and LGBT+ campaigner Peter Tatchell, says:Ā “We thank Theresa May for heeding our appeal and expressing deep regret for Britainā€™s imposition of homophobic laws during the colonial era. It is a positive and welcome move. But, it should have been made in front of the Commonwealth leaders who oversee the enforcement of these repressive laws, not at a NGO side event.Ā 

“This statement of regret cannot be easily dismissed and disparaged by Commonwealth heads of government.Ā 

ā€œIt acknowledges the wrongful imposition of anti-LGBT legislation by the UK, shows humility and helpfully highlights that current homophobic laws in the Commonwealth are mostly not indigenous national laws. They were exported by Britain and imposed on colonial peoples in the nineteenth century.

“The Prime Ministerā€™s regret for Britainā€™s imposition of anti-gay laws valuably re frames the LGBT issue in a way that it is likely to provoke less hostility in Commonwealth countries.”Ā 


In his letter to the Prime Minister, Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation wrote:

“I am writing to urge you to make an official apology on behalf of the UK government at this weekā€™s Commonwealth summit; expressing regret and sorrow for Britain having imposed anti-gay laws on Commonwealth nations in the nineteenth century, during the colonial era.Ā 

36 out of 53 Commonwealth member states still criminalise homosexuality, mostly based on laws enacted by Britain and its colonial administrations. Nine of these countries have a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for same-sex acts, under imperial-originated statutes.

Britain exported its homophobic laws through colonialism. These laws continue to treat over 100 million LGBT people in Commonwealth countries as criminals. They give de facto official legitimacy to anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination and, with the threat of imprisonment, inhibit LGBT people from living open, fulfilled lives.Ā 

The time has come for the UK to apologise.

The humility and remorse of an apology would be far more powerful and effective than neo-colonial lecturing and denunciation of homophobia by the UK government – especially given that the criminalisation of same-sex behaviour only fully ended in all four UK home nations in 2013.

An apology by you, on behalf of the UK government, would help change the narrative around anti-LGBT legislation; highlighting that these laws are not indigenous and were not originated in most of the countries that still retain them.

It would make the point that, contrary to populist propaganda in many Commonwealth countries, Britainā€™s real export to their nations was homophobia, not homosexuality.

An apology by the UK government would underscore this reality and aid the heroic LGBT and civil society defenders in Commonwealth member states who are pressing for decriminalisation.”