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British Prime Minister: Anti-gay laws across Commonwealth are 'wrong'

Theresa May has been urged to apologise for the colonial era anti-gay laws but instead urged Commonwealth leaders to ‘reform’ the laws

British Prime Minister: Anti-gay laws across Commonwealth are 'wrong'
Theresa May addresses the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting this morning (Photo: Number 10 | Flickr | CreativeCommons2.0)

Speaking this morning at Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, UK, British Prime Minister Theresa May has called on Commonwealth countries to reform outdated laws regarding homosexuality.

‘Across 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.

‘I 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,’ she said at the Joint Forum Plenary meeting at CHOGM.

British Colonial-era homophobic laws are still used in 37 of the Commonwealth’s 53 member nations. Approximately 2.4billion of the world’s population live in Commonwealth countries.

These include countries with progressive LGBTI protections such as Canada, Australia and the UK. However, countries such as Jamaica, Uganda and Nigeria have laws prohibiting same-sex sexual activity.

Prime Minister May noted that progress had been made since the last GHOGM gathering in 2015 in Malta, ‘Yet there remains much to do.’

‘As a family of nations we must respect one another’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.

‘Recent 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.

‘Yet 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 And the UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.’

‘A positive and welcome move’

LGBTI activists and advocates have been campaigning for the UK government to prioritize human rights at the GHOGM meeting in London. A petition urging the Prime Minister to apologize for colonial-era anti-gay laws gathered over 100,000 signatures and was handed to Government officials last week.

Human rights activist Peter Tatchell said he welcomed the comments from the Prime Minister.

‘We thank Theresa May for heeding our appeal and expressing deep regret for Britain’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.

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

‘It 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 Minister’s regret for Britain’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.’

A spokesperson for UK Black Pride said the organization also welcomed the Prime Minister’s comments.

‘As a co-signatory to the All Out petition demanding “Theresa May Say Sorry” UK Black Pride are celebrating the news the UK Prime Minister has expressed regret for the exporting of homophobia by the UK through these colonial laws, still existing in 36 Commonwealth nations, criminalising love between those of the same-sex.

‘UK Black Pride is committed in developing and strengthening our work with our siblings across the Commonwealth to ensure grass roots activists have the space to change these laws, so we can all live freely and openly.’

A spokesperson for Pride in London said, ‘Pride in London welcomes the Prime Minister’s speech and the UK government’s “deep regret” of the legacy role the United Kingdom has played in introducing these abhorrent anti-LGBT+ laws. We call on the Prime Minister and the British Government to continue to stand up for LGBT+ rights in every forum they operate.

‘But 37 countries in the Commonwealth still criminalise homosexuality. We have a responsibility to ensure that every LGBT+ person in the Commonwealth is afforded the equality and civil rights they deserve, particularly when so many of their diaspora now call London their home.’

See also

Over 100,000 have knocked on the door of 37 countries to demand end to gay sex ban

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