Theresa May: Britain ‘deeply regrets’ colonial era laws against homosexuality

British Prime Minister Theresa May has told a gathering of Commonwealth leaders that Britain deeply regrets its colonial era laws that outlawed homosexuality, and wants to help other nations change their laws.

Thirty six of the 53 Commonwealth Nations still have laws that outlaw homosexuality, most of them were introduced during British colonisation.

Today at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) the British PM said the laws were discriminatory.

“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.

“As the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, I deeply regret the fact that such laws were introduced, and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today.”

May said that the Commonwealth nations must respect each others traditions but valuing equality was part of the organisation’s charter.

“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 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 discrimination or persecution because of who they are or who they love.

“The UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible, because the world has changed.”

The fact that a large number of Commonwealth nations retain anti-gay laws was highlighted recently by several high profile athletes at the Commonwealth Games. Both Australian diver Matthew Mitcham, who was a commentator at the games, and British diver Tom Daley spoke out about the laws.

Respected LGBTI rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement.

“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.” Tatchell said.

“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.”

OIP Staff

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