Prime Minister Theresa May has told Commonwealth leaders that the UK “deeply regrets” its legacy on anti-LGBT+ laws.
36 of the 53 countries in the Commonwealth continue to criminalise same-sex acts, primarily under laws imposed during the British Colonial era that have yet to be repealed.
More than a billion people live under anti-LGBT+ laws in the Commonwealth.
Speaking at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting(CHOGM) meeting in London on April 17, May responded to calls from Kaleidoscope Trust and The Commonwealth Equality Network, of which we are a founding member, for an acknowledgement of the UK’s homophobic legacy.
“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 both the fact that such laws were introduced and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today.”
“Recent years have brought welcome progress, the three nations which have recently decriminalised same-sex relationships are all Commonwealth members and since the heads of government last met the Commonwealth has agreed to accredit it first organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.”
Prior to British colonisation, liberal attitudes towards sex were widely held in areas such as the Caribbean and the Middle East, which are now perceived as some of the most challenging regions in the world to be LGBTI.
The Prime Minister also doubled down on Britain’s commitment to supporting LGBT+ rights throughout the Commonwealth and amplifying LGBT+ voices. She said:
“Nobody should face persecution or discrimination because of who they are and who they love. The UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform any outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.”
The Commonwealth Equality Network Secretay Paul Dillane, Executive Director of Kaleidoscope Trust, said:
“This year’s Commonwealth summit in London was a test for how the UK government approaches its commitment to advancing LGBT rights globally, but also how it addresses its legacy of exporting anti-LGBT laws during the colonial era.
“In the majority of Commonwealth countries that criminalise LGBT people, these laws endure to this way with LGBT people experiencing endemic discrimination and violence. Over the last year the British government has listened to the voices and the needs of LGBT activists on the front line of the struggle for equality.”
“We welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, which recognises the progress that has been made in Commonwealth countries including Belize, Seychelles and most recently Trinidad and Tobago.”
“It is our hope that other Commonwealth countries will work together with civil society to ensure LGBT people can live their lives freely and in safety.”
The Commonwealth Equality Network Chair Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND Sri Lanka, added:
“I am extremely pleased that finally the UK has acknowledged its wrongdoing in bringing such insidious laws to our countries. We appreciate Prime Minister Theresa May expressing regret for the UK’s role in criminalising same-sex love in colonial times. It paves the way for making some positive change for the LGBT communities of the Commonwealth.”
Glenroy Murray, Policy & Advocacy Manager at J-Flag, an LGBT organisation in Jamaica, where homosexuality is illegal under an “unnatural offences” law imposed by the British, said:
“The Prime Minister made a necessary step in acknowledging and expressing regret about a historical reality that has impacted LGBT people everywhere.”
“It challenges the idea that anti-sodomy laws are indigenous to Commonwealth territories, particular those in the Caribbean and Africa. As she notes, it was a bad move to export those laws and it is a bad move to keep them.”
“I am hopeful that this apology can shift the conversations we have been having in our various countries and begin to think about how colonialism has driven us to do immeasurable harm to our people and how we can begin to reverse that harm.”