London UK — 17 April 2018 — The following is a response to today's statement at the Commonwealth summit in London from the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, on colonial era anti-gay laws .
Human Rights and LGBT+ campaigner Peter Tatchell said:
"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 reframes the LGBT issue in a way that it is likely to provoke less hostility in Commonwealth countries."
Peter Tatchell Foundation
The Peter Tatchell Foundation has been urging a full apology from the British Prime Minister.
Full text of the letter to the Prime Minister from Peter Tatchell:
16 April 2018
Dear Theresa May,
Commonwealth summit: UK should apologise for imposing anti-gay laws
I am writing to urge you to make an official apology on behalf of the UK government at this week'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.
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.
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, Britain'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.
Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation