Theresa May “deeply regrets” anti-gay laws introduced by Britain

Jette Carr via Flickr

“As the UK’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.”

During her PM speech today, Theresa May expressed deep regret for Britain’s archaic discriminatory laws criminalising same-sex relationships in Commonwealth countries.

This comes just a week after campaigners drafted a petition calling for the UK Prime Minister to apologise for the anti-gay legislation.

In 37 countries in the Commonwealth, being LGBTQ is still punishable by jail time, with many of the country’s leaders using laws imposed by Britain to persecute minorities.

“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,” she said.

May acknowledged that the anti-gay laws were “put in place” by her own country, and said “they were wrong then, and they are wrong now.”

“As the UK’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.

“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.”

She continued: “Recent years have brought welcome progress. The three nations that have most recently discriminated 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 And the UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.”

Peter Tatchell, Human Rights and LGBTQ campaigner, responded to May’s speech: “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.”

However, Tatchell wasn’t impressed with the platform May used to apologise for Britain’s mistakes.

“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.”

Also responding to Theresa May’s speech, UK Black Pride stated: “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 to 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.”

Related: The UK has a responsibility to defend the rights of LGBTQ people in the Commonwealth.

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