Commonwealth: Theresa May urged to apologise for anti-gay laws

Apology at this week’s Commonwealth summit would be a game-changer


London UK – 16 April 2018

UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, has been urged to apologise for Britain imposing anti-gay laws on dozens of other countries during the colonial era.

The call coincides with this week’s start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has today written to the Prime Minister urging her to make the apology during CHOGM (full text of the letter below).

He has been lobbying Commonwealth leaders to end their persecution of LGBT people for three decades.

36 of the 53 Commonwealth member states criminalise same-sex relations; nearly all under laws enacted by the British government in the nineteenth century.

“I urge Theresa May to acknowledge and apologise for the wrong Britain did by forcing homophobic laws on colonial peoples. These laws remain today and are menacing the lives of millions of LGBT people in Commonwealth countries,” said Mr Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

“An apology would wrong-foot homophobes in the anti-gay member states by highlighting the non-indigenous nature of their current homophobic legislation.”

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.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Tatchell
Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation

Further information:

Simon Harris
Communications and Campaigns Manager
Peter Tatchell Foundation

Email: [email protected]