UK Prime Minister Theresa May has called for Commonwealth nations to repeal “outdated” anti-gay laws and said the UK “deeply regrets” its legacy of discrimination against LGBTIQ people around the world.
Homosexuality remains illegal in 36 of the 53 Commonwealth countries – including nine that have a maximum penalty of life imprisonment – because penal codes first introduced under the British Empire are still enforced and have not been repealed.
Speaking during a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, May said that “nobody should face discrimination or persecution because of who they are or who they love.”
“I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country,” she said.
“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 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.
“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“Yet there remains much to do… The UK stands ready to help any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible, because the world has changed.”
LGBTI activists and advocates had urged the UK government to prioritise human rights at the CHOGM meeting.
A petition calling for the discriminatory laws to be repealed attracted over 100,000 signatures and was handed to Government officials last week.
Bishop Victor Gill from Trinidad and Tobago – which is in the process of decriminalising homosexuality after a ruling from its top court – told BBC Radio the “gay agenda” was being “forced” on Commonwealth countries and efforts to the scrap the laws would be met with resistance.
He said decriminalisation of homosexuality was “trampling on the rights of Christians” and “something that is being forced on us by power brokers that are influencing our government to take us into this direction.”
LGBTIQ discrimination in Commonwealth countries came into renewed focus recently as athletes came together on the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games.
British diver Tom Daley strongly condemned anti-gay laws after he won gold in the 10m synchronised event on the Gold Coast.
“There are 37 countries where it’s illegal to be who I am out of all the Commonwealth so hopefully we can reduce that number between now and [the next Commonwealth Games],” he said.
“Coming to the Gold Coast and being able to live as an openly gay man is really important in being able to feel comfortable with who you are when standing on that diving board. For 37 countries that are here participating that’s very much not the case.
“There’s lots of things that will take a long time to change but I feel like with the Commonwealth I think we could really help push some of the nations to relax their [anti-gay] laws.”