On Monday night, messages were projected onto the side of major buildings in London calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality across the Commonwealth nations.
The project coincided with the first day of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
During the CHOGM, delegates from 53 countries across the world will head to London to discuss a wide range of policy issues. LGBT+ activists are fighting for space on the agenda, and it is hoped that this display of messages on homophobic laws across London buildings will bring attention to their cause.
The projections were put on major buildings within Central London. The project was paid for by a crowdfunding campaign.
Across the Commonwealth, over a billion people live under anti-LGBT laws. While progress has been made in some nations such as Mozambique and Belize, other countries such as Nigeria have seen the situation get worse with the likes of Bermuda experiencing a regression in LGBT+ civil rights.
As many of these laws originated before decolonisation, many advocates are now looking for the British Government to make it clear that the laws were a mistake.
UK-based activist Peter Tatchell is urging the British government to apologise for its legacy on the issue.
He said: “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.
“An apology by [Theresa May], 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.”
All Out’s display across buildings in London to influence leaders at CHOGM to discuss LGBT+ issues.
“Heads of Government of the Commonwealth claim they will be in London to agree on how to create a better future for all our citizens,” said Matt Beard, Executive Director of All Out, the organisation responsible for the display on London buildings.
“But this commitment to a better future rings hollow to the millions of LGBT+ people who live in the Commonwealth countries where homosexuality is illegal.”
Ultimately they are looking for acknowledgement from the UK authorities for the pain that these laws have caused and an apology to that effect.
With no current plans to discuss LGBT+ rights at the meeting currently, Beard concluded: “But if the leaders gathering in London and Windsor want the Commonwealth to be recognised as a credible twenty-first-century global body, they must include an open and frank discussion of LGBT decriminalisation on their agenda.”
Theresa May spoke about the anti-gay laws in her opening address and although she made no apology, she called for the Commonwealth leaders to ‘reform’ their laws:
“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,’ she said at the Joint Forum Plenary meeting at CHOGM.
“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 welcome 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. 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.”
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell said he welcomed the comments from the Prime Minister.
“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 re frames the LGBT issue in a way that it is likely to provoke less hostility in Commonwealth countries.”
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