The British Empire legacy of homophobia

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CNN: A wave of joy and relief swept earlier this month through India’s LGBT community  following a landmark decision by the country’s Supreme Court to legalize consensual gay sex.

The announcement that Section 377, a British colonial-era law prohibiting “unnatural acts,” would be annulled was met with jubilation by rights activists, many of whom had campaigned for years to end the archaic legislation.

But while India’s LGBT population embraces its new found freedoms, millions across the globe continue to wait in hope.

Of the 71 countries around the world in which same-sex sexual relations are illegal, it’s no coincidence that more than half are former British colonies or protectorates, according to research provided by the International LGBTI Association.

In most of these countries, legislation outlawing consensual gay sex was inherited from British rule and left in place following independence.

At the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, the British prime minister, Theresa May, urged Commonwealth nations to reform existing anti-gay legislation held over from British colonial rule.

And while stopping short of a formal apology, she used her speech to explicitly acknowledge Britian’s responsibility: “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.”

“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 told the gathered leaders.

At least 15 former colonies have decriminalized same-sex relations in the years since independence, with India being the second country this year following a Trinidad and Tobago ruling that the laws were “unconstitutional.”

Among them were mainly developed Western economies, including Australia, Canada and South Africa.

In many former British outposts the laws still stand, or are even being strengthened, particularly in Africa.

In early 2017, Mike Oquaye, a prominent Ghana politician, called for stricter laws on same-sex relations, referring to it as an “abomination” and deeply concerning the LGBT population.

“The government should recognize that we are human beings, with dignity, not treat us as outcasts in our own society,” a 40-year old lesbian from Ghana told Human Rights Watch in January.

“We want to be free, so we can stand tall in public and not deal with obstacles and harassment daily.”

But change is slowly coming across the world. In India, still flush with joy and celebration, LGBT activist Jhoti said he was hopeful about the future.

“It’s going to take a long time but this is the first step. Without decriminalization, a further fight for rights cannot happen,” he told CNN.

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