Homophobia: a colonial legacy

Submitted by AWL on 29 July, 2014 - 5:06 Author: Kate Harris

As the Commonwealth Games gets underway in Glasgow, various LGBTI rights groups have been raising awareness about the oppression of LGBTI people in the countries taking part.

In 42 out of the 53 Commonwealth countries, same-sex relationships are a crime. In northern Nigeria, some states have the death penalty. The Commonwealth Charter does not mention LGBTI rights.

Edwin Sesange, from the Out and Proud Diamond Group, writes in Gay Star News, 'This isn't about abstract “laws”. Legislation wrecks LGBTI people's lives, even leaving some of them dead. Millions of our [LGBTI] brothers and sisters risk police harassment and possible imprisonment, which may comes with beatings and torture.

'They are discriminated against at work, refused basic services and shunned at home. They suffer entrapment, blackmail and extortion. They are targets of “honour” killings, forced marriages, and “corrective” rapes, alongside a range of other methods to “cure” them of their sexuality or gender identity. And when mob justice isn't visited upon them by the family, it is by their community.'

It doesn't stop there. Sesange continues, 'Some are forced to flee, leaving them homeless, with all the risks associated with that or even seeking asylum, where the countries they hope to find shelter often reject them, sending them back to their potential death.' Laws restricting freedom of speech mean that groups cannot distribute information about sexual health, leading to worsening HIV rates.

Last year trans teenager Dwayne Jones was brutally murdered in Jamaica, and Cameroonian gay rights activist Eric Lembebe was killed in Yaounde. In 2011, Ugandan activist David Kato was murdered shortly after winning a lawsuit against a magazine which had published his name and photograph and called for him to be executed. There are many others, whose names we may not know.

New legislation in Uganda, Nigeria and India has been in the news, and rightly so, but most of these laws are the legacy of British colonialism. Commonwealth countries make up over half of states worldwide where there are homophobic laws.

Victorian colonialists publicly justified their plans by saying they were taking the three “C”s to Africa: commerce, civilisation and Christianity. More than a century later, evangelical Christians in the US look to some Ugandan churches as models of gay-bashing Christianity.

The British state's collusion with and enforcement of homophobic oppression in the former Empire is ongoing: partly due to a lack of action taken on issues of LGBTI rights, but also by refusing to grant asylum to LGBT refugees.

LGBTI rights groups are calling for action – for the UK government and Games organisers to speak up and for UK activists and sportspeople to show solidarity. The left should be at the forefront of showing solidarity to the incredible, brave activists fighting for LGBTI rights in the Commonwealth. Edwin Sesange writes, 'It is time for us all to unite – we can't allow our LGBTI brothers and sisters in the Commonwealth to suffer any longer.'

London-based readers should come to the Solidarity Sounds gig and help raise money for the Rainbow International Solidarity Fund. 30 July, 7.30pm at Union Chapel, N1.

Out and Proud Diamond Group

Rainbow International

Peter Tatchell Foundation

Nigerian LGBTI Diaspora

Movement for Justice

UK Gay and Lesbian Immigration Group