Comment: Cameron should apologise for anti-gay laws

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Prime Minister David Cameron should apologise for Britain’s past imposition of anti-gay laws on more than 50 counties.

During the era of British imperial conquest, our government inflicted homophobic persecution on the LGBT peoples of Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean. Before colonialism, none of these countries had laws against same-sex relations. Many pre-colonial societies accepted or tolerated same-sex relations.

It would be a welcome gesture of contrition and moral leadership for our Prime Minister to acknowledge the terrible wrong that Britain did – and to seek to atone for it.

I don’t want David Cameron to grovel. But his commitment to global LGBT human rights would carry greater credibility if he apologised for Britain’s past wrong in foisting anti-gay laws on other countries.

Without an apology, the UK’s call for the decriminalisation of homosexuality throughout the world will lack credibility. With an apology, the appeal for decriminalisation will have greater impact and authority.

An apology would be a gesture of reconciliation and put current homophobic states on the spot.

At present, more than 40 countries that were former British colonies have retained the anti-gay laws that Britain imposed on them in the nineteenth century, with penalties ranging up to life imprisonment for homosexuality in Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Pakistan, Uganda, Bangladesh and Guyana.

These 40-plus nations account for more than half of the world’s countries that still criminalise same-sex relations. They penalise millions of LGBT people.

Several of these states have conducted homophobic witch-hunts in recent years, with arrests or threatened mass round ups in The Gambia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Ghana.

Saying sorry is a small but important gesture, which would be to Britain’s credit. It would enhance our human rights reputation and wrong-foot those nations who dismiss LGBT rights as a western imposition. The real western export to the developing world was homophobia, not homosexuality.

Over to you, David Cameron.