The homophobic legacy of the British Empire


The announcement that Part 377, a British colonial-era legislation prohibiting “unnatural acts,” can be annulled was met with jubilation by rights activists, lots of whom had campaigned for years to finish the archaic laws.

However whereas India’s LGBT inhabitants embraces its new discovered freedoms, thousands and thousands throughout the globe proceed to attend in hope.

In most of those international locations, laws outlawing consensual homosexual intercourse was inherited from British rule and left in place following independence.

Talking at a gathering of Commonwealth Heads of Authorities on April 17, British Prime Minister Theresa Might expressed “remorse” at the British Empire’s long legacy of homophobic legislation.

“I’m all too conscious that these legal guidelines have been usually put in place by my very own nation. They have been mistaken then, and they’re mistaken now,” she advised the gathered leaders.

“Because the UK’s Prime Minister, I deeply remorse each the truth that such legal guidelines have been launched, and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even dying that persists at this time.”

How homophobia got here into legislation

Internationally, from South America to Asia, an estimated 49 previously British-administered international locations proceed to criminalize homosexuality.

Out of these, 31 nonetheless have legal guidelines based mostly on the unique colonial anti-LGBT laws, in keeping with Lucas Mendos, co-author of the 2017 ILGA “State-Sponsored Homophobia.” This contains international locations as various as Malaysia, Pakistan and Uganda.

Regardless of the prevalence of anti-LGBT legal guidelines all through the previous British Empire, there was no blanket decree outlawing gay relations.

As an alternative, it was the sensibilities of particular person colonial directors which led to the primary legal guidelines after which their fast unfold throughout the Empire from 1860 onwards.

Enze Han, creator of “British Colonialism and the Criminalization of Homosexuality,” stated the legal guidelines have been partly the product of a strict Victorian ethical code, which outlined any sexual exercise not for procreation as taboo.

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“(The British additionally) had this conception that the ‘Orient,’ the non-Western topics, have been overly erotic and over-sexed, and that is the rationale why they have been fearful younger colonial officers going overseas can be corrupted by these sexual acts,” he stated.

Lots of the legal guidelines which have been put in place beneath the colonizers have lengthy since been amended and even strengthened by native governments, which Mendos stated may additionally present that colonial laws at the very least partially mirrored conservative opinions widespread inside these international locations on the time.

“(They) embraced it as one thing which is a part of the tradition,” Mendos advised CNN.

An alternate clarification can be that conservative attitudes present in former colonies are illustrative of the long run results of British prohibitions on native opinions.

In keeping with Han, as soon as a legislation is in place, it is tough to dislodge, each from a authorized and physiological perspective. “The legislation e-book says it is unlawful in order that implies that it has this basic societal inference, altering the social normative views of homosexual intercourse,” stated Han.

Cultural traditions overturned

The strict Victorian-era legal guidelines introduced in by British colonists usually clashed with a long time, and even centuries of complicated native cultural attitudes to sexuality. India, particularly, had historically maintained a versatile, non-prescriptive view of sexuality and gender roles.

However the British directors paid little consideration to native attitudes once they criminalized same-sex relations in 1860, and declared the nation’s centuries-old previous customized of transgender hjiras to be “unnatural.”

India was in reality one of many first colonies to outlaw LGBT sexual relations beneath British imposed laws. Han, the College of Hong Kong professor, advised CNN the Indian legal guidelines have been then used as a “template” for different colonies.

Indian LGBT activist Dhrubo Jyoti, who helped lead the marketing campaign for the decriminalization of homosexual intercourse in India, advised CNN that same-sex communities loathed the legislation not simply because it was “mistaken,” but in addition as a result of it was “alien.”

“This legislation was not ours. This was not a legislation that has organically developed in our society,” stated Jyoti.

Jyoti identified that the legislation did not solely entice members of the LGBT neighborhood within the closet, it additionally invited different types of discrimination, offering a canopy for blackmail and harassment, and even sexual assault.

Indian LGBT activist Dhrubo Jyoti.

Political oppression

The British colonial legal guidelines have not simply been used to repress and harass the LGBT neighborhood. In lots of locations they’re an energetic device to clamp down on political dissent.

As was the case in India, Malaysia additionally criminalizes same-sex relations beneath Part 377, based mostly on the unique British colonial laws.

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Underneath Part 377, distinguished Malaysian opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim was imprisoned twice on sodomy prices which many viewed as spurious and politically motivated.

Ibrahim was freed earlier this 12 months beneath a brand new Malaysian authorities, however native activist Pang Khee Teik stated it was too quickly for the nation’s LGBT inhabitants to have fun.

“In the course of the Parliament session, you can hear they have been very involved that they’re seen as being open to supporting LGBT, they usually’re fearful this may cost them political factors,” stated Pang of the nation’s new authorities.

It is not simply the anti-sodomy legal guidelines which fear Pang. British colonial-era anti-sedition legal guidelines, imposed in 1948, have been used to quell dissent in Malaysia, making it arduous to protest for LGBT rights.

“The sedition legal guidelines … are nonetheless getting used to focus on and silence activists,” Pang stated. “I do not suppose us wanting on the sodomy legislation as the one British legacy that’s problematic is nice sufficient.”

Malaysian LGBT activist Pang Khee Teik.

Rising conservative Islamic sentiment within the nation makes the colonial-era authorized framework more and more regarding for activists, as life will get progressively harder for LGBT Malaysians.

Two homosexual ladies have been caned in Malaysia in early September for making an attempt to have intercourse in a parked automotive, the first time the punishment had been open to the public, whereas 20 males have been charged after a homosexual membership was raided in Kuala Lumpur in August.

“We do not know what is going on to occur sooner or later. That is the overall feeling,” Numan Afifi of LGBT activist group the Pelangi Marketing campaign advised CNN in September.

‘We wish to be free’

At the very least 15 former colonies have decriminalized same-sex relations within the years since independence, with India being the second nation this 12 months following a Trinidad and Tobago ruling that the legal guidelines were “unconstitutional.”

Amongst them have been primarily developed Western economies, together with Australia, Canada and South Africa.

In lots of former British outposts the legal guidelines nonetheless stand, or are even being strengthened, significantly in Africa.

In December, a LGBT movie pageant in Uganda was raided by police and shut down. Police advised organizers they’d been warned the movies have been “pornographic,” however the pageant staff stated they weren’t breaking any laws.
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As in Malaysia and different British colonies, same-sex relations are outlawed in Uganda beneath present legal guidelines based mostly of the previous British penal code. Homosexual Pleasure occasions in Uganda are often shut down by authorities and the parliament has tried to place in place strict legal guidelines outlawing the “promotion of homosexuality.”

A UN particular rapporteur who visited the previous British colony of Ghana in April reported widespread discrimination and even violence in opposition to LGBT folks. Similar-sex relations have been unlawful in Ghana for the reason that colonial period, and the present legal code makes use of comparable language to the unique legal guidelines.
In early 2017, Mike Oquaye, a distinguished Ghana politician, known as for stricter legal guidelines on same-sex relations, referring to it as an “abomination” and deeply in regards to the LGBT inhabitants.
“The federal government ought to acknowledge that we’re human beings, with dignity, not deal with us as outcasts in our personal society,” a 40-year previous lesbian from Ghana told Human Rights Watch in January.

“We wish to be free, so we are able to stand tall in public and never cope with obstacles and harassment each day.”

However change is slowly coming internationally. In India, nonetheless flush with pleasure and celebration, LGBT activist Jhoti stated he was hopeful in regards to the future.

“It may take a very long time however this is step one. With out decriminalization, an extra battle for rights can’t occur,” he advised CNN.

CNN’s Manveena Suri contributed to this report.

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