THERESA May has risked a row with much of the Commonwealth by blasting the three dozen member countries who still criminalise gay relationships.
The Prime Minister said she âdeeply regretsâ the UKâs own legacy in the anti-homsexual laws in those states – but told them to learn from our mistakes.
At the Commonwealth summit in London today she pledged to help the 36 of the 53 nations scrap hateful legislation which affect more than a billion people.
But she also admitted there âremains much to doâ after being accused of âbullyingâ former colonial states with her demands.
Mrs May told fellow leaders to enter the 21st century, adding: âNobody should face discrimination or persecution because of who they are or who they love.â
And admitting the UKâs own shame on the issue, the PM added: âI 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.â
Her words were welcomed by LGBT activists, but came hours after a Trinidadian bishop had accused the UK of “a sort of neo-colonialism” by urging states to legalise homosexuality.
Mrs May told the Chogm event at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster: “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.
“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.
“Nobody should face discrimination or persecution because of who they are or who they love and the UK stands ready to help any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.”
Mrs May’s speech was greeted by applause by the audience of delegates and supported by others not attending.
Veteran rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said it was a “positive and welcome move” but said it should have been made to Commonwealth leaders rather than at an event attended by NGO delegates.
He said: “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.”
But earlier today Bishop Victor Gill, from Trinidad and Tobago, had accused Britain of trying to force smaller countries into liberalising sexuality laws.
The Caribbean nation’s law that criminalises same-sex acts was ruled to be unconstitutional earlier this month.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “As a Christian, homosexuality is something the Bible condemns and at this time we feel, from the perspective of the Christian community, as if this is being forced upon us by power brokers that are influencing our Government to take us into this direction.”
Bishop Gill added: “My feeling is a sort of neo-colonialism. It’s OK, we are the smaller country so we give you this and you have to take it or you otherwise you won’t get any favours and benefits from the Commonwealth.
“We are also saying that homosexual rights must not trample on the rights of heterosexuals or Christians so that our children should not be indoctrinated in school that homosexuality is normal.”