india lgbt

LGBT Indians today celebrate the official repeal of British-colonial era anti gay sex laws.

Meanwhile in other former British colonial possessions the legacy of nineteenth-century homophobia continues to seed bitter fruit.

‘Independent’ Nations Still Embracing British Rule

The world was was sickened last week when a court in a conservative province of Malaysia sentenced two women to public flogging, after police caught the pair attempting to engage in a sex act in a parked car.

Many commentators have seen this as a worrying indication of the power that religious courts have to involve themselves in the private lives of the faithful in this majority Muslim, but historically multicultural nation.

But it’s also important to remember the role of Britain’s imperial legacy in putting anti-gay laws on the books around the world in the first place.

In nations as geographically and culturally disparate as Malaysia and Mauritius, Bangladesh and Uganda, as many as 38 of the 72 countries which still have legislation prohibiting same-sex sexual activity were at one time under some form of British colonial rule.



And in many – although not all – cases, the anti-gay legislation is a direct hangover from British colonial legal codes.

It seems that all too often wherever the map was once pink, the rainbow flag just won’t fly.

Gay Liberation Is Anti-Colonial Liberation

Of course, not all former British colonies enforce homophobic laws.

In 2006 South Africa became the first – and to date only – nation in Africa to legalize same-sex marriage. Although LGBT people in South Africa still face social discrimination, including at times horrific acts of violence, provisions for gay rights in the country’s post-Apartheid constitution are some of the most progressive in the world.

Similarly, in many current and former Commonwealth nations, including much of the Caribbean, anti-gay legislation is seldom enforced, even it still remains officially written into statute.

It would also be naive to attribute all anti-gay feeling in former British colonies to the legacy of British administrators.

The true story is far more complex and varies region by region, influenced by cultural, religious and political trends which may have no direct relationship to former British rule.

How The Courtroom Got Into The Bedroom

Social and historical attitudes to same-sex sexual contact, transgender practices and even heterosexual gender roles in any society, are shaped by many influences and are seldom as fixed or uniform as they might at first appear.



They are also frequently prone to misinterpretation by outsiders, who inevitably experience them through the lens of their own cultural and moral codes.

But when British colonial administrators wrote the law codes that enforced late-Victorian British social and sexual mores as the universal standard for proper sexual conduct for all subject peoples, they were plowing a field in which state-backed homophobia has grown roots and flourished.

The seeds of homophobia may have been sown by others, at different times and for different purposes, but gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in many post-colonial states around the world are now left to reap a sad harvest.

LGBT Indians: Heroes Of Human Dignity

The irony is that the comparative dignity and security of LGBT Brits today, has been made possible by a series of legislative victories, which overturned these discriminatory nineteenth-century laws in their own country.

As a consequence, opponents of gay rights globally sometimes claim that toleration of homosexuality is a Western import – a form of neo-colonialism.

But as this recent decision of the Indian Supreme Court has shown the world, doing away with noxious anti-gay laws imposed under British rule, is not merely a victory for human dignity, but a triumph over colonialism… even seventy years after Independence.

 



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