June 11, 2018 at 6:39 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
UK ambassador urges countries to decriminalize homosexuality

British Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch speaks at a Pride reception at the British Embassy in D.C. on June 8, 2018. He told the Washington Blade before the event that Commonwealth countries that have yet to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations should do so. (Photo courtesy of Scott Marder)

British Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch on Friday urged Commonwealth countries that have yet to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations to do so.

“We just urge all of our friends and partners in other countries around the world to move on as we have done to make their societies more open, more liberal, to embrace anti-discrimination in relation to the LGBT community as we have,” Darroch told the Washington Blade during an interview at the British Embassy in D.C. “It just makes your society a better place.”

“These are individuals after all who contribute massively wherever they are,” he added.

The Blade spoke with Darroch before the embassy’s annual Pride reception, which took place less than two months after Prime Minister Theresa May said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relations the U.K. introduced in Commonwealth countries.

“Discriminatory laws made many years ago continue to affect the lives of many people, criminalizing same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls,” said May in a speech she gave at the Commonwealth summit in London on April 17. “I 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. As the U.K.’s prime minister, I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today.”

A judge on Trinidad and Tobago’s High Court on April 22 struck down the country’s sodomy law.

Three LGBT people in Barbados on June 6 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that challenges their country’s sodomy law. Activists in India, Kenya and other Commonwealth countries continue to challenge colonial-era statutes that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts.

“She was absolutely right to do it,” Darroch told the Blade, referring to May’s speech. “It was a courageous statement, but it was very clear and very firm and I agree with it completely.”

Darroch touts LGBTI rights progress in U.K.

Laws that pardoned gay and bisexual men who were convicted under homophobic statutes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland took effect in 2017. The Scottish Parliament on June 6 unanimously approved these pardons for gay and bisexual men in Scotland who were prosecuted under anti-gay laws.

Queen Elizabeth II in 2013 posthumously pardoned Alan Turing, a pioneering mathematician who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for having a relationship with another man.

Darroch told the Blade the U.K. now has “some of the strongest anti-discrimination laws on the planet.”

There are currently 45 openly lesbian, gay and bisexual MPs in the U.K. Darroch also pointed out same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in England, Scotland and Wales since 2014.

“In that context, I think it’s exactly right for the prime minister to have said what she said,” he said, referring to May’s speech. “I’m proud to represent a government that does that kind of thing.”

Darroch acknowledged “nowhere is perfect” when the Blade asked him about what more the British government can do to combat discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

He said support for Pride marches in the U.K. is “pretty extraordinary” and it is “remarkable having the armed forces in full uniform supporting them.” Darroch nevertheless noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in more than 70 countries.

Men convicted of consensual same-sex sexual activity in Iran, Saudi Arabia and a handful of other countries face the death penalty. Darroch told the Blade the British government’s participation in Pride events around the world and its Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy are among the ways it is urging countries to repeal their sodomy laws.

Darroch on Saturday marched in the Capital Pride parade alongside the British Embassy’s float.

“We do quite a lot now internationally to support the cause that is something we strongly believe in,” he told the Blade. “We pride ourselves as being an open and liberal society and that’s the kinds of things that we do domestically that we should also being doing overseas.”

Darroch welcomes Bermuda marriage ruling

Darroch spoke with the Blade two days after Bermuda Supreme Court Chief Justice Ian R. C. Kawaley ruled a law that rescinded marriage rights for same-sex couples in the British island territory is unconstitutional.

Darroch said the ruling is “a good thing.”

The Domestic Partnership Act — which Gov. John Rankin signed in February amid strong strong opposition from LGBTI activists in Bermuda and their supporters around the world — took effect on June 1. A spokesperson for the British Foreign Office told the Blade late last year the issue was “a matter for the” territory’s government to decide.

Kawaley’s ruling will not take effect for six weeks. The Bermuda government has yet to formally appeal it.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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