A black lesbian activist in the UK is showing accolades can’t rectify colonial histories.
Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, also known as Lady Phyll, stands as one of Britain’s most prominent queer activists, co-founding UK Black Pride ten years ago. But after recently being named a 2015 recipient of one of the country’s most prestigious honors to civilians, the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), she declined.
“I don’t believe in empire,” Opoku-Gyimah told Diva Magazine. “I don’t believe in, and actively resist, colonialism and its toxic and enduring legacy in the Commonwealth, where–among many other injustices –LGTBQI people are being persecuted, tortured and even killed because of sodomy laws, including in Ghana, where I am from, that were put in place by British imperialists.”
Today, the UK stands as one of the most formidable countries in the world. But its present position is inextricably linked to centuries of colonial domination it used to establish itself as a global superpower.
One of the mechanisms for imperialism, which peaked in the 19th century under Queen Victoria, the great great grandmother of the Queen Elizabeth II, was the construction of laws to subjugate local populations in settled territories outside the metropole.
This included in the areas of sexuality.
According to a survey by the Washington Post former British colonies were more likely to have laws that criminalize homosexuality. This point is often distorted to shame these countries for being homophobic and less progressive than their Western counterparts, Great Britain, included. The problem, however, is that this indictment is ahistorical. Though the criminalization of queer communities is of great concern, at closer look, one finds that these ideas are not inherent to the communities themselves, but instead a legacy of imperial control that, even after the wave of independence movements during the 1960s, remains to this day.
Opoku-Gyimah’s stance hopes to bring that point to the forefront.
“I’m honored and grateful, but I have to say no thank you.”
Photo credit: ukblackpride.org