What’s to be done about the continued repression of LGBTI people in Commonwealth nations that hang onto anti-homosexuality laws originally imposed by the British Empire?
One answer to the question is clear to Anglo-Ghanian LGBTI rights activist Phyll Opoku-Gyimah. She has turned down the honor of being named an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). That award goes to people recognized for public service, contributions to the arts and sciences, work and with charitable and welfare organizations.
“I’m honoured and grateful, but I have to say no thank you,” she said. “I don’t believe in empire. I don’t believe in, and actively resist, colonialism and its toxic and enduring legacy in the Commonwealth, where — among many other injustices — LGBTQI people are still 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.”
This is Diva magazine’s account of her decision:
Black lesbian activist declines MBE
Phyll Opoku-Gyimah has declined an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours List, exclusively telling DIVA she wanted to stand by her “principles and values”.
Almost 1200 people were honoured in last week’s lists, which recognise the achievements and service of people across the UK. This year, well known faces including Blur’s Damon Albarn, Barbara Windsor and James Nesbitt were all recognised.
Opoku-Gyimah, founder of UK Black Pride, Rainbow List judge and Stonewall trustee, said that while she was “honoured and grateful” for the recognition, she felt it was important to say “no thank you”.
She told DIVA: “As a trade unionist, a working class girl, and an out black African lesbian, I want to stand by my principles and values.
“If you’re a member of a minority – or multiple minorities – it’s important to be visible as a role model for others [and] for your successes to be seen.
“An honour is a very public statement that the establishment has decided that you, and what you do, are valued by the wider society. You’ve worked hard, and they’ve actually noticed. Maybe you’ve fought for workers’ rights, or LGBTQI rights, in defiance of those in power, and yet here they are, offering you an award, letting you in. It may help you raise the profile of future work you do. All of these are good reasons for accepting one, and yet, Member of the British Empire?”
She went on: “I don’t believe in empire. I don’t believe in, and actively resist, colonialism and its toxic and enduring legacy in the Commonwealth, where – among many other injustices – LGBTQI people are still 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.
“I’m honoured and grateful, but I have to say no thank you.”
Elsewhere, Tim Sigsworth from LGBT homeless charity the Albert Kennedy Trust was made an MBE, while LGBT Consortium’s Paul Roberts was awarded an OBE for his services to the LGBT community.
- Commonwealth: Maybe talk about LGBTI rights in 2018? (December 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Honors in U.K. for LGBTI activists from Africa, Asia (November 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Protesters seek to end LGBTI repression in Commonwealth (November 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Activists to U.K.: Fight harder vs. global LGBT persecution (June 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Queen honors LGBTI leader seeking change in Barbados (January 2015, 76crimes.com)