377: The British colonial law that left an anti-LGBTQ legacy in Asia

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06/28/2021

For much of the past two centuries, it was illegal to be gay in a vast swathe of the world – thanks to colonial Britain. Till today, colonial-era laws that ban homosexuality continue to exist in former British territories including parts of Africa and Oceania. But it is in Asia where they have had a significantly widespread impact. This is the region where, before India legalised homosexual sex in 2018, at least one billion people lived with anti-LGBTQ legislation. It can be traced back to one particular law first conceptualised in India, and one man’s mission to “modernise” the colony. ‘Exotic, mystical Orient’ Currently, it is illegal to be gay in around 69 countries, nearly two-thirds of which were under some form of British control at one point of time. This is no coincidence, according to Enze Han and Joseph O’Mahoney, who wrote the book British Colonialism and the Criminalization of Homosexuality. Dr Han told the BBC that British rulers introduced such laws because of a “Victorian, Christian puritanical concept of sex”. “They wanted to protect innocent British soldiers from the ‘exotic, mystical Orient’ – there was this very orientalised view of Asia and the Middle East that they were overly erotic.” “They thought if there were no regulations, the soldiers would be easily led astray.”

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