May accused of 'neo-colonialism' by bishop for backing gay rights in Commonwealth speech

A bishop from Trinidad has accused UK prime minister Theresa May of 'neo-colonialism' for saying she 'deeply regrets' Britain's historical legacy of anti-gay laws across the Commonwealth as its 53 leaders gathered in London for their annual summit.

May drew cheers and applause when she said in her speech this morning: 'Nobody should face persecution or discrimination because of who they are or who they love.'

The prime minister said: 'Across the world, discriminatory laws made many years ago continue to affect the lives of many people, criminalising same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls. 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 UK'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.

'As a family of nations we must respect one another's cultures and traditions. But we must do so in a manner consistent with our common value of equality, a value that is clearly stated in the Commonwealth charter...Nobody should face persecution or discrimination because of who they are or who they love. And the UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.'

But Bishop Victor Gill of Trinidad – the pastor of an independent church and not an Anglican or Catholic – hit back on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, saying 'the gay agenda is being forced on us'.

Gill told presenter Nick Robinson: 'As a Christian homosexuality is something that the Bible condemns and at this time we feel from the perspective of the Christian community as if this is being forced on us by pawn brokers that are influencing are governments to take us into this direction.'

Asked if he feels bullied, he said: 'Definitely. My feeling is a sort of neo-colonialism. It is like OK we are the small countries so you have to take this and you have to take it or you won't get any favours or benefits from the Commonwealth.

'But we are also saying that homosexual rights must not trample on the rights of heterosexuals or Christians so that our children should not be indoctrinated in schools and taught that homosexuality is normal.'

And asked whether he would like to see gay people 'locked up', Gill said: 'Well, not necessarily. It is a crime to be gay. Once the law is removed then it will be legally right, then it will be taught, then they will want equal opportunity for services and so forth. I am saying the gay agenda is being forced on us.

'I am saying given the dynamics of the time and what is happening around the world the government could make some measure of compromise that their rights, or the rights they are claiming, don't infringe on Christian freedom of expression. Some provision probably could be made that doesn't allow gays to also criminalise us and litigate against us for speaking out on that practice as wrong, just as the Bible tells us.'

The number of states in which same-sex relations remain illegal is falling annually, with Belize and the Seychelles repealing such laws in 2016.

South Africa, which rejoined the Commonwealth after the end of white-minority rule in 1994, became the first African country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2006.

The human rights activist Peter Tatchell described May's speech as 'positive and welcome,' adding: 'This statement of regret cannot be easily dismissed and disparaged by Commonwealth heads of government. The prime minister's regret for Britain's imposition of anti-gay laws valuably reframes the LGBT issue in a way that it is likely to provoke less hostility in Commonwealth countries.'