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Lady Phyll reflects on the powerful moment she rejected her MBE: ‘It’s based on the toxic legacy of empire’

Patrick Kelleher August 14, 2020
Lady Phyll

Lady Phyll (Mike Marsland/WireImage)

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, also known as Lady Phyll, has reflected on the moment she turned down a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) award because of its “toxic legacy of empire”.

The LGBT+ activist and UK Black Pride founder made headlines when she turned down the award in 2016 as part of the New Year’s Honours List.

Reflecting on the decision, Lady Phyll told Reuters that she couldn’t have anything to do with the award because it was “based on the toxic legacy of empire”.

The Kaleidoscope Trust executive director said the UK has yet to fully reckon with the impact of colonisation.

She noted that British colonialism led to harmful, degrading laws in various countries across the world that made homosexuality illegal – and these colonial-laws are still in force in many former colonies.

Lady Phyll said Britain has ‘never really unlearned’ the racism it developed through colonisation.

“Racism is so deep-rooted,” she said.

“We’ve never really unlearned or addressed or unpacked why this continually happens to Black people.”

Reflecting on the powerful legacy of UK Black Pride, which celebrates its 15th birthday this Sunday (16 July), Lady Phyll said: “It’s so important at times like this that we do make space and find space to celebrate achievements.

“Otherwise we could constantly be in a very dark, soul-destroying place.”

We’ve never really unlearned or addressed or unpacked why this continually happens to Black people.

Speaking about her decision to reject the MBE in 2016, Opoku-Gyimah told DIVA magazine that she could not accept it when “LGBT+ people are still being persecuted, tortured and even killed” under colonial-era laws.

“As a trade unionist, a working class girl, and an out Black African lesbian, I want to stand by my principles and values,” she added.

“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… that were put in place by British imperialists.”

She added: “I’m honoured and grateful, but I have to say no thank you.”

 

More: Lady Phyll, MBE, racism, UK Black Pride

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