Culturally Imperialistic? Gay rights and cultural relativism 

Recently, I’ve gotten into a few debates (a.k.a arguments) with a friend over my possibly controversial stance on the role more developed or progressive countries have to play in the social affairs of other countries. I haven’t really totally made my mind up but I thought writing about it a little might help sort my thoughts out.

Personally, I tend to think that it isn’t enough to sit back and just wait for rights to be accorded to minorities (or even not minorities, just groups not in power like women in some places) in some countries. I wouldn’t quite know how one could go about instilling the kind of mindset and legal frameworks that would allow these ways of thinking and rights to exist in a sustainable way; but it seems to me that countries where citizens are allowed to enjoy basic human rights should do something to help those elsewhere who are persecuted. Be those means sanctions or other kinds of involvement, I’m not really sure — but even as gestures of opposition to not treating citizens equally, I think that they would act as vital signals if nothing else.

The attention that these issues receive though is one thing that I find highly depressing. Take gay – human – rights in Russia as an example. There was just a window of weeks wherein the position of gay people being persecuted by nationalistic groups and more worryingly by the state took centre stage. I was glad that people were talking about the situation and it did seem that some kind of action would be taken to prevent the kind of brutality which was inflicted upon gay people would try to be stopped. Videos posted by the countries extreme-right vigilante anti-gay groups are some of the most horrific scenes one could hope to watch. This was short-lived, though. With the end of the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the issue seemed to just snap out of people’s minds. These brief flashes of hope where people will take notice and demand action and their own governments to act are few and never seem to last long, sadly. Another example would be gay rights within Africa, which is not discussed nearly enough, I would say. The horrific conditions gay people must live in are beyond belief – from attacks to being published as a ‘top homosexual’ in the media. Campaigns such as a recent one from Cameroon where celebrities from the country called for rights for gay people should (in a perfect world) really ignite international support.

The issue with this, I’m aware, is that (possibly) culturally imperialistically imposing the rights of one set of people onto another may not actually work and may seem like an elitist view which is unpopular. I’m aware also that people may (probably rightly say) it would be audacious of Britain to push supporing gay rights, for example, since they left the legacy of colonialism in many countries which actually fuelled anti-same-sex relations sentiments; and that it was only very recently that Britain has given gay people rights. However, I don’t think (most reasonable) people would argue that Britain is worse off now (in that respect, anyway) than before.


As a gay person born in Britain, I feel lucky (which I find sad in itself) that I was born in a place and time where I’m not directly persecuted by the state and while I did grow up being bullied for being gay, I’ve not faced any real homophobia in years and public support seems to be with gay rights.

Personally, I find it a struggle to justify not acting and really emphasising the need to support human rights and stopping things like legislation persecuting certain people and vicious attacks on some groups. But I do absolutely see the issues with this rather black-and-white stance, I just wish they didn’t get primacy over human lives and dignity.

“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place … I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level”  – Desmond Tutu


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