TOP trade unionist Phyll Opoku-Gyimah turned down a gong in the New Year’s honours list because of the “toxic and enduring legacy” of colonialism, the Morning Star can reveal.
Ms Opoku-Gyimah, who is head of political campaigns at civil servants’ union PCS, turned down an MBE citing the “many injustices” still being perpetrated across the world as a result of colonialism.
She is also cofounder of UK Black Pride and has been repeatedly recognised as one of Britain’s most influential LGBT activists.
But Lady Phyll, as she is known in the movement, said she had never considered whether she would accept a state gong before the offer was made.
Honours make those people recognised members, officers or commanders of the Order of the British Empire.
In 2003, the poet Benjamin Zephaniah rejected an OBE.
“Up yours, I thought,” he wrote at the time, “I get angry when I hear that word ‘empire,’ it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised.”
Ms Opoku-Gyimah told the Morning Star: “We all want to be acknowledged for the things we’ve done that we are proud of. If you’re a member of a minority, or multiple minorities, it’s important to be visible as a role model for others.
“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.”
But she said the connotations of the gong’s title were in conflict with the need she felt to “stand by my principles and values.”
She continued: “I don’t believe in empire. I don’t believe in — and actively resist — colonialism and its toxic and enduring legacy in the Commonwealth.
“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.”
“So I’m honoured and grateful. Thank you but I have to say no thank you!”