News, Culture & Society

Campaigner, 27, refuses an OBE because of Empire’s ‘deep and unsettling race issues’

A campaigner who worked to make upskirting illegal has turned down an OBE from the Queen because she believes the British Empire has ‘deep and unsettling race issues’.

Gina Martin, 27, posted a letter on social media revealing she had refused to accept the honour because she thought it would be ‘deeply hypocritical’ while ‘continuing to be vocal about my commitment to anti racism.’

The activist, a UN Women’s advocate who was nominated in June for the Queen’s 2020 Birthday Honours, said she believes the term British Empire highlights ‘violence and oppression’ and that it was a feeling that was ‘still being acutely felt to this day.’ 

The Order of the British Empire recognises contributions to the UK across the arts and sciences, charity, public service and the military. 

Ms Martin, who successfully campaigned to make upskirting a criminal offence, said she came to her decision after spending the last two years learning about the history of the Empire through her work on civil rights.

She said she would rather be known as a ‘proud, working class Northerner’ rather than an ‘Officer of the Order of the British Empire.’ 

It comes as campaigners sparked a backlash after demanding the word ’empire’ be removed from the the Queen’s honours. They claimed the term has an association with brutality and slavery, and the debate was also brought to the forefront by the Black Lives Matter movement this year.  

Ms Martin, 27, cited the 'deep and unsettling race issues' of the British Empire as the reason for her refusal in a letter

Campaigner Gina Martin, 27 – who worked to make upskirting illegal – has turned down an OBE from the Queen

The activist was nominated in June for the Queen's 2020 Birthday Honours, but said in a letter that it would be 'deeply hypocritical' to accept while also being 'vocal about her commitment to anti-racism'

The activist was nominated in June for the Queen’s 2020 Birthday Honours, but said in a letter that it would be ‘deeply hypocritical’ to accept while also being ‘vocal about her commitment to anti-racism’

Sharing her letter on Twitter, Martin wrote: 'I was honoured to be asked and considered alongside everyone who accepted, but knew it was not for me'

Sharing her letter on Twitter, Martin wrote: ‘I was honoured to be asked and considered alongside everyone who accepted, but knew it was not for me’

Ms Martin’s decision was questioned after she posted the letter on Twitter.

One said: ‘I read and I know of you due to the difference you’ve made for women. But this stance is just so sad to me.

‘There is not one country in this world that has a nice past, to choose to turn your back on an honour few women have had, for that reason, doesn’t sit well.’

Another wrote: ‘Quite a stance you have taken. Completely wrong, but principled. 

‘Majority of European countries have had empires of course, ours was the biggest and greatest. We learnt lessons, we abolished slavery , we removed ourselves from colonised nations but left a lasting positive legacy.’

Which public figures have turned down OBEs?

Comedian Lenny Henry rejected an OBE under the Tories in 1994 but accepted a CBE from New Labour in 1999. 

Dawn French rejected an OBE along with her comedy partner Jennifer Saunders in 2001.

Saunders said: ‘If I felt I deserved a damehood I’d accept it.

‘At the time, we felt that we were being paid very well to have a lot of fun. It didn’t seem right somehow.

‘We didn’t deserve a pat on the back. It felt a bit fake to stand alongside people who devoted their lives to truly worthy causes.’

Doris Lessing, the author, rejected an OBE in 1977 and a DBE in 1993, but accepted the title Companion of Honour in 2000.

She said: ‘I don’t want to say anything to offend any other Dame, but it’s all a bit like a pantomime.

‘The advantage (of the honour she accepted), as far as I was concerned, is that you’re not called anything, which I like.’

Roald Dahl, the maverick author who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, turned down an OBE in 1986 when he was 70. He died, unhonoured, four years later. 

Celebrity cook and writer Nigella Lawson rejected an OBE in 2001.

She later said: ‘I’m not saving lives and I’m not doing anything other than something I absolutely love.’

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah publicly rejected a New Year honour. He said he was protesting at ‘years of brutality’ under the British Empire and the war in Iraq.

Writing in a newspaper, he said he refused to be made an OBE because the award was a legacy of colonialism.

He added: ‘Stick it, Mr Blair and Mrs Queen, stop going on about empire.’

In 1977, director Ken Loach turned down an OBE. 

He said: ‘It’s all the things I think are despicable: patronage, deferring to the monarchy and the name of the British Empire, which is a monument of exploitation and conquest.

‘I turned down the OBE because it’s not a club you want to join when you look at the villains who’ve got it.’

Earlier this year a senior member of the Commons honours committee said the BLM protests had reignited the debate over the use of the term empire in the honours system.

They told the Sunday Times newspaper: ‘This has been a live issue for some time but there has been heightened discussion about it among members of the committee since the protests.

‘Some members favour the removal of the word ’empire’ from the existing honours, but others would prefer the introduction of a new medal that better reflects a more diverse 21st-century Britain.’

In her response to the Cabinet Office turning down the honour, Ms Martin wrote: ‘I personally have spent the last two years learning about the history of the British Empire.

‘Through this work I have come to learn about the violence and oppression that resulted and is still being felt acutely to this day.

‘I continue to have ongoing conversations about this topic […] I hope you understand that I’d rather continue those conversations – including with members of Government as Gina Martin, the proud working class Northerner than Gina Martin, Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

‘With that said, I only have admiration and respect for the amazing people who have accepted their awards [..] and I am touched to be considered alongside them.’ 

She added: ‘I was honoured to be asked and considered alongside everyone who accepted, but knew it was not for me.

‘This isn’t a decision I expect everyone to understand but part of my job is as an influencer online with an audience of over 100,000 women, I wanted to be transparent and show that it’s important and stand up for your beliefs.’

Those who gain OBE and MBE titles are decided by honours committees made up of senior civil servants and people independent of the Government. 

Some have turned down their award from the Queen for political reasons.

In September this year, reports claimed that members of the honours committee were considering whether to eliminate the word ‘Empire’ from the OBE and MBE awards. 

The source added that the change is currently ‘only under discussion’ but it could lead to a full government review.

A Cabinet spokesperson denied the claims, telling MailOnline: ‘There are no plans to do this. There has been considerable reform to the honours system in the last 25 years to ensure it is inclusive.

‘Engagement is also done throughout the year to make sure deserving people of all backgrounds are nominated and we remain committed to ensuring the honours system represents UK society.’ 

Those who gain OBE and MBE titles are decided by honours committees made up of senior civil servants and people independent of the Government.

Some have turned down their award from the Queen for political reasons. 

Cricketer Ben Stokes was presented with his OBE by the Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace earlier this year. The Order of the British Empire recognises contributions to the UK across the arts and sciences, charity, public service and the military

Cricketer Ben Stokes was presented with his OBE by the Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace earlier this year. The Order of the British Empire recognises contributions to the UK across the arts and sciences, charity, public service and the military

Bear Grylls was made an OBE by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in October last year

Bear Grylls was made an OBE by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in October last year

When poet Benjamin Zephaniah was offered an OBE in 2003 he declined it, condemning the award as a ‘legacy of colonialism’.

Zephaniah, who has Barbadian and Jamaican heritage, said at the time that the word ‘Empire’ ‘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…

‘Benjamin Zephaniah OBE – no way, Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.’

When poet Benjamin Zephaniah was offered an OBE in 2003 he turned it down, condemning the award as a 'legacy of colonialism'

When poet Benjamin Zephaniah was offered an OBE in 2003 he turned it down, condemning the award as a ‘legacy of colonialism’ 

What is the law on upskirting?

Upskirting becomes a specific criminal offence in England and Wales in April, following a drive led by 27-year-old writer Gina Martin.

She battled for the new law for 18 months after after two men took a picture up her skirt at a festival in 2017. 

Upskirting is defined as taking an image or video up somebody’s clothing in order to see their genitals or underwear. 

Previously, anyone in England and Wales who fell victim to it could explore possible convictions for the likes of voyeurism, public disorder or indecency. 

An upskirting conviction at magistrates’ court would carry a sentence of up to one year in prison and/or a fine.

A more serious offence, tried in the crown court, would carry a sentence of up to two years in prison.

Celebrities who have shunned the offer of being made an OBE or MBE include Danny Boyle, Jon Snow and Stephen Hawking.

Labour MP Lisa Nandy has previously advocated to scrap the word ‘Empire’ from the name to make the award more inclusive for people from BAME backgrounds. 

Earlier this year, while campaigning to become Labour leader, she insisted doing away with the reference to Britain’s colonial past would help make the country ‘different’.

‘The self-confident, empowered country I will lead will be one that is different,’ she said during a Labour leadership hustings.

‘Where people like Benjamin Zephaniah can accept the Order of Excellence not reject the Order of the British Empire.

‘That celebrates those who built us not seeks to alienate them.

‘To remake this country as it should and can be, Written, as he says, in ”verses of fire”.’ 

Ms Martin lobbied the Government for two years when she was unable to prosecute a man who took a picture up her skirt at a music festival.

A law making upskirting an offence punishable in England and Wales by up to two years in prison came into effect in April 2019.

Upskirting is defined as taking an image or video up somebody’s clothing in order to see their genitals or underwear. 

Prior to the new law, anyone in England and Wales who fell victim to upskirting could explore possible convictions for the likes of voyeurism, public disorder or indecency. 

Speaking earlier this year, Lisa Nandy set out why she did not believe OBEs should refer to 'empire'

Speaking earlier this year, Lisa Nandy set out why she did not believe OBEs should refer to ’empire’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk