1997

Gays demand share of looted Nazi gold

Bid to win Compensation for Homosexuals persecuted by Hitler

Members of OutRage! picketed the London conference on looted Nazi gold at Lancaster House today, Tuesday, 2nd December.

The protesters held placards demanding “Compensate gay victims of Nazism”.

They were greeted with a friendly smile and a wave from British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, as he entered Lancaster House.

Robin Cook’s friendliness was surprising because the Foreign Office has opposed gay participation in the conference. Invitations were refused to the World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organisations and to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

In contrast, Jewish and Gypsy groups were officially encouraged to participate, and are attending.

We are angry that gay organisations have been excluded. Any decisions taken by this conference should reflect the just claims of everyone persecuted by the Nazis, including gay people.

Where the owners of looted gold cannot be traced, it should be used to compensate holocaust victims who have been refused reparations by the German government, including East European Jews, slave labourers, and gay people.

Some of the gold should be set aside to finance memorials, educational programmes, and museums in honour of the forgotten victims of Nazism, such as Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, and black people.

OutRage! is proposing that gay community groups should receive a share of the looted gold, to help finance:

  • a gay holocaust memorial and museum in Berlin;
  • educational films about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany, for distribution to schools;
  • a hardship fund, to support elderly gay holocaust survivors.

Sex, Homophobia, and Media lies

New rules against press intrusion protect only royalty and the rich.

We need new laws to stop media homophobia and dishonest reporting.

Following the death of Princess Diana, demands for controls on the paparazzi have resulted in the Press Complaints Commission drawing up tough new rules to protect the right to privacy and stop media intrusion. These new regulations have only one purpose: to protect the rich and famous, especially the royals.

The far more serious problem of prejudiced, inflammatory, distorted and fabricated news stories is, by comparison, getting scant attention from the Press Complaints Commission.

Nothing typifies journalistic lies and bias more than the coverage of homosexuality. The devastating damage done by media homophobia is amply documented by Terry Sanderson in his book, Mediawatch (Cassell, £ 13.99). He reveals the alarming mistreatment of gay issues and people by all sections of the media. We are alternately stereotyped, invisibilised, scapegoated, misrepresented and demonised. Why isn’t the Press Complaints Commission up in arms about this obnoxious homophobic journalism, which has led to more deaths (by suicide and queer-bashing) than anything done by the reviled paparazzi?

Action to halt inaccurate and biased journalism is far more important and urgent than the current preoccupation with stopping media harassment and intrusive reporting. It is time the Press Complaints Commission ceased one-sidedly pandering to the “privacy” demands of the privileged elite.

The Commission should get its priorities right by concentrating on press misbehaviour that adversely affects everyone. What is needed, more than any other reform, are new regulations to ensure that newspapers report the truth and eradicate bias. The inaccurate and prejudiced journalism that so often disgraces their pages has got to be cleaned out.

We lesbians and gays have felt the harsh effects of press falsehood and bigotry more than anyone else. In the mid-1980s, tabloid sensationalism and fabrication about AIDS –dubbed the “Gay Plague”– incited homophobia. This led to a sharp downturn in public support for gay civil rights and a dramatic increase in queer-bashing and arrests of gay men.

During the same period, press vilification was also directed at so-called “loony left” Labour councils over their support for lesbian and gay equality. The tabloids even made up stories, including the claim that the gay storybook, Jenny Lives With Eric & Martin, was in primary school libraries. This fuelled public intolerance and government homophobia, contributing directly to the enactment of Section 28 and to the defeat of some pro-gay Labour councillors.

As victims of unfair reporting, we queers have a strong interest in uplifting the quality of journalism. There are two press reforms that would do more than anything else to curtail prejudiced and dishonest reporting: a legally enforceable “right of reply”, to correct inaccurate news stories; and the outlawing of “incitement to hatred” against gay people.

Under “right of reply” legislation, any newspaper that prints something factually untrue would be required to publish a correction within seven days, giving the correction similar space and prominence to the original offending article, (in order to prevent them burying it in tiny print at the bottom of page 37).

If this legislation had existed in 1994-95, both OutRage! and I would have had swift legal redress against the scandalous media distortion of our outing campaign. As the law stood (and still stands), we were powerless to do anything.

A legal right of reply already exists in France, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Greece, Austria and Switzerland. It has been very effective in improving journalistic accuracy.

In Britain, right of reply laws are supported by the National Union of Journalists, the Trades Union Congress, the Labour Party and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.

The other vital reform is legislation prohibiting “incitement to hatred”. This would make it a criminal offence to publicly threaten, vilify or degrade people because of their homosexuality. Similar to the Race Relations Act, which bans incitement to hatred on the grounds of race, a law of this nature would help stamp out the kind of homophobic reporting that is typified by the tabloid use of pejorative words like “poof” and “woofter”.

Incitement to hatred against lesbian and gay people is currently banned in Ireland, Denmark and Norway. While it may not be a panacea, it has curtailed the worst media excesses. The Liberal Democrats are, at present, the only British political party with a commitment to incitment to hatred laws that would protect homosexuals.

These two reforms will not, as some critics allege, inhibit freedom of the press. They would, however, result in more responsible, accurate and unbiased standards of journalism. For lesbians and gay men, that is just as important as an equal age of consent or partnership laws. A truthful, fair press can help promote understanding instead of intolerance. Because the media shapes public attitudes and influences law-makers, media reform must, in future, be a key element of our campaign for lesbian and gay human rights.

Outing – the truth behind the headlines

Media reporting of the outing furore was a classic example of homophobia, double-standards, misrepresentation, abuse and censorship.

When the Sunday Mirror last year outed Eastenders heart-throb, Michael French, there was no dispproval or rebuke from the rest of the media. Not a single newspaper denounced outing or defended French’s right to privacy.

This silence contrasts sharply with the media’s universal, violent condemnation of outing in 1994, when OutRage! named 10 homophobic Bishops at the General Synod of the Church of England and urged them to “Tell The Truth”.

The outing of Michael French by the Sunday Mirror was homophobic and sensationalist, exposing his sexual orientation in a way that suggested gayness was sordid and shameful.

OutRage!’s naming of the 10 Bishops had entirely different motives. It was not an attack anyone’s homosexuality. The aim was to expose church hypocrisy and defend the homosexual community against Bishops who endorse antigay discrimination. The Bishops’ homophobia and double standards impacted on the lives of other people, and were therefore matters of legitimate public interest.

Journalists had other ideas. The media furore over OutRage!’s outing campaign went ballistic not long afterwards. In January 1995, I delivered a “private and confidential” letter to the then Bishop of London, Dr. David Hope (now Archbishop of York), urging him to “come out”. We later had an amicable meeting and exchange of letters. There were no threats or ultimata from me. The idea was to persuade the Bishop that coming out was the right thing to do.

Suddenly, three months later, in March 1995, the Bishop called a press conference and outed himself, saying his sexuality was a “grey area”. Most of the media –including the Guardian, Times and Mail– reported that Dr. Hope had been “outed” by OutRage!. He hadn’t. We had no intention of outing him. If we had wanted to expose his sexuality, we would have done so the previous November when we named the other 10 Bishops. This very obvious point was never mentioned by the journalistic pack.

At his press conference, the Bishop alleged that he had been forced to make his confession by “intimidatory” pressure from OutRage!. This ridiculous allegation was reported, even though journalists saw the friendly correspondence between myself and the Bishop, which clearly suggested otherwise.

A month later, when probed by Lesley White of the Sunday Times, Dr. Hope changed his story. He admitted that he went public not in response to my letter, but following an approach from a Telegraph reporter who gave him the impression he was about to be exposed by OutRage!. We had no such plans. David Hope was, it seems, bounced into coming out by a journalist who gave him false information.

A shrewd politician, the Bishop used his press conference to present himself as a persecuted innocent. Although Church lawyers agreed my letter was not blackmail, Dr. Hope allowed journalists to portray it as such without rebuke.

The media accepted the Bishop’s version of events without asking a single critical question. There was praise for his “candour” (Times) and “extraordinary openness” (Telegraph). Yet by even the most elastic definition, describing his sexuality as a “grey area” was neither candid nor open.

There are only three possible sexual orientations, and grey isn’t one of them. Instead of hiding behind euphemisms, why didn’t the Bishop practise the honesty he preaches by saying whether he was gay, straight or bisexual? And why did no journalist press him on this point?

Grey is, of course, a mixture of black and white. Some people therefore interpreted the Bishop’s statement as a roundabout admission that his sexuality is a mixture of heterosexual and homosexual. Such an interpretation was not, alas, even once mentioned in any of the media coverage.

This illustrates the way everything Dr. Hope said was taken at face value by the press. There was no querying of his carefully crafted statement that he had “sought” to lead a “single, celibate life”. What one seeks to do and what one actually does are, as we all know, not necessarily the same thing. It is notable that he did not say: “I have never had sex with a man”.

And why, if the Bishop had nothing to hide, did his lawyer demand to know what information I had about his personal life? Such questions should have been asked by journalists, but they weren’t.

Instead, the media sought to demonise myself and undermine OutRage!’s credibility. Referring back to our naming of the 10 Bishops at the General Synod in November 1994, newspapers claimed we had admitted there was “no firm evidence” (Telegraph) and that the names were “based on rumour” (Guardian). What OutRage! actually said was the exact opposite. Our statement at the time was categoric: “These names are not based on gossip or rumour, but come from reliable, credible sources within the Church”. The press also failed to report the pertinent fact that none of the 10 Bishops denied being gay, and only one denied having gay sex.

OutRage! was vilified by the media with a savagery normally reserved for car-bombers and child-murderers. We were condemned as “thugs”, “gangsters”, “mafia” and “extortionists”. Our naming of hypocritical, homophobic Bishops was, according to the Mail, “homosexual terrorism” and “tactics of terror”. The Telegraph compared us to the Nazis, describing OutRage! as “fascistic” and “stormtroopers”.

Predictably, there was no similar outcry when, shortly beforehand, the People outed 12 gay vicars and the News of the World outed the Bishop of Durham. Nor did the press express a jot of concern about the Church-endorsed discrimination that damages the lives of lesbians and gays.

Much of the abuse was personal. The Sunday Times branded me “the enemy within” and “public enemy number one”. I was, according to the Evening Standard, “pure poison”. Others expressed violent sexual fantasies. “Tatchell … should be castrated”, wrote Sir Bernard Ingham in the Express.

After denouncing outing as a “brutality that is literally fascistic” and “an act of fascist terrorism”, Allan Massie warned in the Telegraph that I might be the target of an assassin which, he added, “many might think quite an honourable part to play”.

Massie’s ‘invitation’ to murder was helped when television news bulletins showed a close-up of my letter to Dr. Hope, with my address and telephone number clearly visible. The result: weeks of death threats, hate mail and attacks on my home. In addition, I was assaulted a dozen times in the street by hysterical homophobes who had been evidently influenced by the lurid, inflammatory coverage in the tabloids and broadsheets.

Getting myself accurately quoted was almost impossible. Journalists interviewed me with a predetermined news slant: outing was evil and so was I. To fit their prejudgement, they were not averse to rewriting quotes. While most newspapers liberally rephrased what I’d said, the Times printed total untruths. I did not comment on the coming out of Bishops Hope and Rawcliffe (Rawcliffe came out of his own free will in March 1995) with the words “Two down, three to go”. Nor did I say “I want to be a martyr”, or that my “ambition is to be thrown into prison for the gay cause”. The Times refused to publish a letter from me refuting these falsehoods. Letters correcting misrepresentations were also rejected by the Observer and Independent.

The BBC responded to the lynch-mob hysteria by banning live interviews with myself and other members of OutRage!. This meant we were often unable to defend ourselves against gross misrepresentation. The BBC radio show, Call Nick Ross, was a typical example. It devoted a whole programme to the outing controversey without allowing OutRage! any opportunity to defend itself against the distortions peddled by our critics. Despite being condemned by Liberty, the anti-censorship lobby Article 19, and the National Union of Journalists, this BBC ban received no newspaper, radio or television coverage.

One of the greatest travesties was the way the media gave the impression that OutRage! supports indiscriminate outing. We don’t. We only endorse the outing of hypocrites and homophobes who attack the gay community. This was rarely quoted. OutRage! would never out private individuals. We only out public figures if they condemn gay people and support the denial of gay human rights. That’s why we didn’t expose Michael Barrymore. He hadn’t harmed the gay community.

The Bishops are different. They demand honesty of others, yet they aren’t honest about their own gayness. Worse, they condemn homosexuality and advocate discriminatory laws.

Like most Anglican leaders, Dr. Hope opposes an equal age of consent for gay men, supports the ban on gay foster parents by the Children’s Society, endorses the sacking of clergy in loving gay relationships, and colludes with religious cults that attempt to “cure” gay people. His approval of discrimination, which is crucial to understanding our campaign, got precisely one column inch in one newspaper.

Equally unreported was the success of outing. Within a month of OutRage! naming the 10 Bishops, Anglican leaders began their first serious dialogue with the gay community and issued one of their strongest ever condemnations of antigay discrimination. A little later, Bishop Derek Rawcliffe voluntarily came out and the world conference of Anglican primates called on the Church to rethink its policy on homosexuality. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury, who for five years had refused to say a word about gay issues, spoke out against homophobia for the first time. To cap it off, the Bishop’s Sexuality Group was set up and is now consulting with lesbian and gay organisations. Because the media took a partisan stand against outing, these positive achievements were never reported. The much-vaunted freedom of press apparently includes freedom to suppress the truth and distort the facts.

Queer Remembrance Day

Nearly 300 lesbians and gay men attended a Ceremony of Remembance at the national war memorial, the Cenotaph, in London, on Sunday, 2nd. November. They were commemorating lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who died fighting Nazism and who perished in the concentration camps.

The ceremony was organised by OutRage!, who declared Sunday, 2nd. November “Queer Remembrance Day”.

The keynote speaker was 74-year-old Sharley McLean, a lesbian who fled to Britain as a refugee from Nazi Germany in 1939. Her gay uncle, Kurt Bach, was arrested by the Gestapo in a gay bar in Berlin in 1937, and died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

After the speeches, there was a minute’s silence. Then dozens of pink wreaths and bouquets were laid on the Cenotaph.

The commemoration was denounced by the ex-services association, the British Legion, as “distasteful” and “offensive”, and “bound to offend many former soldiers”.

Gay war veterans are never acknowledged by the ex-services association or by the official state-sponsored Remembrance Day ceremony. At least 250,000 gay people served in the British Armed Forces during 1939-45. The current ban on homosexuals in the military is an insult to their service and sacrifice.

The huge media coverage of Queer Remembrance Day has raised awareness about the contribution of lesbian and gay service personnel to the defeat of Nazism, and about the queer holocaust that has been suppressed by revisionist historians.

Coinciding with a campaign by the German SPD and Green parties, OutRage! has written to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, urging him to:

  • Apologise for the Nazi persecution of gay people
    – successive German governments have always refused to apologise
  • Compensate gay holocaust survivors
    – gays are denied compensation on the grounds that they were ‘common criminals’
  • Remedy the deficit in gay survivors’ pensions
    – the service of SS guards is added to their pension entitlement; but the years spent in the camps by gays is dededucted from their pensions
  • Put on trial the Nazi doctors who were involved in barbaric experiments on gay concentration-camp prisoners
    – none of the doctors was indicted at Nuremberg (Nürnberg), or has been since

Zimbabwe President meets British gay rights leader

The notoriously homophobic President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, shook hands with and thanked British gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, today, (Tuesday, 28th October, at 12 noon).

Masquerading as a TV cameraman, Tatchell slipped through a Special Branch security net, and got into the VIP area at London’s Westminster Central Hall, where President Mugabe was enjoying a cup of tea after speaking at “Africa at 40″, the International Conference on Independent Africa.

Once inside the VIP area, Tatchell went over to the President and said: “Hello, President Mugabe. In the 1970’s, when I was a young student, I helped raise funds for ZANU’s war of liberation”.

Mugabe smiled and shook Tatchell’s hand, saying: “Thank you. I am very grateful for the help you gave us. What are you doing now?”

Tatchell replied: “I am campaigning for lesbian and gay human rights”.

Mugabe, who was sipping tea, spluttered and said: “Pardon?”. Tatchell repeated that he was campaigning for gay rights.

Mugabe’s smile vanished. With a look of disapproval and an exasperated sigh, he responded: “Oh, the gays”.

Tatchell: “I’m very sad that you say gay people don’t have any rights.”

Mugabe: “We don’t necessarily persecute them — not if they are gay in private. We don’t agree with them organising and making a public issue out of it.”

Tatchell asked: “Why can’t you meet with gay groups?” Mugabe shrugged his shoulders and said, “Maybe”.

At this point Tatchell was surrounded by Special Branch officers who escorted him out of the VIP area. He was warned, but not arrested.

Last week Tatchell, a former Labour politician, wrote to his Labour colleague, the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, to urge the suspension of British aid to Zimbabwe, in protest at that country’s victimisation of homosexuals.

Call to suspend British aid to Zimbabwe

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, is being urged to halt British aid to Zimbabwe, in protest at the country’s victimisation of lesbians and gay men.

The call comes from the gay rights group OutRage! as Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, arrives in Edinburgh to attend the Commonwealth summit.

Gay protests against Mugabe are planned in Edinburgh on Saturday, 25th October at 3:30 p.m.. (Details from Ian Dunn on 0131-557 1662 or Alec Deary on 01592-65.53.92.)

We urge the Foreign Secretary to put his ethical foreign policy into practice. He should tell Robert Mugabe that future British aid will be conditional on an end to victimisation of homosexuals.

OutRage! is also seeking joint Commonwealth action against Zimbabwe. The Commonwealth summit should condemn Zimbabwe’s homophobic witch-hunts. If Zimbabwe refuses to stop persecuting gay people, it should be suspended from the Commonwealth.

Mugabe has denounced lesbians and gays as “sexual perverts” who are “lower than dogs and pigs”. Rejecting calls for gay human rights, he said: “We don’t believe they have any rights at all”. (“The Guardian”, 2-August-1995 and 1-August-1996.) Mugabe has also warned homosexuals to leave Zimbabwe “voluntarily”, or face “dire consequences”. Since his comments, gays have been beaten, arrested, fire-bombed, and threatened with death.

Mugabe appears to be using his antigay crusade as a diversionary tactic to deflect public attention from economic mismanagement and government corruption.

Letter to Bundeskanzler Helmut Kohl

The Chancellor,
Bundeskanzleramt,
D-53106 Bonn,
Germany.

20-October-1997

I am writing on behalf of OutRage! –the campaign for lesbian, gay and bisexual human rights– concerning the persecution of homosexuals during the Nazi era and the subsequent mistreatment of gay holocaust survivors by the German authorities.

We are shocked that the German government still refuses to compensate most gay holocaust survivors for their suffering, on the grounds that the Supreme Court ruled in 1957 that they were common criminals and were therefore legitimately incarcerated.

Furthermore, it cannot be morally right that the work of SS concentration camp guards is counted towards their pension entitlement, wheareas the years spent in the camps by gay prisoners are deducted from their pensions.

We would like to know why no Nazi doctors were ever prosecuted at the Nuremberg (Nürnberg) Trials –or since– for abusing gay concentration camp inmates in gruesome ‘medical’ experiments that, at Buchenwald, included forcible castration and hormone implants.

It is long overdue that the injustices suffered by the lesbian and gay victims of Hitlerism were remedied. We ask you, as Chancellor of democratic Germany, to:

  • apologise for the terrorisation of gay men and lesbians during the Third Reich;
  • authorise the payment of compensation to homosexual holocaust survivors, on a par with compensation to Jewish survivors;
  • recalculate the pensions of gay survivors to ensure that their period of detention in the camps is counted towards their pension entitlement;
  • bring to trial, on charges of crimes against humanity, the Nazi doctors involved in the medical abuse of gay prisoners.
    We look forward to receiving your assurance of prompt action to rectify these past injustices.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Tatchell.

Robert Mugabe challenged to ‘take the test’

Research shows that most homophobes are repressed homosexuals

The notoriously homophobic President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, is being invited to take an erotic arousal test, to dispel suggestions that his antigay attitudes could be evidence of repressed homosexuality.

Mugabe is arriving in Britain to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh, from 24-27 October.

OutRage! has written to Mugabe, (see below), challenging him to take a test devised by US psychologist, Prof. Henry E. Adams of the University of Georgia.

Research by Prof. Adams suggests that 80 percent of men who are homophobic have secret homosexual feelings. In Prof. Adams’s test, homophobic men who said they were exclusively heterosexual were shown gay sex videos. Four out of five became sexually aroused by the homoerotic imagery, as recorded by a penile circumference measuring device (a plethysmograph).

Prof. Adams’s research was published in the prestigious US Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 1996, with the backing of the American Psychological Association.

President Mugabe has denounced lesbians and gays as “sexual perverts” who are “worse than dogs and pigs”. “We don’t believe they have any rights at all”, he said. These remarks have prompted the beating, fire-bombing and arrest of homosexuals.

Prof. Adams says his research shows that most homophobes “demonstrate significant sexual arousal to homosexual erotic stimuli”, suggesting that homophobia is a form of “latent homosexuality where persons are either unaware of or deny their homosexual urges”.

These findings support the theories that homophobia (fear and hatred of gayness and support for antigay discrimination) is often indicative of repressed, self-loathing homosexual feelings; and that many homophobes subconsciously use antigay attitudes as a smokescreen to disguise their own homosexuality.

Dear Robert Mugabe,

You are well known for your homophobic prejudice and opposition to lesbian and gay human rights.

It may therefore interest you to learn that new research by Prof. Henry E. Adams of the University of Georgia in the USA suggests that 80 percent of homophobes get sexually aroused by gay erotic imagery, lending support to the theory that overt homophobia is often evidence of repressed homosexual feelings.

Writing in the authoritative Journal of Abnormal Psychology (1996, Vol. 105, No. 3, pp. 440-445), Prof. Adams reported that he tested a group of men who expressed homophobic attitudes, and who said they were exclusively heterosexual and had never had any homosexual experiences or fantasies. He wired these men to a penile circumference measuring device (a plethysmograph) and showed them gay sex videos.

Prof. Adams found that 80 percent of the homophobic men tested became sexually aroused when watching the homosexual imagery, (their sexual arousal being indicated by penile enlargement).

His findings are consistent, he says, with theories that homophobia is a form of latent homosexuality and that antigay attitudes indicate a person’s fear and loathing of their own repressed homosexual urges.

In view of this research and your homophobic attitudes, there is now bound to be speculation about your sexuality. We are sure this speculation is without foundation but to end the innuendo that you might harbour repressed homosexual feelings, we invite you to take Prof. Adams’s test.

Under medical supervision, OutRage! is offering to wire you to a penile circumference measuring device and show you gay sex videos. If you are not gay, there will be no penile enlargement and you will have strong scientific evidence to dispel any queries about your sexual orientation.

We invite you to contact us to make an appointment during your forthcoming visit to Britain for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Yours sincerely,
Peter Tatchell, OutRage!

Section 28 and sex education

Letter from the Department for Education and Employment

Thank you for your letter … regarding sex education for young gay people in schools.

Well planned and effectively presented sex education is vital. Young people need to gain the skills and understanding necessary to take responsible decisions about their personal and sexual behaviour. Although the responsibility for the detailed content and organisation of sex education lies with individual schools, there is no restriction on teaching about lesbian and gay issues in the classroom. Diversity, gender issues and the challenging of stereotypes should feature as part of schools’ Personal, Social and Health Education provision. (Emphasis added.) Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 applies to the activities of the local authorities themselves, so does not apply to the activities of the governing bodies and staff of schools. Nevertheless, the Government has long made clear its opposition to Section 28 and intends to repeal it when legislative opportunity exists.

I do not believe that there is room for complacency regarding the current provision of sex education in schools, but rather development and improvement. This Department, along with the Department of Health, is considering sex education and the provision of sexual health services, in the context of the Government’s health strategy.

Best wishes,

Estelle Morris.
(Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State)

Equal Rights Act – Protection for everyone

Peter Tatchell argues for the strengthening and expansion of the sex and race discrimination laws, through the legislation of a comprehensive Equal Rights Act, to ensure equality for everyone.

There are at least a dozen different aspects of antigay discrimination which require law reform to ensure homosexual equality. These include:

  • the equalisation of the age of consent;
  • recognition for same-sex partnerships;
  • parenting rights;
  • protection against job discrimination;
  • the repeal of homophobic laws, such as
    - Section 28;
    - the ban on gays in the armed forces;
  • the repeal of discriminatory statutes that penalise homosexual (though not equivalent heterosexual) behaviour
    - buggery;
    - soliciting;
    - procuring;
    - gross indecency;

It is unrealistic to expect the government to include all these reforms in its busy parliamentary schedule. The gay community is therefore going to have to think about priorities.

Of the many possible legislative reforms, there is one that would do more than any other to tackle homophobic bias: the OutRage! proposal for a comprehensive Equal Rights Act. Ensuring equal treatment for everyone, it would outlaw all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation. It could also be expanded to prohibit harassment and incitement to hatred.

The special significance of this Equal Rights Act is that it would establish a broad legal framework through which all the different aspects of antigay discrimination could progressively be challenged and overturned.

Once the principle of “equal rights for all” is established in law, it would be difficult to sustain any form of legal discrimination against lesbians and gay men, (or against anyone else). The unequal age of consent and other forms of institutionalised homophobia would have to be scrapped. For this reason, antidiscrimination legislation should be the number one priority.

The desirability of an Equal Rights Act is demonstrated by the experience of Denmark, France, Norway, and Sweden. In these countries, similar legislation already exists. It has been shown to be effective in remedying discrimination and in offering victimised lesbians and gays a form of practical redress.

“Our antidiscrimination law gives homosexual people a high level of protection”, says the Danish lesbian and gay rights organisation, LBL. “It doesn’t mean that all prejudice is eliminated; but it does lessen overt discrimination and make unfair treatment easier to stamp out when it arises.”

In Britain, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are committed to some form of antidiscrimination legislation; although it is now uncertain whether Labour’s plans still include protection against homophobic bias.

There are sound arguments in favour of a strong and inclusive Equal Rights Act, guaranteeing equality for all citizens and outlawing harassment, incitement to hatred, and discrimination on the specific grounds of sex, race, class, religion, political opinion, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and HIV status.

Pressing for homosexual equality within the context of comprehensive equal rights legislation encourages mutually empowering alliances between everyone suffering exclusion and discrimination, including women, black people, lesbians, gay men, the disabled, and those with HIV. By working together around a common agenda for equality, we increase the probability of getting such laws onto the statute books. The broad-based approach also minimises the likelihood of a homophobic backlash and avoids the marginalisation of lesbian and gay rights as a fringe issue.

Moreover, since the Equal Rights Act guarantees equality for everyone, it’s difficult for opponents to dismiss it as a minority concern or to caricature it as pleading for special rights.

How would this equality legislation work? As the deficiencies of the existing race and sex discrimination laws have shown, there is little value in equality policies unless there are also effective mechanisms to implement them. That requires the creation of a powerful government Department for Equal Rights, headed by a Minister of Cabinet rank: with executive authority to monitor, promote, and enforce equality of opportunity for all.

Within this Department, there could be separate secretariats to deal with different aspects of discrimination. These could include a Lesbian and Gay Rights Secretariat to look after the specific interests of homosexual men and women, an Ethnic Rights Secretariat to promote the concerns of Black and Asian people, and so on.

To ensure that everyone can exercise their right to nondiscrimination, one of the Department’s functions must be the provision of free legal advice and representation to those seeking to challenge victimisation. The legislation must also give them the power to take out injunctions to halt discrimination and to sue for damages and compensation.

This would greatly strengthen the possibility of lesbians and gay men winning proper redress when contesting discrimination in areas such as employment, insurance, housing, and company fringe benefits for employees’ spouses, (like coverage by pension and health-care plans, which are usually denied to the partners of gay employees). In addition, a Department for Equal Rights should have proactive powers to scrutinise the practices of all government departments and, where necessary, to issue legally-binding recommendations to remedy homophobic discrimination in areas such as senior appointments to the civil and foreign services, and the government funding (or non-funding) of lesbian and gay projects like counselling services and HIV prevention programmes.

As part of a long-term programme to eradicate inequality, the Department’s remit should extend to the setting of statutory Equality Targets and Equality Codes of Practice. These could include the requirement for all major public and private institutions to compile annual Equality Audits and undertake Equality Impact Assessments before new policies are finalised. This would, for instance, legally oblige social services departments and children’s homes to devise policies to cater for the specific needs of gay teenagers; and would enforce the monitoring of public housing allocations to guarantee equal access for homosexual applicants.

As these examples indicate, an Equal Rights Act could enable many diverse forms of discrimination to be exposed and overturned. While it cannot guarantee that no lesbian or gay person will ever again suffer discrimination, it would prevent the worst excesses. We homosexuals would have an effective legal mechanism for asserting our right to equal treatment. For that reason, an Equal Rights Act ought to be a priority for the gay community, and for everyone else opposed to inequality.

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