1997 July

Letter to Tony Blair – after 3 months in office

The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP,
Prime Minister,
10, Downing Street,
London SW1

Dear Mr. Blair,

Lesbian & Gay Rights

The following message was read by Chris Smith on your behalf at ‘Pride’ at the beginning of this month.

“The New Labour Government wants to build a New Britain, free from discrimination. I want to assure you of my commitment to achieving such a free society. … Let us be proud of what we are, of who we are, and of what we can achieve in the months to come for equality and justice for us all.”

As a gay man, I am pleased to have this public expression of your support. I appreciate that you have been in office for ‘only’ three months, and that you have an awesome spectrum of issues to address.

However, I regret that I already have severe misgivings as to what progress the lesbian and gay citizens of this country can expect under your Government: at a time, moreover, when long overdue progress is being achieved in a number of other countries in Western Europe, (and elsewhere), and also within the administration of the European Community.

I note, for example, that the Labour Party web site makes no mention at all of lesbians and gays in the Equal Opportunities section. –

Extract from Labour web site: Extent of Equal Opportunities, as of 30-July-1997

Watch this space [http://www.labour.org.uk/views/index.html]

Labour will:

  • incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law
  • create new opportunities in the workplace for older people, by taking measures to tackle age discrimination and long-term unemployment
  • establish a national minimum wage and ensure minimum employment standards for part-time workers
  • support comprehensive, enforceable civil rights for disabled people against discrimination in society or at work, developed in partnership with all interested parties
  • tackle high black and disabled youth unemployment with our guarantee of a job or a place on a training course for every young person aged 18-25 unemployed for more than six months

This does not compare favourably with the corresponding section of the LibDem web site, which I attach as an Appendix.

Indeed, a number of hard-nosed commercial companies are making a commitment to eliminate discrimination, despite possible financial loss through upsetting dyed-in-the-wool bigots. Even United Airlines, which somewhat schizophrenically sponsored this year’s Pride in London, whilst at the same time suing in San Francisco for the right not to be forced into equable treatment, begins its Harassment & Discrimination Policy as published on the web with the following paragraph. -

United has a zero-tolerance policy on harassment and discrimination in any form – whether verbal, visual, physical or otherwise. It is United’s express policy to forbid harassment and discrimination based on race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status or sexual orientation.

With regard to discrimination within the armed forces, I understand that Britain is now the only country in NATO, other than Turkey, which retains a complete ban on all those with a homosexual orientation. George Robertson, Defence Secretary, was reported as having begun a wide-ranging review of the rôle of women in the armed forces, to ensure that the forces are “fair, modern and enlightened”; and additionally to improve the “abysmal” record in attracting ethnic minorities. By contrast, merely allowing MP’s a free vote on

  • the ban on gays in the military
  • parity for the age of consent
  • does not send out the signal that the Cabinet regards this form of
  • discrimination as equally abhorrent.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has just ruled that discrimination against transsexuals is unlawful under the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act. However, in the thirty years since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, (the passage of which through Parliament I followed keenly as teenager), it strikes me that the law has improved only by a token (and still discriminatory) reduction in the age of consent for gay men. Conversely, the notorious Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, introduced by the previous Government, has clouded not only the provision of services by local authorities, but also, notwithstanding the wording of the Act and of subsequent legislation, the teaching in schools of sex education, morality: indeed, of anything where relationships and sexuality may or might be concerned.

Recently a number of revered and respected bodies, including the British Medical Association and the Sex Education Forum of the National Children’s Bureau, have called for the inclusion of homosexuality, on a par with heterosexuality, in sex education in schools, and for the repeal of Section 28. A survey published earlier this month by the Schools Health Education Unit, University of Exeter, reports that teenagers are increasingly using friends as their main source of information about sex, at a time when many of them are consciously worrying about HIV and AIDS. — What is current Government policy on sex education? And what plans do you have to introduce positive images of gays and lesbians to younger children, with the aim of preventing the attitudes which lead to prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry later in life, in order to achieve equality and justice for us all?

I see that the church, (presumably the Church of England), is reported as having marked as 1997 as “Year of Faith”, and 1998 as “Year of Hope”, and 1999 as “Year of Charity”. (To the annoyance of atheists and adherents of other faiths in our multicultural society, it has claimed 2000 as the “Year of Jesus Christ”.) – We do not want charity: but for how many years more are am I and fellow queers expected to hope and have faith that eventually, in the words of Martin Luther King, we shall overcome? At my age, it will be of little benefit to me personally; and hope that it will be in time to benefit my nephews, nieces, and their peers is fast running out. When and how do you intend to fulfil your fine words and pledges?

Yours sincerely

John Hunt, OutRage!


Appendix: Extract from Liberal Democrat web site on Equal Opportunities, as of 30-July-1997

Watch this space [http://www.libdems.org.uk/libdems/cgi-bin/show.pl?english+uk&../english/documents/uk/poli38112585.txt]

Freedom from Prejudice – Liberal Democrat Policies for Lesbians and Gay Men

Equal Citizenship

“The Worth of a State, in the Long Run, is the Worth of the Individuals composing it” (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty)

Liberal Democrats value and relish the diversity of British society. We welcome the contribution lesbians and gay men have made to our society, often without proper recognition or an acceptance of their sexuality. Barriers to lesbian and gay men playing a full part in the life of the community must be removed. It is a key role of the state to enhance the liberty of the individual and nurture diversity. Thereby, we can enable each individual to seek personal fulfilment and enrich society. The opportunity for personal fulfilment and participation in the life of the community open to all.

Liberal Democrats recognise that in Britain today lesbians and gay men lack basic rights and are denied equal citizenship. Many areas of the law, including the criminal law, are clearly discriminatory in their effect and equal opportunities legislation in Britain fails to protect lesbians and gay men from discrimination in many areas of life.

As part of our commitment to end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Liberal Democrats would:

Bill of Rights

As an immediate step we would:

  • Create a Bill of Rights by incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law.
  • Create a UK Human Rights Commission empowered to: assist complainants in bringing proceedings under the Bill of Rights.
  • Secure compliance with its provision; systematically to review and change existing law and practice in the sphere of civil liberties.

Discrimination

Liberal Democrats would:

  • Make discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or HIV status unlawful in all fields legal and social.
  • Establish the offence of incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation.

The Criminal Law

Liberal Democrats would:

  • Create a common age of consent regardless of gender or orientation by equalising the age of consent for gay men with that of the heterosexual age of consent;
  • Change other areas of the law that are discriminatory such as the restrictions on lesbians and gay men serving within the Armed Forces;
  • Undertake a comprehensive review of the law relating to sexual offences and the boundaries between the law and morals.

The Police

The police in many parts of the country have failed to recognise and accept the needs of lesbians and gay men with insight and sensitivity. Liberal Democrats would:

  • Extend the use of best policing practices to reduce the level of homophobic violence.
  • Stress the importance of police treating lesbians and gay men as equals, not as criminals because of their sexuality.
  • Halt the practice of entrapment by the police and ensure that the evidence of an agent provocateur is rendered inadmissible.

The Criminal Justice System

Liberal Democrats would:

  • Undertake a comprehensive review of the law relating to sexual offences.
  • Give specific protection to the interests of minorities, including lesbians and gay men, through the introduction of codes of minimum standards both for prisons and for non-custodial measures relating to offenders.

Personal Rights

Liberal Democrats would ensure:

  • The right to respect for private and family life with no interference by a public authority.
  • Access to personal files with the effect of securing equal opportunity and freedom from prejudice.
  • HIV status and sexual orientation do not affect the ability of people to find housing.
  • Fair assessment of prospective adoptive or foster parents, such that sexual orientation is not a prohibitive factor.

Changing Attitudes

Discrimination cannot be eliminated by legislation alone. Attitudes need to be changed. The ability of local government to encourage those changes in attitudes has been badly impaired by the enactment of Section 28 of the Local Government Act which forbids the “promotion of homosexuality”. This actually means banning books and withdrawing funding from lesbian and gay helplines. Liberal Democrats would repeal it.

Liberal Democrats would encourage local authorities to:

  • Include within sex education an awareness of different sexual orientations;
  • Support organisations giving information, advice and counselling to lesbians and gay men.

Postscripts

  1. No acknowledgement of this letter has been received.
  2. On the 23rd September, eight weeks after receiving this fax, Tony Blair’s office forwarded it to the Home Office for a reply.
  3. On the 5th November, Government officials were unable to trace the letter. The Home Office deny that they are any longer responsible for gay rights. Apparently we have now been assigned to the Department of the Environment. — Is this because we are regarded as an endangered species?

Animal research delayed protease inhibitors for four years

Peter Tatchell argues that animal experimentation is undermining the fight against AIDS and jeopardising the lives of people with HIV.

The development of live-saving protease inhibitors was delayed for four years by the pharmaceutical company Merck because the drugs killed laboratory dogs and rats, according to the Washington Post Magazine, (1-May-1997). During those four years, tens of thousands of people with AIDS who would have benefited from protease inhibitors died needlessly. Many would now be alive if Merck had not engaged in animal research and made the false assumption that data gathered from other species can be applied to humans. This scandal is further evidence that animal experimentation is hindering the fight agains AIDS.

People and animals have vastly different physiologies. Scientific results gathered from animal studies cannot therefore be generalised to humans, as the following two examples illustrate. –

  • Strychnine is harmless to monkeys, but lethal to humans.
  • Penicillin kills guinea pigs, but not people.

HIV is a uniquely human disease: it doesn’t affect any other species the way it affects humans. The surest way of discovering a vaccine and a cure is by researching the interaction of HIV with the human immune system, not the immune systems of animals.

This recognition is now prompting some AIDS activists to argue that experiments with other species are holding back the development of safer, more-effective anti-HIV drugs. One of Britain’s top researchers, Prof. Robin Weiss, has expressed serious doubt that information gathered from studies of laboratory animals can help illuminate the mechanisms by which HIV sabotages the immunity of humans. Another senior AIDS doctor in Britain has described the millions of dollars spent on animal research as “almost criminally negligent” because it is diverting resources away from more promising avenues of molecular-level research with human cells and the HIV virus.

A similar view has been expressed by Dr. Albert Sabin, the inventor of the first oral polio vaccine. He was quoted in London’s Independent on Sunday newspaper as saying, “what has been demonstrated up to now in animals does not have any relevance.”

In the United States, Prof. Patricia Fultz, who was a senior scientist in the CDC’s chimpanzee AIDS research programme, admits she now has doubts that experimentation with other species can help us understand or treat HIV in humans, (as reported in Science magazine, 13-October-1995).

The director of AIDS research at Duke University, Dani Bolognesi, has had second thoughts too. Writing in the June 1994 Journal of NIH research, Bolognesi argued that animal studies do not provide a reliable indicator of how HIV affects people and how the disease can be conquered. “No animal models faithfully reproduce human immune deficiency virus-type (HIV-1) infection and disease in humans,” wrote Bolognesi. “Animals are not optimal models.”

The fact is that all the current and forthcoming anti-HIV treatments were developed as a result of human-based cellular research, which showed us how HIV locks onto and penetrates human cells, and the mechanism by which HIV produces new infectious virus particles within these human cells. None of these breakthroughs was achieved by research with other species.

Indeed, a significant human-based breakthrough in AIDS research, made in Britain in 1989, was partly funded by the animal rights charity The Dr. Hadwen Trust for Humane Research. This discovery of how HIV enters human cells might not have been achieved, according to the research team headed by Prof. Jonathan Weber at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, if they had concentrated on experiments with chimpanzees and other animals, as did many of their medical colleagues.

So far as drug toxicity is concerned, the unreliability of safety-testing HIV drugs on other species has been confirmed by a seven-year study involving 84 laboratories worldwide, coordinated by the University of Uppsala in Sweden. Known as the Multicenter Evaluation of In vitro Cytotoxicology (MEIC) study, it shows that human cells are 22% more accurate in predicting toxicity than whole live laboratory animals. This makes testing new anti-HIV drugs on animals redundant. Human cell test give faster, more-precise results.

Moreover, because humans and animals react differently to drug therapies, there is the risk that animal testing might result in dangerous or ineffective anti-HIV drugs being approved and in less than fully efficacious doses being prescribed. Let us never forget the scandals of Opren, Thalidomide, and AZT, which were declared “safe” after extensive animal research.

Invoice to New Labour government for gay law reform

A giant 8′ x 4′ invoice, demanding payment by the New Labour Government, was carried in Saturday’s Gay Pride Parade by members of the gay rights group OutRage!.

The invoice demanded that Labour should “Pay Up Now!” for gay rights legislation promised by the party during the recent election campaign:

  • an equal age of consent;
  • the repeal of Section 28;
  • and an end to the ban on gays in the military.

“Labour won a big slice of the gay vote by making these promises. Now it’s time the government delivered”, said Alastair Williams of OutRage!.

“Since the election, Labour has refused to offer any timetable for gay law reform, and there are signs that the government is backtracking on its preelection commitments. In May, a Labour spokesman told the Daily Telegraph that the party had no commitment to equalise the age of consent. Last month the government confirmed that it would seek to uphold the exclusion of homosexuals from the armed forces when the ban is challenged in the European Court of Justice.

“Much of the gay community complacently assumes there is no need to campaign for gay human rights any more. They seem to think Mr. Blair will take care of everything. But Labour seems to be treating gay rights as a very low priority. There’s a danger that homosexual law reform will get squeezed off Labour’s legislative agenda.

“Labour is refusing to support gay equality measures such as same-sex partnership rights, laws to protect homosexuals against discrimination in employment, gay sex education in schools, and the repeal of victimless, gay-only offences like gross indecency, soliciting, and procuring”, said Mr. Williams.

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